Archive for October, 2016

Wrestling With Disadvantage

3 comments Written on October 26th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Megan Herrold is a pastoral intern at Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago. She is currently pursuing an MA in Christian Formation at North Park Theological Seminary, and is the seminary’s student representative on the ECC Commission on Biblical Gender Equality.

wc-cross-1534291-3I’m not sure, but I might be a beneficiary of affirmative action.

Last spring I was awarded an internship stipend from the ECC to help me meet the field education requirements for my degree program at North Park seminary. I knew about this grant opportunity, knew there was money available, and was repeatedly encouraged to apply for it, but I was still hesitant to do so. Why? Because the grant was for women in ministry, and I felt strange asking for—or accepting—extra “help” because I’m a woman.

The weird thing is, I don’t have a problem with affirmative-action programs in general. (And I’m not saying that this grant is one.) I know people sometimes think of them as giving new unfair advantages to certain groups, but I’ve always understood them as an effort to counteract unfair disadvantages that already exist in our society. I still go back to this quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., written more than 50 years ago:

The nation must not only radically readjust its attitude toward the Negro in the compelling present, but must incorporate in its planning some compensatory consideration for the handicaps he [or she] has inherited from the past. It is impossible to create a formula for the future which does not take into account that our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years. How then can he [or she] be absorbed into the mainstream of American life if we do not do something special for [her or] him now, in order to balance the equation and equip him [or her] to compete on a just and equal basis?

So yes, I believe work should be done to dismantle structural disadvantages and yes, I believe there are unfair disadvantages experienced by women pursuing a call to ministry. So I completely support the idea behind setting aside a grant or other funds to help women (or anyone else who faces extra obstacles) pursue their call.

There’s a young woman in a church I used to attend where I knew her as a teenager. Moving from urban Chicago to the rural Midwest for college was the first time she experienced significant, blatant racial discrimination. She eventually ended up transferring for many reasons, but racism was definitely one of them. Knowing that there are places in this country where college students of color aren’t fully welcome or don’t feel safe is pretty much all the justification I need for the fewer universities that are more welcoming to allow affirmative action to influence their acceptance policies.

Similarly, in one of my first meetings with an internship advisor where I mentioned possibly wanting to do an internship in the southern U.S., I was explicitly told that there are churches in that area to which he tries not to send women because women in those places won’t receive as much encouragement in their call. So just as in the last story, knowing that women aren’t welcome as ministers in all churches in our denomination is, in my mind, justification for financial resources that help women find an internship in the fewer places where they are welcome to serve.

But it still feels weird for me to accept help. And it definitely feels weird to accept something I feel like I didn’t do anything to earn. Which contradicts one of the ideas I often hear about affirmative action, this idea that some people are just looking for any advantage they can get, or just want special treatment. I’ve honestly never understand this perspective. To accept extra assistance because you’re part of a disadvantaged group means acknowledging that circumstances are stacked against you. Who would want to think about their life that way? I know I wouldn’t.

I recently finished reading The Fire This Time, a collection of essays about race and racism in the U.S. One of the essay writers, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, shared some of her feelings about being “the first black intern” at a magazine that was more than 150 years old at the time of her internship in 2005:

I became paranoid that I was merely a product of affirmative action, even though I knew I wasn’t. I had completed my application not once but twice and never did I mention my race. Still, I never felt like I was actually good enough. And with my family and friends so proud of me, I felt like I could not burst their bubble with my insecurity and trepidation.

I don’t think anyone wants to believe that these kinds of assistance programs are necessary. Not even those who might benefit from them.

Here’s where I want to have some concluding thoughts, a nice summary to wrap up all this conflict. But the truth is that I’m still conflicted. I haven’t yet figured out what I think or feel about this. Am I at a disadvantage as a woman in ministry? Am I justified in accepting assistance? Once I accept it, is it fair that I feel extra pressure to work harder, more, better, in order to earn it, to prove that I’m worthy of help? How does it affect me as a pastor to face all of these questions in the midst of ministry?

These are the thoughts I’ve been wrestling with the last few months as I think about this fortieth anniversary of ordaining women in the ECC and what it means for me to be a pastor today. This is the legacy I’ve inherited. How do I accept it, and what do I do with it?


