Answering God's call

When I was 45 years old I made the crazy decision to quit my job and start seminary. Actually, it wasn’t just any job. I had lobbied The University of Iowa to create a new position, Director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program, and then they had the nerve to hire me to do the work. The only explanation I can provide when someone asks why I left that job was that God would not let me do anything else.

After resisting a call to ministry for many years, and volunteering for nearly every position in the local church except pastor, I finally gave up the fight and followed God’s leading. One Sunday I was sitting in the pew at First United Methodist Church in Iowa City, Iowa, and the next Sunday I was serving as the half-time pastor for Aroma Park United Methodist Church in Aroma Park, Illinois.

The Staff-Parish Relations Committee at Aroma Park UMC had told their district superintendent they did not want a student and they did not want a woman. When I arrived with my family for the “put in” meeting, everyone there assumed that my husband would be their pastor! Of course no one told me that until months later.

Looking back, I may have accepted a call much earlier in life if I had known a woman who was also a pastor before I turned age 35. In high school the church was one of the few places where my leadership abilities were nurtured. The other place was in the Girl Scouts.

I was a leader in my church youth group and Sunday school, and was the one who led our “Scout’s Own” worship services on weekend camping trips, but no one back then ever encouraged me to consider ministry as a vocation. Because I did well in math and science, I found it easier to picture myself as a physicist or an experimental psychologist than a pastor.

Very early in my first pastoral appointment, I made a decision to be their pastor first and a woman second. I had worked in the area of educational and occupational equity for women long enough to understand that I wanted to be accepted on the basis of my ability to do the work without regard to my gender.

On the weekends I preached the Word of God, administered the sacraments, led the people in prayer, listened to their hurts, visited the sick, and did my best to be the hands and feet of Christ. Then, every Tuesday through Thursday I left my husband and two teenaged sons at home while I stayed at school 75 miles away, going to class and doing my course work.

I did my best to graciously accept the prayers of church members who were concerned about my early morning and late night hours on the road. Every time a church member would begin their prayer in a small group study with “Father,” I would simply remember to choose a more descriptive (and thus more inclusive) term such as “God of hope” or “merciful God” when it was my turn to pray.

Instead of making an issue of my gender, I loved the people and lived into being their pastor. Once they got over the shock of not getting what they had asked for, the congregation began to share their concerns about not getting a “real” pastor, and their realization that I was real!

I never stopped being a woman, and I remained a student throughout my tenure in that appointment, but the people came to understand that a pastor did not have to pushy or always right. They discovered that they were being challenged to grow in their faith and invited into mission rather than being strong-armed into service.

Three years later, when I graduated from seminary and was ready to leave for a full-time appointment, the Staff-Parish Relations Committee asked their district superintendent for a pastor who would lead them like I had. There next pastor was neither a woman nor a student, but it didn’t matter, because they now knew the role of pastor was not restricted by those characteristics. 

Bev Marshall-Goodell worked at The University of Iowa for 19 years conducting research, teaching and directing the Women in Science and Engineering Program before accepting a call to ordained ministry in 1998. She received her M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 2001, and served at Aroma Park UMC in Aroma Park, Ill,  and Ankeny First UMC in Ankeny, Iowa, before being appointed to Grace UMC in Tiffin, Iowa, in 2004.

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