The Woman in the Room

5 comments Written on November 17th, 2015     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
corrie gCorrie Gustafson is a pastor at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California, where she regularly passes Google self-driving cars. She was ordained to Word and Sacrament in 2014 and serves as the ACCW board liaison for the Pacific Southwest Conference.

Staff meetings, board meetings, break-out sessions at conferences, ecumenical clergy gatherings, Covenant pastor cluster meetings, worship service planning meetings: I’m often the only woman in a roomful of men. I’m used to this dynamic after 15 years in professional ministry, but it was a jarring shift at 19 years old when I followed my interests and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and became a biblical studies major.

As I progressed in my major two things happened: the classes shrank (which I liked) and the male-female ratio tilted steeply (which I didn’t always appreciate). I gained a band of brothers in the trenches of Advanced Koine Greek, but there were also times of profound loneliness. As one of a few women, or the only woman in a small class, there was often pressure to speak to the “female perspective” or to represent women who were already in ministry. This pressure intensified in seminary.

In both college and graduate school, when the controversial (to some) topic of women in ministry came up, eyes would suddenly turn to me. I was encouraged to share my thoughts and my interpretation of scripture, but this invitation was a package deal. It often came with an unspoken challenge to give expert-level exegesis of some of the most challenging texts in the Bible, and to have a holistic (a.k.a. impermeable) theology on the subject.

As a theology student, I never felt completely free to be a learner. Many fellow students, and even some professors, saw me more as a representative of a group or type, rather than an individual. It didn’t seem acceptable for me as a woman in the hallowed halls of theology – historically the domain of men – to be uncertain about some passages, to be in a process of discerning my call, or to be a bit uncomfortable with the label of pastor. For those who oppose women in ministry, any of these things were seen as vulnerabilities that could topple my theology and discredit my call to ministry. What I craved then – and occasionally still thirst for a decade after completing seminary – is the freedom to be Corrie.

I want to be Corrie, the committed disciple, and thus a constant learner of the way of Jesus Christ.

I want to be seen and known as Corrie, a child of God who brings my unique personality, and gifts, and story to the work of pastoring.

I wish that everywhere and for all time the fruit of my ministry wasn’t questioned, watered down, or dismissed because of my gender. I regard being a woman as an asset to ministry and to the church because I believe that we best serve the church and the world – both made up of women and men, girls and boys – when women and men work side-by-side without hierarchy. Being a woman makes me a minority in my field and it gives me a unique perspective in ministry, but it is not the only, or even the primary, uniqueness I bring to ministry.

Mainly, my ministry is unique because I’m me.

I’m a creative: I write, I sing and I act. I served several years as a chaplain, so talking about death and dying is as natural to me as talking about soteriology or this week’s order of worship. I’ve traveled to 18 countries and studied in Europe and the Middle East, experiences which have profoundly changed my worldview. I spent 19 months unemployed while seeking a call to ministry, so I know a thing or two about perseverance through a financial drought and a spiritual desert. I’m single and 35, full of purpose and thriving in celibacy.

Those are just some of the things that have shaped my story and that shape my ministry. Being a woman is a significant piece of me, but no more or less so than all the other pieces.

I am Corrie. I’m a pastor. And I am your colleague. I celebrate the day when we call each other friends and there is no other agenda between us but to graciously and joyfully serve the Lord together.


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5 comments “The Woman in the Room”

Thanks for sharing your heart and your story Corrie!!! I totally “hear” and “agree” with what you shared. I am also a women in ministry, 37 years old, went through a similar experience in seminary and recently called to church plant and it can be so disheartening…especially in the area of church planting as I sort support from different organizations. At first it brought tears to my eyes and I had to do lots of praying and seeking God as to my call to church plant as a woman. But to God be the glory, I embraced all of who I am, loved all that God created me to be, and now move freely in peace and joy in the midst of it all as the Holy Spirit continues to lead. Thanks again for sharing…Blessings, Iana

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Thank you, Corrie. You did a great job of expressing the pressure women (and people of color) have felt to “represent” an entire group when you are just trying to serve God as yourself. We all need to move toward integrity, faithfulness, and freedom — both for ourselves, and extended to others. The kingdom is most blessed when Christ’s mission is our only agenda! 

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So glad you survived your time of unemployment. Been there, done that. It is spiritually and professionally debilitating to see men get the interviews at all the churches you apply for. Hard to rejoice with those who rejoice when the pattern keeps repeating itself.

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Well stated, Corrie. And I share that dream with you. I never intended on waving a flag for women in ministry when I began my journey as a Pastor at ECC in Lafayette, Indiana. But after six years of witnessing what the Spirit can do when the other half of the church or more are represented and ministered to by having a female Pastor in staff, I have come to see how important it is. May God bless you in your becoming so other women may be encouraged to do the same as God uniquely calls them for His kingdom purposes.

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Thanks Corrie for your voice and witness. And I too long for this day. Amen!

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