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Meet Deborah

1 Comment » Written on October 12th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

abby-jonesAbby Jones is the pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Stromsburg, NE. She earned an MDiv from North Park Theological Seminary in 2012. Abby is mom to Stella, Lucy, Mabel and Harper. Read more of Abby’s writing at

The Israelites had a pattern of “sin, judgement, repentance and rescue.” Over and over again. They wandered away from God, they ended up oppressed under a foreign ruler, and then they would repent and God would rescue them, and then they’d fall right back into the same pattern as before.

One of the times that the Israelites did evil in the eyes of God, they lived cruelly oppressed for 20 years under the Canaanites. (Read Judges 4 & 5.) Their villages had no walls, which left them vulnerable to oppressors, who would even come and eat the crops out of their fields. It became too dangerous to travel the main roads, which is where trade happened, which made it difficult to buy and sell goods.

The Israelites had no weapons. No shield or spears. The Canaanites had 900 chariots and iron. Their weapons were intimidating. There was no way for the Israelites to challenge the chariots on foot without being completely desecrated. The villagers had no fight in them.

They had no hope.

They knew if they fought, they would die.

The Canaanites arrived at the city gates, and the Israelites were ready to be taken. They were ready for destruction. War came to the city gates up north, and Deborah was down in the hill country of Ephraim.

Deborah was a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth and she was leading Israel at this time. Lappidoth is Hebrew for “fire” so it could be translated that Deborah was a woman from Lappidoth, wife of Lappidoth or a fiery woman. Whichever it is translated, there’s no denying that Deborah was a woman. When writing about a strong woman, there was a risk that she would be turned into a man in the retelling of history, so the writer went to great lengths to make it clear that Deborah was in fact a woman.

Deborah held court under a palm tree there, where she brought justice to her people. Don’t overlook the importance of the tree! Trees are a symbol of fairness, so we know right away that Deborah is a fair judge.

Now remember, this is a time that the Israelites were doing evil.

Deborah was the one in charge of bringing justice. Justice to her fallen nation. In Judges 2:12 it explains, “they followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger.”

We can only imagine how difficult Deborah’s job as judge must have been. But she remained fair and just. She did not waiver. She was a strong and courageous leader to an evil nation.

She was also a prophet, following in a line of female prophets. Miriam, Huldah, Noadiah are named in the OT. Anna and Philip’s daughters in the book of Acts.

It wouldn’t have been easy to be a prophet to a disobedient nation. The job of a prophet was to speak out against evil and injustice, to warn the people to turn back to God. Deborah would have been responsible to call out the sin of her people, and foretell the coming destruction.

We also cannot overlook Deborah’s name. Names were significant, a person’s name told about who they were, and Deborah means “honey bee”. In the ancient world a honey bee bridged the natural world to the underworld. The mortal world with the immortal world. It’s no coincidence that this just judge and prophet was named Deborah. She spoke with God, and challenged people with God’s words. She bridged the natural world and the divine.

This bi-vocational woman was doing difficult work. Not one of her jobs was easy. All the while, she was trying to lead a nation that had no fight left in them. They were done. They were ready to give up. To be conquered.

And yet, she arose as a leader, as a mother in Israel. Leaders are often seen as strategic and commanding, so I love that Deborah tells us in her song, that she is a mother in Israel. She cared for her people in the way that a mother cares for her children. She’s rising up like a mother bear to protect her helpless young. She’s filled with empathy for the princes and the volunteers. She says that her heart is with them.

Somehow, Deborah found a way to motivate and inspire her people, she gave them hope that something new was possible. And she began to appoint the next generation of leaders.

So often we are stuck in the same patterns, the same rhythms day in and day out, looking to the same people to lead, that it’s hard to imagine something new, something different. Someone different. But God is always working new ways, God is always moving us forward.

God was ready to do something new for Israel, God was ready to restore the nation, but the people weren’t receptive. Somehow, Deborah found a way to inspire and rally the people around a new vision.

 She took charge of the military. God worked through her to develop a strategy to defeat the Canaanites, and she told Barack to take 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun, to lead them to Mount Tabor, and there in that place God would give the Canaanites into the Israelite’s hands.

Deborah handed Barack the plan.

And Barack knew Deborah was strong; he knew that there was no way he could go without her. He wanted her by his side. Deborah told him because of this, the victory would be that of a woman’s.

Deborah gave the commanding order, the military went into battle as soon as she said, “Go!”

Barack pushed the chariots.

All of the troops fell by the sword.

There were no survivors.

