Bryn Mawr Woman
By Paige Boyle Evers ’94
“How is someone so small and pretty going to preach?” the son of the deceased woman said to me as we stood in front of the casket in the funeral home. This was in the early 2000s. I graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1994, worked in the business world for a few years, moved to Japan with a start-up company, received a Master of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary, and was well into my solo pastor position at a Lutheran church by the time I was having this conversation.
In my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, women have been ordained since 1970. I was fortunate to have a strong cohort of women in my seminary class. Before we all graduated and scattered to our separate states and congregations, we adopted a motto: “New Old Boys’ Club. Less old, less boys.” At the time, I thought it was a fun phrase to bond us as we moved from the sentimental days of graduation into the real world of ministry. I didn’t realize how much I would draw on our motto when I was faced with attitudes such as, “You are so (fill in the blank: young, little, pretty), how can you be the pastor?” I came back to our phrase when the call committee member asked me in an interview, “You’re married and don’t have kids yet? Shouldn’t you be staying home and having babies? Why do you want to be the pastor of our church?”
Some people feel uncomfortable when they see a woman in clergy attire. They can’t wrap their mind around a woman standing in a pulpit, leading a worship service, or officiating at a funeral. They have only one image of a pastor: an older male. So the challenge for me as I live out my calling as an ordained minister and the question I ask myself often is this: “How can I respond to this person, in this moment, with grace?”
Sometimes I feel like saying, “I went to seminary for four years to be in this position. God is the one who called me into this role.” But those statements do not communicate grace. Instead of giving the person the history of women’s ordination in the Lutheran church, I take a deep breath and remind myself who and what I am representing: God and God’s church. That doesn’t mean I can’t respond at all; it just means that my response has to be guided by compassion instead of impatience. I am called to love God and God’s people. My role is to communicate that love to everyone I meet. Even the people who make strange comments about my size, age, and profession. Instead of responding out of frustration, I get on with my work, which is God’s work.
I step to the podium in the funeral parlor and follow in the footsteps of generations of clergy before me—men and women. I bring out my minister’s service book and speak in a strong and clear voice. When the time comes for the funeral sermon, I preach God’s word. Weaving it together with reflections on the deceased woman’s life and faith, I make room for the family to say goodbye. The woman’s son doesn’t have to wonder how I will preach because I am doing it, with faithfulness and excellence, to the best of my ability. On behalf of his mother, the church, and God, I am sharing the good news of our faith in Jesus’ resurrection and eternal life.
And who knows? When I respond to skeptics with grace and focus on the work God has called me to do, the consequences could be even greater than I can imagine. Maybe there is a granddaughter at that funeral or a teenage girl in my own congregation who hears me preach. Maybe she says to herself, “I could do that. I could be up there preaching, and leading, and being a pastor.” If and when that happens, the New Old Boys’ Club will grow.
Paige Boyle Evers ’94 is a pastor at Reformation Lutheran Church in Delaware. She and her husband, who is also a pastor, have two children. Evers has written faith activities for families at VibrantFaithatHome.org and on the Christmased.com blog and text studies for preaching at Crossings.org.
Visit bulletin.brynmawr.edu/uncategorized/bryn-mawr-woman-submission-guidelines/ for information on how to submit your personal essay.