We have not yet arrived — not completely and totally. Baptist women serving in ministry still hear words of opposition, encounter suspicions and doubts and experience the pain of exclusion. We are not fully embraced by all, not welcomed in every church and not included in all positions of leadership.
One of the harder aspects of my work with Baptist Women in Ministry is listening to pain-filled stories told to me by women. Those stories haunt me. They keep me up at night.
That is why I am always thankful when words of affirmation are spoken, when appreciation for the calling and work of women ministers is expressed, when women are given full opportunity to explore and to use their God-given gifts.
But sometimes affirmation comes from surprising sources. Words are spoken at unexpected times, in unanticipated places, by some astonishing folks. In the late spring, I had one of those experiences — an out-of-the-blue affirmation of women in ministry.
On Tuesdays, after the chapel service at McAfee School of Theology, 20 or so students drive to the nearby shopping mall, waltz into the food court, shove five or six tables together, and sit down to eat their Chinese noodles, Chick-fil-A sandwiches or cheese pizzas. I often go with them, mostly because I like to hear the funny stories they tell about their classes and professors and the wild, crazy tales they share from their church experiences.
In April, during one of those food-court lunches, Meggie Dant got a phone call. One of her fellow students was leaving the food court parking lot and noticed that another parked car had rolled into hers. Meggie went out to check on her car, and eventually everyone else went out to check on Meggie. Her car was surrounded by her 20 seminary friends, all taking pictures with their phone cameras and examining her fender for damage. Someone called mall security.
The mall security officer, who was really friendly, came and stood with us, while we all waited for the driver of the offending car to come out of the mall. While waiting, we speculated about the other driver. The car was an older Mercury Grand Marquis. Its side mirror was held to the car with gray industrial tape. It had a cane lying on the backseat — and a Bible. And so we waited, pretty sure we were waiting for an older person.
The other students had to get back to campus for class, so they left. I stayed with Meggie, and we waited some more. Finally, Warren came out, walking slowly. In a rather awkward conversation, we told Warren that his car had rolled into the front of Meggie’s car and that his front fender was now conjoined with her front fender.
Meggie and I learned some of Warren’s history as they filled out accident report forms and exchanged information. Warren is 90 years old. I saw his driver’s license! At 90, he is still driving and still regularly eating at the food court.
He worked for the U.S. Postal Service for decades and retired before Meggie was even born. As we were finishing up and getting ready to leave the scene, I told Warren that Meggie is a seminary student, and he turned to her and asked, “So what are you going to do?”
Without hesitation, Meggie pointed at me and said, “Well, she says I need to be a preacher.” I held my breath for a moment, wondering how 90-year-old Warren would respond. I waited for words of opposition or at least expressions of doubt, but Warren surprised us both. “Well, these days,” he said, “women can be preachers. Women can be anything God wants them to be.”
Meggie got into her car, with its slightly realigned fender, and drove back to campus. I got into my car and sat, holding on to Warren’s unexpected words of grace and affirmation.