Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My Ordination

I was ordained today.

Fear not, my conservative friends. There are few Southern Baptist churches in Texas that will convene an ordination ceremony for a woman and mine is not one of them. No, I did not stand before an elder body, nor did I receive questions from an assembly of deacons, nor did I have the hands of ministers laid upon my shoulders. I would be honored to be a part of any such service but, for now, that is not to be. My ordination was something far more subtle, far more fragile, far more precious. Allow me to explain.

Every week I serve as a student chaplain in a hospital in Waco under the supervision of the pastoral care department. This service is a part of my clinical pastoral orientation class for Truett Seminary. Although my anxiety about this class exceeded my anxiety about any other class at Truett, I have found that the hour I spend listening, sharing, and praying with patients is among my most fulfilling every week. In this way, my experience appears to differ sharply from that of a number of my classmates, who, frankly, view their visits as burdensome interludes to be endured.

Deborah Gonzalez (not her real name) welcomed me into her room this afternoon with tentative eyes. When I introduced myself as the chaplain, her countenance changed and I could see a wave of relief pass across her face. As we spoke, I discovered that Deborah has been ill for many years. She lives with chronic pain from a number of internal problems, all of which are degenerating quickly.

When I knocked on her door, Deborah had just learned from her doctor that the end is very near. That is to say, a transplant appears to be out of the question and there is little more the doctors can do. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, Deborah opened up her heart and shared with me fears and pains that she has not had the courage to share with anyone else.

After a profoundly honest and meaningful visit, I read Romans 8:26-39 aloud. "The Spirit intercedes for us in our weakness...We know that in all things God is working for the good of those who love him...We are more than conquerors through him who loved us...Nothing can seperate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." I offered to pray with her and Deborah placed her hand in mine.

When we said "Amen," and looked back up into each other's eyes, Deborah had a strength in her face that had not been there before. Her eyes were steady and her countenance calm. She was still very ill, still in great pain. But, something had happened in her soul during our visit. The Spirit had met us there and applied healing to her and I could see it.

Then, without hesitation or contrivance, Deborah placed her hand on top of mine and offered me a benediction of sorts: "The Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you. The Lord use you to bring comfort and peace to others in the way you have brought comfort and peace to me." It was a beautiful, dreamlike moment: Deborah in her blue hospital gown, hair disheveled and make-up smeared from tears, laying her hands upon me and pronouncing a word of blessing, a prophecy of consecration, to a young, confused seminarian.

I went to Criswell College believing myself to be called to pastoral ministry. I know, its quite humorous to imagine me ignorantly choosing such a conservative Bible college with this aim. Indeed, I have to laugh at the confusion of the faculty advisor on my very first day as he tried vainly to conceal his shock at my stated goal. However, in my time at Criswell, it didn't take long to become convinced of the conservative reading of scripture that God prohibits women from serving as pastors or preachers. So, the issue was settled in my mind. I was not called to pastor. My attention turned to other things.

Under the mentorship of one kind and brilliant professor, and with the vocal support of many others, I was encouraged to pursue writing and teaching, both of which came quite naturally to me. I quickly realized that the world of academia was far less closed to women than that of church. So, although I was not aware of my motivation at the time, I see now that choosing the role of teacher was my "out," my way to minister to God's church without having the "baggage" associated with pastoral ministry.

Then I came to Truett. I will not detail the many years of toil and struggle I experienced as I finally arrived at the conclusion that my professors at Criswell, who I love and trust and respect to this very day, are wrong. Indeed, I flinch even now simply writing the words. But, it is what I have concluded from seeking truth and studying the Word: "Here I stand, I can do no other."

Even with my change of mind, though, I remained certain that God did not intend pastoral ministry of any kind for my future. I'm better with books, I thought. I will teach and write, but shepherding is dirty and difficult and not "my thing." Ronnie can pastor, I will teach.

Then, I began to shepherd a women's Sunday School class. Then, I began to know and love a few profoundly broken and fantastically gifted women who actually look to me--me!--for wisdom and guidance. Oh, I'm just teaching a class, I said. I'm just being a good friend. I'm just doing this for now.

