Looking back, my call to be a minister started very early on in my faith journey. I became a Christian on an Alpha course in my early 20s, having no background of faith or churchgoing in my family. I became a deacon at 25 and then very soon began to feel, despite enjoying my full-time job as a secondary school teacher, that my heart was really in the (far too many) volunteering roles I had at church.
My passion was for people who didn’t go to church – people like I had been, like my family still were – and I wasn’t convinced that pastoring a Baptist church was the best fit for me. I remember driving to see my regional minister to discuss my emerging sense of call, and thinking, “I’m not sure I’m called to be a pastor.” I heard a voice in my mind saying, “Don’t worry about what you’re not: what are you?” and the answer that came forth straight away was: “I’m an evangelist.” That is one of the few times in my life that God has spoken to me very clearly, and I love the fact that he spoke by asking a question. He knew that I already knew the answer.
The biggest obstacle for me has been understanding my specific call to evangelism and working out how I might live out that calling as a minister. I was told that it might be wiser to seek ministerial recognition as a pastor rather than an evangelist, as that would give me more options when it came to settlement. Unfortunately, telling me something is difficult has always been the worst possible way to put me off from doing it. During my third year at Regent’s Park College my year group would all wait for the monthly email from the National Settlement Team telling us which churches had been sent our ministerial profiles. I will never forget the month my email didn’t come, and when I phoned up to enquire, I was told that there were no posts for which I was suitable on the list. “Is it because I’m a woman?” I asked my regional minister very directly. “No, it’s because you’re an evangelist” he gently and kindly explained.
Eventually I was called to Leigh Road Baptist Church in Leigh on Sea to bring fresh vision to their church coffee house (a role I found out about on Facebook!). In my five years at Leigh Road I have lived out my calling by asking awkward questions, by recognising what God was already doing through the faithful people serving coffee to the community, and by looking for opportunities to share Jesus through words and actions. We proclaim the gospel by serving free meals to homeless people, by building community, and by talking about Jesus in our ‘Life and Soul’ course.
As a woman in ministry you will experience marginalisation, and as an evangelist you may struggle to find your place. But the hard road of figuring all this out will teach you more than you would have learned from an easy life.