Two weeks ago, I learned that my beloved young church—planted in 2016—is dissolving. After a spirited three year-run, our pastor ran out of emotional gas and our church ran out of money and denominational support. Looking back, the signs were clear: consistent calls for more volunteers; repeated appeals for increased giving; and lots of prolonged meetings about church vision.
I received an email the Monday after the decision was made, summing up our dilemma: Our pastor couldn’t work three jobs anymore. We had money to fund just six months of church operations, and no sign that our income would magically increase. Caught in a tough corner, the leadership team made the impossible decision to close our doors.
It’s a jolting end to a very sweet season for me. I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend, one who writes me long letters and waxes profound over brunch on Sundays. The congregation is full of my kind of people, the most charming of oddballs. I will even miss the junior high lunchroom turned holy place—so hilariously un-sacred with its cafeteria-table pews and nightmarish acoustics.
The loss of any community is worth grieving. But why do I feel this loss so fiercely?
In my experience, this kind of church is alarmingly unique. Some churches are true sanctuaries. Love is their mother tongue, and mercy is daily bread served at an extra long table. But too many sacred spaces are steeped in cheap salesmanship or worse, in power and judgment. It shouldn’t be hard to find a justice-doing, mercy-loving, humble-walking house of faith. But sometimes, it is.
I’ve seen churches worship shamelessly at the altar of politics and privilege. I’ve sat through sermons that baptized misogyny and nationalism in sacred language. I’ve listened as pastors used their authority to exclude and erase women and people of color. I’ve witnessed women squirm as pastors preached patriarchy from the pulpit and had the nerve to call it God’s will.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve longed to be seen and known and welcomed in the church. For most of my life, I’ve come up empty. Until three years ago.
In my early twenties, I searched aggressively for a woman-affirming faith community. I scoured countless online staff directories for women pastors and elders. I sorted through hundreds of faith statements for clear stances on gender roles. I spent many Sundays in strange sanctuaries, trying to remain hopeful but growing increasingly jaded.
Looking for the right church is often exhausting and discouraging. But looking for a church as a woman can be downright risky. We never know when we may hear a message that demeans us. Those of us who go to church on Sundays must—grudgingly—accept the possibility that we might be hurt at our most vulnerable. For women, sanctuaries aren’t always sanctuaries.
I landed in the makeshift pews of my church after two-plus years of church-hopping. I remember how tired I was, how burned out, how close I was to giving up and relying on Sunday morning podcast sermons, when I heard Pastor Dee for the first time.
As a woman, I’d grown so used to just “getting through” church. Like a runner in a perpetual final sprint, I pushed through one second to the next. I was always fighting to breathe, trying not to do too much permanent damage to my body (or my heart) in the process. Until I started going to my current church, I didn’t know that I’d been on spiritual lockdown for a decade, constantly bracing for the inevitable traumas.
My heart missed a beat when she strode up to the pulpit like it was made for her. For a moment, I imagined that God had written her name on the podium—just to let the doubters know that she was born to stand in that holy place. And when she picked up the microphone and began to preach, it was as if I could get a full breath for the first time in many years.
I can hardly remember what she said on that very first Sunday. I just knew she wasn’t asking for permission from men to do her thing. Because she already had the blessing of the One who invented all the things.
I do recall that the sermon was disconcerting and lovely and painful. It challenged me in a way I didn’t necessarily want but deeply needed. Yes, she was a woman and that mattered to me. But I quickly learned that she was also a gifted theologian, a profound thinker, and a fierce preacher. She never shied away from uncomfortable topics during the three years I was fortunate to call her my pastor (and I’m confident she never will). She didn’t cater to status quos and she never let us off easy.
Pastor Dee also brought her unique experiences and insights as a black woman to her sermons. Whether it was a message on white privilege or an unapologetic look at gender-based violence in Scripture, Dee always went hard after the truth. Even when it hurt to hear, I am so thankful to have sat at her feet.
As a woman, I have never felt so included and seen in a spiritual community. I was never put on trial for my womanhood. I never once felt like my humanity and my right to lead and speak and access God were up for debate. Instead, my gifts were welcomed. I was never given any reason to doubt that I was just as worthy, just as chosen, just as created in the image of God, as the man sitting next to me.
I never had to put on my old armor, because no one ever took any shots.
I’ll miss the community and culture we forged. We called ourselves “co-creators” (yes, I know that sounds annoyingly hipster), and man did we create something beautiful together. I’ll miss spending my Sundays with Christians who affirm and empower women. But perhaps most of all, I’ll miss seeing Dee speak with authority from a platform that’s still off limits to many women.
I’m not sure where I’ll end up now, but I hope I can find another special sacred space, where love is the mother tongue and we serve up mercy on extra long tables. But in the meantime, I’m thankful to have seen a woman in the pulpit for three years of Sundays. Pastor Dee taught me that the gospel is not just a pretty theory. It really does have the power to bind up wounds, lift burdens, and set captives free.
My pastor was a woman. It meant everything to me.