6 Women Surprised by God’s Call
It’s been 40 years since the RCA officially began ordaining women as ministers of Word and sacrament, but women have always been called by God to serve the church in myriad ways. Sometimes that call is scary. Sometimes it feels like a perfect fit from the start. Many women say that their call to ministry was unexpected.
For this issue, and in anticipation of the 2018 General Synod’s celebration of women in ministry, RCA Today talked to six women who have been surprised by God’s call in their lives. “We plan, and God laughs,” says Donna Field, one of the women we interviewed.
For some of these women, God’s call meant ordination or a second career; others found ministry opportunity within their chosen vocation. But by taking that first step of trusting in God’s plan, each has found herself exactly where she needs to be.
One Church explores how six RCA members or churches approach one area of ministry. See how other RCA women have been called by following #sheiscalled on social media or posting your own story of how God has called you.
Westwood, New Jersey
Certified health and wellness coach
Elder and worship leader at Parkside Community Church (RCA)
“Health coaching is every bit a ministry as anything else I could have imagined,” says Bontemps, who launched her virtual coaching practice after a personal weight-loss journey. Bontemps didn’t initially connect her spiritual gifts with her vocation. That is, until she started coaching: “As we peel away the surface reasons for wanting to lose weight, we discover so many spiritual wounds that have masked themselves as extra weight or unhealthy behaviors. … Those are very sacred moments.” Her practice isn’t faith based, but Bontemps prays over each client’s file and is transparent about God’s role in her own wellness story. She says most clients understand that spiritual health can affect both physical and mental well-being. “If I didn’t believe God created our bodies to be healthy and vibrant, I couldn’t be a successful coach because I would be focused just on numbers on a scale, not the whole person.”
Palliative care chaplain at Huntington Memorial Hospital
“It never really felt like there was much choice,” says Lin of her unexpected call to hospital chaplaincy. In college, she majored in sociology and political science but decided to change course after graduation. Instead, she got in to just one seminary, and then just one clinical pastoral education program—neither of which, Lin admits, she would have chosen if she had other options. Then, when faced with a possible hospice internship, “I thought, ‘That sounds scary and hard.’ But as soon as I stepped foot [in the hospice facility], I felt a sense of belonging and knew that I needed to be there.” Although working in palliative care at a hospital can be tough, Lin regularly feels God placing her in the right place at the right time. “Every day, people share stories of how they have experienced miracles.”
Co-pastor of Heartland Community Church (RCA)
It wasn’t that Smith thought women couldn’t be ordained. She had literally never met a female pastor. She didn’t know what the words sacrament or ordination meant. So it didn’t cross her mind that her calling could be pastoral. She went to seminary because of her life’s passion to share God’s love with others, but she imagined herself as a social worker, counselor, or professor. Then at Western Theological Seminary, “I had the privilege of meeting many gifted women who were thriving as pastors. A light bulb went off in my brain: Ohhhh, that’s what God has called me to be and do!” Now co-pastoring with her husband, Smith is on the front lines, watching Christ transform lives: “It’s the most exciting work in the world. Looking back … it all seems so clear as to where God was leading me.”
Regional disability advocate for Southwest Classis
Member and part-time receptionist at Christ’s Community Church (RCA)
McQueary spent 20+ years in her first call—a fierce advocate for children with special needs and a special education trainer in public schools. Then she retired, but she didn’t stop being an advocate. “When [pastor of adult ministries] Fred Bates approached me about considering the role of disability advocate, I realized I could marry the work I love with my faith.” Soon she took the role one step further. Inspired by an RCA Disability Concerns connection event in Arizona, she began planning and leading her own community events focused on disability resources. She’s arranged panel discussions, support groups for parents, mental health training, even an ecumenical Bible study. “As I look back, God placed me in special education where he gave me the courage to speak in public [and] the heart to work with people with disabilities. I think [God] had been preparing me for this all along.”
Levittown, New York
Medical ethicist and registered nurse for Northwell Health
Part-time transition pastor for Community Reformed Church at Manhasset
“Nobody’s more surprised by my call than I am,” says Field. She always had “a leaning toward God” but didn’t know what that meant. And being a nurse felt like ministry—it felt right. Still, as she debated what to do for a master’s degree, her pastor suggested seminary. “And my whole inner body just settled. I had to trust that God’s plan for me was not ordinary.” Now Field straddles the health and faith communities, feeling called to both. In her transition pastor role, she’s walking with a congregation whose senior pastor recently departed. “Part of my training as a medical ethicist is communication and sitting with people as they have to make hard decisions. I’m literally using all of my skills for a congregation that is hurting. … Having a pastor who has other skills, a foot in the secular world, can only be a benefit to ministry.”
Church planter/senior pastor of Living Springs Riverdale Ministry Center (RCA)
Bilbrew had a few choice words when God started calling: “Absolutely not, Jesus.” She had plenty of excuses. She was happily employed as a legal social worker. She had young children. She had limited finances. “I ran from ministry for ten years, until one day in church God said, ‘Stop running and go to seminary.’ And he made it happen.” Even so, Bilbrew thought maybe she’d end up in women’s ministry or as an assistant pastor. Not in church planting. But by planting a church and serving as its senior pastor, she’s become more aware of the importance of authentic faith and community outreach. She’s also been able to use her social work background to help people who have been hurt by the church. “The world is thirsty for authentic, compassionate worship and care. To be in a place where I can love people unconditionally—that’s a tremendous blessing.”