Reflections on Jo Saxton’s new book, More Than Enchanting, now featured at the Patheos Book Club.
The lines in her face made her look kind, like someone who would soon be an excellent grandmother. But when she stood behind the pulpit in her white robe, everyone listened. She had backed into ordained ministry. As a kid growing up in Florida, she had sensed God’s calling, but in the 1950’s there was no way for her to pursue the call. Instead, she raised a family and cooked meals and taught a weekly women’s Bible study. And after her mother died, she told me, her slate had been wiped clean. So she decided to go to seminary, not because she wanted to run a church. Just because she wanted to learn more, maybe to become an assistant pastor somewhere.
And then she was doing her Field Education at a conservative little white church, and the pastor of the church, who had been there for decades, died. His was her first funeral. She stepped in temporarily, just until they had time to call a new pastor. But they called her instead. And the church grew and grew and spawned another church. And in her gentle, gracious, but always honest way, she mentored me.
I was in college at the time, wrestling with the passages in Scripture that implied women couldn’t preach or teach in public. We went out to lunch together, and she took me through her own journey, the questions and confusion and finally the clear call from the Lord. She helped me think about the context of the passages that troubled me. She helped me see the way God has used women as leaders throughout the Bible, throughout history. I think it was during that same lunch that she invited me to preach the Thanksgiving sermon in her church, as a way, she said, to encourage me as a young leader.
Years later, I went to seminary, though I didn’t pursue ordination. I haven’t felt the call, at least not yet. But her witness to the way God uses both men and women to teach and preach and lead and love, gave me the confidence to listen. And so I hope and pray that God will raise up more women like her, with the faithfulness and gentleness and perseverance to lead with grace and truth, and to speak that grace and truth to the next generation.