In the last decade or so, I have had no more conflicted times than recently. Not because of worry; no one has died, or been hurt, or lost their way. But a huge change has occurred, and one that leaves me in a place to be more conflicted than anyone else in our beautiful church.
My journey to believing firmly in female leadership in the church started well over 20 years ago, when my pastor at the time repented to our whole church for “hating” women – for putting them in a lesser place than men in our church. His discoveries in scripture and deep convictions were a huge beacon for me. As a new believer, really looking at the bible for the first time with open eyes rather than just reading as I had been told, I saw many women in leadership, which was the opposite of authoritative teaching at the time. I told myself that what I was seeing in scripture must be a mistake on my part, and that I just needed to submit, and everything would be okay. It didn’t feel good spiritually, and it didn’t line up with scripture, but it made me look good on the outside!
When pastor Mike shocked our entire church that day, I felt free to go to him with the questions I had. He gave me advice that spans all subjects, and guides people as they learn from anyone. He told me to go back to the bible, start at the beginning, and read it all again as if I had never been told anything about the content, then see what it said on the subject. So I did. Conviction often comes in waves, with a quick little tingle in your conscience at first, then a tug, then a big pull if you listen. If you don’t listen, Holy Spirit will back off, and try again later. You will be left in the ignorance you currently choose to maintain. I can tell you God regularly challenges me on things I thought I knew – He keeps me on my toes. It’s a good place to be, spiritually – it allows for change of direction with ease.
So, having seen in scripture as a whole that women were leaders, I had to change my perspective on verses that seemed to say otherwise. This took an openness of mind that allowed for re-programming what I had been told (in error) for years. It wasn’t easy, as it was deeply ingrained. But through intense studies, the change did come.
Then I met Mary Todd. She was pastoring a church in Marion, MT. It was a small, intimate affair, held in the evening in an airplane hangar. My daughter and I had been invited by a friend at a time when I was searching for “my” church, and I had no knowledge of the congregation at all; we went to enjoy the community of believers.
So, when I walked in and saw a female pastor I was surprised, and had to immediately deal with all kinds of emotions, and to put aside what I had grown comfortable with in lieu of what God had for me that day. I remember telling myself “this is what you believe is true, so what is your problem?” I listened carefully for God’s Word to be rightly handled, and it was.
This is not to say that Mary is perfect, but that she is wonderful. I personally was healing from years in a very controlling spiritual environment (not related to pastor Mike). Mary was comfortable with Holy Spirit in her own life, and refused to take Holy Spirit’s place in mine, or in the lives of others. A great deal of growth occurred quickly for me because of the freedom in Christ that I had under her leadership. This is not to say she didn’t call me out occasionally for straying from God’s Word. She is firm, but she is free. My respect for her leadership soared. When someone with that much love inside calls you to a better way, it quickens a positive response in your life. Morale improves without the beatings, if you will. 😊 Mary, as you all know, is also open to hearing feedback or correction from anyone.
“I am NOT your Holy Spirit” was an answer I heard over and over until I knew that if I honestly believed God was calling me to do something, I should weigh it against scripture and prayer, and then move. Mary was not a gate keeper. She was a beacon, as we are all to be. Sure, there is the occasional mess, but God and Mary have grace, and actually enjoy the learning process. That kind of freedom promotes massive personal growth, and also allows for accelerated church growth. No spirit of fear = a true spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. Lots is accomplished that way, in a person, and in a church.
I began to work with her closely, in freedom and mutual growth, submitting to God and one another, and really getting things done for The Kingdom. Further, I had an excellent example of what a godly husband looks like by watching her husband, Rick. All these gifts were bestowed on anyone who wanted them, including my daughter. Mary mentored and loved Rheannon as she grew in The Lord, in her own gifts, and in freedom.
Pastor Mary officiated at my wedding 4 years ago, and she and Rick have remained an influence in our lives, to our great benefit.
When I moved to Idaho, Rheannon continued to move in her giftings and to become comfortable with the calling and authority our Lord has given her. Mary lifted Rheannon up through trials, errors, and victories. Our little church grew and changed as it had combined with Purpose Church Kalispell and all the wonderful people and giftings there as well. What a time! So much healing, growing, and exploring.
About 8 years or so from when we met, Mary is called to run for Congress, and so is stepping down from her role as Senior Pastor in our church. As well, Rheannon has stepped into the role of Interim Pastor. As one who loves both people dearly, and sees the call on their lives, I support them both, but you can see my dilemma.
Watching Mary move from her pastorate to this new phase in her life is like having something wonderful physically, and painfully, pulled out of me. Watching my daughter do what I have long seen her gifted and called to accomplish is like watching a hardy plant take off and bloom with gusto – seeing Holy Spirit leap into action, and anticipating the wonderful fruit that will grow and feed many.
For many weeks now I have wept at the “loss” of Mary’s awesome leadership, and wept at the “dawning” of a new thing in Rheannon’s life.
This next week is Pastor Mary’s last active week as lead pastor, and the following week will be Rheannon’s first week as interim pastor. Tears of joy and sorrow mix together and run down my face and neck.
Weep with me.
November 27, 2021