Who Said Girls Can’t?


“When was the first time you heard a woman preach? For some pastors, the first female voice they heard in the pulpit was their own. “Proclaiming, Reforming, Celebrating: Stories of 50|40|10″ shares stories from over 100 women who have served as pastors over the past 50 years. Each story illuminates how God has called and carried these women.”

The quote above announces the ELCA publication of a collection of stories relating the journey to the pulpit of many amazing female pastors – including our own Pastor Anna!
As part of the ELCA 50th anniversary celebration of the ordination of women, an announcement calling for submissions to be considered for this collection was published many months ago. It caught my eye, and I thought “we MUST give it our best shot – we have an amazing female pastor!” I approached Pastor Anna with my proposal of “you talk; I’ll write.”

Pastor agreed, and a long afternoon ensued, while I furiously typed notes as Pastor Anna shared much about her desire to serve the Lord from girlhood, and the challenges she faced along the way.
Those notes were turned into the story you will find on page 55 at the link above, entitled “Who Said Girls Can’t.” Our submission was very close to the deadline, so Pastor held her breath and pushed “send” at the last possible moment. You can imagine our excitement when we learned that Pastor’s story was selected for inclusion in the book.

Perhaps you think you know Pastor Anna well by now; please enjoy a bit more of the life story that brought her to MLC! You may read an excerpt below. Please click the accompanying link for the full article.

Marilyn Sussan


My path to ordination at the age of 40 was nontraditional in every possible way but always guided by a deep, restless, often unspoken call to serve the Lord and a determination to never give up.
As a girl born and raised in South Africa, I came from a family deeply ingrained with the Pentecostal faith. Looking up to relatives who were dynamic and highly regarded pastors, and especially hearing stories about m

y paternal grandfather, who was the national director of missions for the Apostolic Faith Mission Church, I so wanted his legacy to be my own — but that mantle of position and possibility passed only from father to son, both in philosophy and in actual practice. My first “girls can’t …”

I was later sent to a Catholic high school, where my worldview expanded and the realization grew that my girlhood faith was not the only way to serve the Lord, yet “girls can’t…” was again a constant refrain.

With a direct route to the ministry blocked on all sides, I gained a college degree in physical therapy, which was to me a way to serve God with hands and heart by helping people to improve their health. During these years, as a young adult, I was also very active in my Pentecostal church and was even “allowed” to teach the adult Sunday school class, a great honor bestowed by a pastor who
saw and understood my desire to serve but who had no provision to make a way for me. I was privileged to serve on the youth council but never on the church council, a position reserved only for men — “girls can’t …” once again.

I eventually began attending a nondenominational church, where I learned that the related Bible college was accepting new students. In a move that could only have been guided by the Holy Spirit, I boldly went to see the dean of the college — without an appointment or introduction of any sort — and, on the spot, convinced him to accept me into the program. Following two years of successful study, I was ordained as a “co-pastor” with my pastor husband because, again “girls can’t …” serve as a pastor apart from their husbands. Single women completing the course of study could only be ordained as missionaries, because “girls can’t …”

After 12 years of mission field work, our family, now including two little girls, moved to the United States, where I became active in a Lutheran church in Miami. Although mission work was challenging and satisfying in many ways, I still did not feel as if I were truly doing God’s work for my life. As I pondered this, my pastor in Miami encouraged me to use my background and past experiences to consider ordination as an ELCA Lutheran pastor.

 

Taking a deep breath, I looked into the “alternate route” program at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. For the first time in my life, there was no “girls can’t …” thrown at me from the outset, only a mandate to prove that I was worthy of acceptance and capable of doing the work that lay ahead. When facing the admissions panel of 12 esteemed theologians, I could only think, “God has brought me this far; if this is truly of God and truly intended to be my future, then I have nothing to fear” — of course, I had to give my knocking knees that same pep talk at the time!

Once accepted, I spent a reading year with a mentor and a resident “Lutheran Year” at seminary. Once ordained, I finally knew that the Holy Spirit had led me to the place where I could fully use
my gifts. Following an internship, my first call as an associate pastor led me to Emmaus Lutheran Church in Orange City, Florida, followed by a 15-year call in Ocala, Florida, where I met the challenge of consolidating three congregations at various stages of change in their ministries. By this time, I’d long since left behind the “girls can’t…” messages that had not only frustrated me
but also inspired me to keep forging ahead.

 

 

Content in Ocala that I was where I needed to be to serve God’s precious people, I found that the Holy Spirit again had a different idea: when called for an interview at Mandarin Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, Florida, where I serve today, I came close to turning down the call committee’s request but again was drawn to entertain the opportunity. When I arrived for the interview, I thought, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and that the worst case would be a gracious parting when both parties recognized a lack of fit. However, as I drove home, I knew profoundly in my spirit that “this was IT!” I felt in my heart of hearts that it was God’s will for me to be at Mandarin Lutheran at this time.

The freedom of working with a new congregation the past two years to discern how we would carry forward its ministry felt like being presented with a blank journal page on which I could write whatever I was led to. Where we are today, even with the unprecedented challenges of the past year, makes me grateful for the open minds and hearts that have come on this journey with me.

Today, the most joyous thing in my life, comparable only to the joy of my first call following ordination, is the joy of knowing I am doing exactly what God has called me to do and in the place where God called me to be. My path to 20 years as a Lutheran pastor was anything but straight and carefree. I look back and think of each of those “girls can’t…” messages as covering me in the same way an oyster creates a beautiful pearl from an unrelenting irritant. They served only to embolden me and give me the strength to persevere against all odds. The little South African girl in this story is living her lifelong dream of serving the Lord — and is a living testament that “girls CAN.” Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise!

Lord, so many voices tell us we are not good
enough, but you say we are. Help us to hear
world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

You can read more stories of women of the ELCA in their publication WOMEN’S ORDINATION ANNIVERSARIES: Proclaiming, Reforming, Celebrating: Stories of 50|40|10