Clergywomen’s Breakfast Transcript - Dr. Nancy B. Rankin

June 25, 2018

Clergywomen’s Breakfast 

June 22, 2018 

Lake Junaluska, NC 

Dr. Nancy B. Rankin 

(Hi Nancy, 

I hope you are having a great week!  I’m sure your schedule is full of many things yet to be done, though I imagine you (and Terry!) must be very excited for your upcoming retirement!  

During our Women In Ministry Breakfast (Friday, June 22), I would love for you to offer us some of your thoughts, insights, wisdom, etc... with the women gathered.  In light of your ministry and experiences, the influence you have had on so many of us, it would be such a blessing for you to share with us.  It would not need to be anything formal to present, of course.  In terms of timeframe, I’m thinking 10-15 minutes (or less if you don’t want as much).   

Would you please consider and let me know?  





Judy Davis invited me to speak to you today saying, “I would love for you to offer us some of your thoughts, insights, and wisdom with the women gathered.”  Once she said, “wisdom,” I knew I would be able to stay within the time limit.  But in many ways I can identify with the Farmer’s Insurance commercial that says, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”  Having grown up in United Methodist parsonages and now observing 35 years since I was ordained I have certainly seen a thing or two in church life!  So here are some of my insights, whether they are wise I will leave to your discernment. 

I have fought off the sexual advances of more than one clergyman but more disturbing than that have been the various times men, both clergy and laity, have attempted to intimidate, threaten, and bully me.  But I know I am not alone.  It has happened to many of you as well. 

Nevertheless, we lead, we preach, we serve Jesus! 

It is a myth that older adults struggle more with having a female pastor than do younger people.  While some older adults resisted my coming at first, they more often became my biggest supporters.  The peculiar thing through the years is that I have found that women closet to my own age were often the most adversarial to having a female pastor.  I do not have the answer as to why that might be except to wonder if my presence took away their excuses and assumptions about what they could be doing in their own lives.   

Nevertheless, we lead, we preach, we serve Jesus! 

As a pastor and twice as a District Superintendent, I have learned to decode the language people often use to explain why they don’t want a clergywoman.  They will say things like: 

“We just can’t hear her.” (That means we don’t like having a woman preach to us).  

“She just doesn’t connect with us.” (That means our teeth were clenched shut to connecting with her before she even arrived). 

 “We just don’t think she is a good fit for us.” (We wanted a male pastor).  

“My husband won’t come to church to hear a woman.” (At least I hope that’s true). 

“We just aren’t ready to receive a woman.” (And we don’t plan to ever be ready). 

And the good news is that I received a thank you note from the woman who declared that her husband wouldn’t come to church to hear a woman after Tam Wensil served as their first woman pastor.  She couldn’t thank me enough for the gift Tam had been to them.   

So, Nevertheless, we lead, we preach, we serve Jesus! 

In the earlier days whenever we women would gather like this, only around one or two tables, or we would be seen talking in a group, we would be approached by fellow clergymen asking what we were plotting.  We were often seen as a menacing group.  When we were trying to get one clergywoman elected to our Conference’s General and Jurisdictional Delegations we were asked to pick one of us as though more than one was an overwhelming thought. 

Nevertheless, we lead, we preach, we serve Jesus! 

In spite of the many barriers placed before us we have continued to respond to God’s calling on our lives and I have felt so encouraged to see our numbers grow and our effective ministries be evident throughout our Conference and beyond in Extension Ministries and Missional Appointments around the world.  Because when it comes to being called by God, it has not been about trying to prove anything other than a passionate drive to be faithful people.  We have been accused of being radical feminists, men haters, with axes to grind. 

Nevertheless, we lead, we preach, we serve Jesus! 

One of my favorite memories is when I was leaving Oak Grove UMC in Charlotte and a little girl came up to me to say good-bye and she looked up with sad eyes and said, “Does this mean our next pastor has to be a man?  I want you, Pastor Nancy.”  

It has been disconcerting to have a PPR Committee say to me, “we had a bad experience with our female pastor so we don’t want any more females,” but they would never say, “we had a bad experience with a male pastor so please don’t send us anymore men.”  

Nevertheless, we lead, we preach, we serve Jesus! 

Many times I have been by the hospital bed of a male church member who would express to me his relief that he could confess to me his fears and actually cry in front of me because it felt safe to do that with a female pastor and he was grateful.  In my first appointment I was the Associate Pastor at Mt. Tabor in Winston-Salem where a family said I wasn’t to participate in their relative’s funeral because they didn’t believe in women pastors.   

Nevertheless, we lead, we preach, we serve Jesus! 

