My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, NE published 11.13.19
“Ah ain’t never seen nuthin’ like that before!” said the scraggly-looking fellow I found standing inside my study at the church when I got back from lunch. It was years ago in a county-seat town in Illinois where the church building was on the highway just off the town square. We got a lot of transient folk stopping by looking for assistance with food or a night’s stay in a motel, or money for gas to get them a little further on down the road. Startled by the man standing stock-still and silently dripping rain water onto the carpet, I asked, “May I help you, sir?” “Uh. Uh. Well, uh, I’m lookin’ for the pastor.” He said. I extended my hand to shake his and said, “I’m Becky Brown, I’m the pastor here. How may I help you?” And, instead of shaking my offered hand, like a character from a looney-tunes cartoon he hit himself on the forehead and shook his head like he was rattling rocks inside, blinked his eyes wildly and said it, “Ah ain’t never seen nuthin’ like that before!”
The man had been to a lot of churches asking for help, but apparently, I was the first female pastor he encountered. My gender, though shocking to him, did not interfere with his mission. Gladly, he accepted the help I offered and went on his way, still shaking his head like he’d seen some sort of apparition.
In the thirty-plus years I’ve served in ministry since that rainy afternoon in Illinois, I’ve encountered a good deal of sexism in the church, rarely so unmasked. Often it comes cloaked in subtle ways; the ministerial colleague who keeps standing up to assert his dominance in the middle of a casual conversation over a cup of coffee, the dismissive “I can tell you are emotional about this” response from a male leader to a clearly stated concern, the, “well, I knew you were a strong woman the first time I met you” backhanded questioning of my femininity as an excuse for the bad behavior of another man by a male church leader, introducing me by my first-name while at the same occasion calling my male colleagues, “Reverend” or “Doctor” or “Pastor” as appropriate, and so on.
It’s curious how such diminishment of women occurs in the church when it was women who first proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning. It’s time, past time, for the church to repent of sexism—overt and over the top, and covert, subtle and masked.
The United Church of Christ, of which Park Church, where I serve here in Elgin, and First Congregational Church where I serve in Neligh are part, was the first Mainline Protestant denomination in the United States to ordain women to ministry in 1853. In the United Church of Christ, women in leadership are not novelties.
If you are looking to be part of a church where your gender does not determine nor limit your calling maybe Park Church is the right church for you. We worship at 9:15 every Sunday morning. Ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome in the United Church of Christ. I love to hear from you. Beckyzmcneil@gmail.com