From time to time I am asked about my experience as a female minister in the Church of the Brethren. Because my answer is a largely positive one, I am always mindful of how privileged I have been, and also how deeply I long for every woman hearing a call to ministry to have an equally positive journey.
As I reflect on that call, I vividly remember the Sundays in my home congregation in Annville, Pa., when my family and I knelt and rested our elbows on the seats of the hard, wooden pews. Commencing prayers that seemed to this little girl to last an eternity, brother Hiram Gingrich would always address “our kind, loving heavenly Father.” Preceding those heartfelt prayers were sturdy sermons by a number of plain-dressed preachers, building a solid biblical foundation in my soul.
As the Bucher sisters—Clara, Sallie, and Esther—taught me the stories of Jesus, my heart gradually opened to embrace the call to follow him. Having been nurtured in a congregation that transitioned from a plural, nonsalaried ministry to the salaried ministry during my early childhood years, I find it marvelous to reflect on that same congregation’s full support of my call to ministry. They were willing to recognize a surprising movement of the Spirit in one whom they had not assumed would be called by God to the ministry.
Moving beyond my experience, I dream of what the Church of the Brethren would look like if every congregation created an environment in which not only men but also women would be equally and eagerly called to ministry. Here is a bit of what I envision and yearn for every young girl or woman who hears the Spirit’s call to the journey of set-apart ministry.
I yearn for them to experience:
Undergirding this dream is my conviction that every person whom God truly calls ought to experience a community supportive of that call, and that the unique needs experienced by clergywomen merit specific attention and response from the larger church. Layers such as race, gender, and sexual identity; socioeconomic factors; and geographic and cultural formation increase the complexity of the call that women experience.
Given that reality, in the next 60 years of our history as Brethren, can we look forward to increasing the percentage of women among the credentialed ministers from 25 percent to at least 50 percent?
With all our heart and soul, let us labor together with God so that future statistics reveal a whole-hearted cooperation with the Spirit’s activity, as God will “pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy. . . . Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:17, 21).
Nancy Sollenberger Heishman is director of the Church of the Brethren Office of Ministry.