And a funny note about that first year in ministry when I was the only female pastor in my district.  Our DS had planned an overnight retreat for the clergy.  I was notified I would have to pay extra for my single room as I had not stated a roommate preference.  I called them to say if they wanted to assign one of my male clergymen as my roommate, and explain that to his wife, then I would be happy to share the costs.  Of course I was kidding and they kindly removed the extra charge for my “single room.”  By the way, a sense of humor is essential in this sacred work of ours.  More than once people have said unkind things to me without thinking or even realizing they were being insulting.  The better path is always to give them the benefit of the doubt and find some humor if possible.  And sometimes it isn’t at all funny. 

Nevertheless, we lead, we preach, we serve Jesus! 

So here is my wisdom: 

Always strive for excellence in your sermon writing and preaching, your practice of the Spiritual Disciplines, your teaching office, your pastoral care, and your ordering of the life of the church.  Practice consistent self-care.  Have friends and hobbies that nourish your life.  And it’s not because you are trying to outdo anyone else but because you want to do your best for God and God’s people.   

Plan ahead.  I planned my worship services, sermon texts, and themes 6 months ahead knowing full well we could accommodate needed last minute changes.  Your music and bulletin people will thank you and your life will have less stress. 

Ask for help.  No one can relate to or live up to Superwoman.  Go to therapy, have a Leadership Coach, have a Spiritual Director, learn from other clergy and don’t underestimate how much you can learn from your laity.   

Invest in your lay church officers.  You are their Spiritual Leader so disciple them.  Gather them in a Wesley Covenant Group with you and learn their faith stories; model discipleship with them; seek together God’s vision for your church.  Teach them how to disciple others.  Make it possible for your church to continue to grow and thrive even after you have moved to your next appointment. 

Reserve a sermon writing day each week and stick to it.  And don’t let that day also be the day you are supposed to be taking as your day off.   

Yes, as a woman you can be an effective pastor, have children, a happy marriage, and finish that doctoral program but it is ok if you don’t try to do all of that at the same time.  Think of your life in seasons and you choose what needs to happen in which season that seems right with God and with your family.  Taking formational leaves, study leaves, and all of your vacation days and days off are signs of a healthy woman and better pastor.   

I returned to school after surrendering to my calling to become an ordained pastor when I was married with two young children.  I had already made sacred covenants in my marriage vows and in their baptismal vows.  I had suffered at times as the daughter of a pastor who would give his life to the church and not have enough left over for us.  It was part of the reason I resisted my calling at first.  I didn’t want that kind of life for our children.  

I explained to my PPR Committees through the years that I would be there for them as their pastor but I would also place a priority on being present for my children and husband.  I felt it was just as important that we model for our congregations a healthy marriage and good parenting as it was to meet their pastoral needs.  Somehow, through it all, a balance was struck in most cases and I am pleased to say our children have turned into wonderful, productive adults, in happy marriages with terrific children.  Workaholism is a detriment in many vocations but in ministry it tends to be glorified and that is sinful. 

We older women need to do a better job of mentoring younger clergywomen.  I apologize that many of us have been so preoccupied with just trying to survive that we didn’t do more to help those of you who have come behind us.  As women, we haven’t been nurtured like men have been to be mentors and we need to change that.  We should be one another’s best supporters and advocates.  I could not have survived without our clergywomen sharing groups through the years.  We came together no matter how far we had to drive to see one another, pray for one another, work on sermons, vent, and pick each other up to keep serving. 

Never stop learning.  The world has drastically changed but we are still trying to do church as though it is 1965.  Learn what is working in thriving churches whose theology we trust.  Get out of your office and into the community.  Know community leaders and be someone they can count on.  Lead your people to engage with people who are different from them.  People aren’t going to come to our churches because we put up a sign inviting them.  Evangelism today has to be about genuine, authentic relationships with people because we first value and care about them; not because we are on the trail for someone to prop up our dying churches. 

Do not meet with an angry person if at all possible.  Put them off for two days or more to give you both time to cool off and be more reasonable.  Don’t meet with untrustworthy people alone.  Have a witness with you.  Give up trying to reason with unreasonable people.  People will do things in church that they would get fired for in their secular jobs.  A lot of what they are projecting on to you has to do with their own issues more than it has anything to do with you.  Try not to take personal jabs personally. 

Don’t whine.  Claim your joy.  Be joyful to others.  The world needs our churches to show up big and we who lead these churches cannot be found cowering in the corner wishing it would all go away.  Sure, we face uncertainties about the future of our denomination, but the last I looked people still need to see the hope of the Gospel made real through his fully devoted disciples.  That better be us.  Be encouragers of one another in spite of all we face.  Because regardless of all that has happened to us and may yet make us fearful, 

Nevertheless, we lead, we preach, we serve Jesus!