Sisera fled to Jael’s tent and Jael killed him. Israel went on to destroy Jabin — the king of the Canaanites.

Under Deborah’s leadership, there was peace in Israel for 40 years.

 Just as God raised Deborah to lead his people, God is raising up women in our congregations to lead.


Further Reading:

Johnson, Alan F. How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals. Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan, 2010.

Kroeger, Catherine Clark., and Mary J. Evans. The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Tidball, Derek, and Dianne Tidball. The Message of Women: Creation, Grace and Gender. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2012.

Tucker, Ruth. Dynamic Women of the Bible: What We Can Learn from Their Surprising Stories. Baker Books, 2014.

Younger, K. Lawson. The NIV Application Commentary: Judges. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002.

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I’m With Her

2 comments Written on October 4th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Rev. Cathy Kaminski is lead pastor of Trinity Community Church in Cincinnati, OH. Cathy is neither political or apathetic. She thinks it’s vital to life and health to acknowledge the reality of the world and figure out where you stand. She tries to choose solidarity rather than division.march-profile-picture-1-2

When I first heard Hillary Clinton’s campaign motto I was struck by the sheer brilliance of it. “I’m with her.” It’s a simple statement. A common phrase in today’s vernacular. But also a concept so much greater than ideology or view point. This motto is a declaration of solidarity. And there is great power in being in it together.

Whatever your political prowess there is much to learn from this election. I’m not talking about leaning to the right or the left. There has been ugliness in this season that has highlighted the worst of humanity. Yet I believe there have been and still remain opportunities for greatness. How? But finding the humanity in the chaos. By seeing the opportunities before us in this tumultuous time and navigating through side by side.

I’m hoping that we can all agree that this particular election has become heated, at times polarizing and on more than one occasion hits below the belt. Why is this offensive? Because politics should be about politics. It should be about electing a representative for our nation that can lead us…it shouldn’t be about bank accounts, emails or least of all gender.

But throughout this election there were moments when it was about gender. And every time my heart broke a little. Why? Because when the election becomes about gender instead of experience/beliefs/character/capacity/leadership we paint with such a broad stroke it tends to belittle, stereotype and diminish the conversation. We can do this in the church as well and it tears me up every time. When we narrow our eyes to see only gender we miss out on the extravagance of God’s grace. With our eyes fixed on one point, one position, one perspective we can fail to see just how many gifts God showers on the Church through a vast variety of people.

One of the goals of the Covenant’s Biblical Gender Equality Commission is to carry the conversation of women in ministry forward. I am fully aware that this is a point of contention for people. Individuals and families have left the church over being for or against this understanding of scripture. But do we have to be so polarized in our differences? Do we have to get heated and take humanity out of the equation? When we make this conversation so specifically about gender that we forget our sisters, mothers, daughters and friends who are obediently trying to be faithful to God’s call we tear them down. Even if it’s not our view point we don’t have to add to the ugliness. We have an opportunity to stand with those we agree with and with those we don’t.

“I’m with her,” is not necessarily a statement of absolute agreement. Or at least I want to argue it doesn’t have to be. In this year’s election the Clinton campaign is using it as such, but it dares me to dream for more. “I’m with her” is a statement of solidarity. It’s a declaration of support. And support does not have to be agreement, but respect and encouragement. Think about it this way: in my life I have encountered many people who believe in women in ministry and those who do not. Some of those people supported me and others challenged me. The thing is their scriptural understanding did not necessarily dictate their support. Some of my biggest supporters and advocates did not believe in women in ministry. But they believed in me. They stood beside me when others persecuted. They proclaimed, “I’m with her” when others questioned me. Their solidarity empowered me when their criticism could have torn me down.

If women in ministry is an issue for you, if you are wrestling through the history of the church, biblical interpretation, tradition and practice: great. Wrestle. Question, seek God, pray, study and find conviction. But don’t tear down others whose understanding and conviction differs. Don’t be a part of the worst humanity embodies, but the best. Say “I’m with her.” Not because you agree or disagree but because she is a person and as such, precious. Because she has been given the Imago Dei, (she is an image bearer of God). Christ died for her and loves her, so stand with her!

Our culture praises the individual who can stand on her own two feet. But why stand alone or push someone to stand alone? There is such power, influence and even resilience in standing together. Why not stand together? Whatever your conscience and whatever your vote this election season, I challenge you to embody the sentiment of “I’m with her.” Choose solidarity over division. Choose humanity over all else.

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