There have been contrasting realities for me as a leader who is a woman.
The first, the deep and significant support of some of my peers and elders/leaders in churches who have steadfastly encouraged, called out the best of me, and been faithful to embolden, support and sharpen me. Within the context of a denomination that has ordained women from its very beginnings (though not always lived into its affirmation) my family background was such that my paternal Grandparents were part of a congregation led by early church-planting women in the harsh landscape of the Canadian prairies, (literal pioneers), a holy boldness upon them! My maternal Grandfather, a missionary and able leader, was incredibly affirming and loved nothing better than talking about the belovedness of the church and how my leadership could be wise and Godly. Character mattered more than gender to them, and many of the people around me. In education I was fortunate to be theologically resourced by Nazarene Theological College, again, a place of hospitality to men and women training to lead. A few of my fellow students were adamant that women couldn’t lead, but other peers in the classroom also stood for the Holy Spirit’s ability to anoint all flesh! They were powerful advocates. I’ve wrestled, of course, as many have, with what it means to be called by God into leadership, to hear, receive and follow into the unknown. But, there’s a sense that if God has called, the church has affirmed, how could you say no?
On the other hand… I’ve preached when an entire row of people marched out to make their point against all women (not just me, I remind myself). I’ve been silenced (though speaking) as men who do not affirm women in Christian leadership spoke around, over and through me. I’ve heard powerful voices declaring that this, this, is something God can’t possible intend. I suppose, as I reflect on it, seeking to be faithful, exploring how to lead in a way that is Godly, and gracious not bitter or militant, I cling to the idea that God’s doing a work and that the culture of the church is shifting to understand more and more that God’s image is powerfully expressed in and through people, and that God calls un/likely leaders to serve in myriad of ways. Women included.
Revd Dr Deirdre Brower Latz is Principal of Nazarene Theological College, Manchester. She loves thinking alongside others and engaging in the area of social justice: exploring theology, hospitality, mission as justice, engaging with poverty and deepening our call to be fully Christ-like in relation to others.