Last week I was asked to record my personal story of becoming an ordained minister. A friend is compiling stories to be included in a book which will be presented to other female ordination candidates this spring.
It was good for me to look back at some of the steps that led me to becoming a woman in full-time ministry. I realized today, some of you might find a word of encouragement in the story as well. So here it is. Hope you enjoy!
“Quick, Sheri! We need someone to cover the junior girls’ class. Come with me.” My dad was motioning to me from the doorway of my own Sunday school class. I followed him down the hall and stepped into my destiny.
I was only fifteen when I later became the official teacher for the six, seven and eight-year-old girls’ group. It was a position I filled until I left home for college. The joy I felt each week as they caught a concept or heard a Bible story for the first time was beyond description. The girls especially loved hearing the stories and I truly loved telling them.
Years later, it was my husband who affirmed that story-telling was a gift in my life and I needed to use it in a larger way to express God’s Truth. Devotions, Sunday school lessons and women’s events were my major outlet. Faithfulness then was a key building block for ministry in subsequent years.
A dear friend named Sandra Bass became state women’s director for North Carolina during our years of ministry there. Sandra, an ordained minister, had served as a missionary to Latin America when there weren’t many single women in such a role. Her sermons were always full of Latin fire and a challenge that drew everyone to the altar. I watched and learned.
Sandra brought me onto her executive team and soon began cultivating the ministry gifts she saw in her younger protégé. She absolutely loved pushing other people forward.
“Sheri, that was a powerful devotion. I want you to share it at our next leadership event.”
“Here’s a great new book. Develop a workshop for our team.”
“I can’t make this retreat but I told them to call you, Sheri. Say Yes! You can do it.”
Many books on leadership urge us to always look forward; focusing on our vision and future. While I understand that concept, I’m so thankful Sandra looked back and saw someone longing to learn from her example. She took the time needed and became a true mentor in my life.
I’m not sure what restaurant we were in when Sandra said, “Sheri, you are a great preacher!” I remember being shocked she used the word preacher and I responded, “I’m a teacher; not a preacher.” She and my husband both began laughing at me. “Honey, accept it,” he said. “You’re a preacher.” That’s when the idea of being licensed for ministry first came up.
The only ordained women I knew (besides my friend) were a bit “other worldly” or their sermons sounded like they could easily be given by a man. I didn’t want to be lumped into either category. But slowly, gently God began opening my heart.
The Holy Spirit showed me how His call had been on my life from my teen years. I had developed a deep love for His word and for sharing its truth. Scripture became the stabilizing factor for me. My life may not have made sense sometimes but His Words to me were always steady. Growing up in a pastor’s home was, for me, just like living in a fishbowl. My personal relationship with Christ gave me hope for better days ahead.
My husband continued urging me to pursue the licensing process. He also created opportunities for me to preach. The next leap came when we moved into evangelistic work. It was determined that every time we spoke for a church with Sunday night services, he would preach the morning and I would preach the evening. It was a big stretch but I jumped in with both feet.
When I finally became a licensed minister, our entire family celebrated! However, I continued resisting the idea of ordination until God allowed me to be in a spot that made it clear - I was missing His plan.
After preaching the Mother’s Day sermon for a church in another city, one of the members approached me. He was a state senator and also served as director of chapel services for the NC Senate. “I understand you and your husband are both ministers,” he said. “Would you be interested in bringing devotions for our chapel? Chapel speakers also pray over the opening of the session.”
Of Course! We would be honored. I expressed our appreciation for such an invitation and got to Frank with the exciting news as quickly as possible.
Our assigned days finally arrived. We had determined I would speak the first day so I stepped to the podium wearing my best blue suit, a lovely white blouse and navy heels. My message was sincere and I made sure to stay within my allotted time. Several of the senators stopped to greet me; thanking me for the word of encouragement.
The assistant of our host stepped up beside me and whispered, “What year were you ordained? I need that for our records.” I responded in my customary way. “Oh, heavens! I’m not ordained. I just enjoy preaching and teaching the Word.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Only ordained ministers are allowed to open the Senate in prayer. Would your husband be willing to do it both days?” I remember mumbling that he would and watching as she stepped over to Frank.
That door slamming closed was a pivotal moment for me. I bowed my head and promised God I would no longer make excuses. I would work with my whole heart to prepare for whatever doors He might open in the future. Becoming ordained was the first step in fulfilling the promise I made that day.
Ordination was not an easy process; there were even some obstacles to overcome. But obedience and perseverance always bring great reward. I am incredibly grateful to be part of an organization that recognizes and affirms God’s call on women.
I celebrate this moment with you, Dear Candidate! I pray God’s richest blessings.
- May we all look back to see others who need our encouragement.
- May we be that voice of affirmation.
- May we each preach the word in the way God has uniquely gifted us.
- May we step up to every challenge presented knowing He is able through us.
- May we look to the future with joy and excitement.
God Bless You!