Then, I enrolled in a semester of ministry courses: preaching, preaching the parables, Christian ministry, clinical pastoral orientation, and spiritual formation. I thought I would be bored to tears in these "practical" classes. I was certain I would ache for theology and theory. I was wrong.

For all my certainty that the scholarly realm is my "cup of tea," I have found that I find great joy and fulfillment in ministry--dirty, complicated, rough and tumble, pastoral ministry. I find joy in preaching. I find joy in visiting the sick. I find joy in praying for the troubled, confused, and hurting. I find joy in laboring over the formation of souls. And, not only is there joy and peace as I encounter and embrace these tasks, but I am overwhelmed with the incredible privilege it is to do so. I weep even now imagining that God would permit me, little ole me, to be used to care for the soul of another. What an astonishing thing.

As reflected with my supervisor at the hospital about my time with Deborah and my new discoveries about pastoral ministry, he was silent for a while and then made this statement: "Well, Emily, it seems as though you have received your ordination." Observing my confusion, he clarified: "I know in your context you cannot be ordained, but it seems as though God used this woman to affirm your calling to you. She laid hands on you and spoke the truth. Are you ready to receive it?"

Now, hear me, my friends. I am not saying that I think I am called to be a pastor. I am not saying that I am not called to be a teacher. What I am saying is that I don't know what I'm called to do anymore. And, for now, that's ok. I can rest in the unknowing. I can stand firm in my ignorance.

For today, what matters is that Deborah Gonzalez received a touch from God through me. What matters is that through her bruised, sickly hands, God quietly and inconspicuously consecrated me for ministry, something I didn't think would ever happen. May he now grant wisdom as I figure out what to do next.


Strider said...

You have the Holy Spirit within you- you are a minister of the Gospel regardless of how uncomfortable that may make others feel. We have made the gift of the pastor into an authoritarian organizational position. Scripture never refers to it this way. Exercise your gifts and find joy in what God is doing. You will be opposed but then so are all who follow Jesus.

Rex Ray said...

I was gathering my thoughts to have a final say to your previous post of the marriage feast when I read a more important one that touched my heart.

Yes, you’ve been anointed in a better way than deacons laying their hands on you…Oh, that’s traditional alright, but God’s will is better than tradition any day.

You’ve been anointed by God for a calling He will show you. Doors open and doors close…stay focused for the Holy Spirit to lead you.

When I first heard that you went to Criswell College, I thought—Ut oh, I know how her brain would be spoon-fed. But I was wrong, and congratulations.

Your training there will prepare you for seeing how the powers that be are still trying to keep women ‘in their place’.

Who is man that tells God what He can and cannot do? God can teach man by a donkey and even rocks can cry his Message.
Man tries to tell God that women are the weaker sex and should never be a pastor etc. Words are stronger than a sword.

Why did the devil choose Eve to deceive and not Adam? The same reason a bomber will choose a tank to drop a bomb on rather than a person. With Eve deceived, the devil knew Adam would follow like a puppy dog.

I’ve been upset about Burleson being censored. He is facing an up-hill battle that women are born with.

Thank you so much for your thoughts, and this is not goodbye.


Gary Snowden said...


What a beautiful statement of God's affirmation of your ministry through one whom you touched and cared for with His love. Having read the sermons that you've posted and sensed a pastoral heart in and through them, I too wish to affirm your calling to ministry by God in whatever capacity He sees fit to use you--and I wouldn't put any restrictions on what that might be.

Debbie Kaufman said...

Emily: The comments so far in this thread are just as moving to me as the post you have written. I concur with what has already been said. I would love to meet you someday and hear you preach. I've listened through your writings, but it would be an honor to hear you in person.

Paul Burleson said...


From one Shepherd/Pastor to another.. I, with the others who have commented, recognize your gifts and calling and also recognize your Shepherding ministry being done to the Body of Christ. That Shepherding ministry, as Strider said, IS NOT an authoritarian office but a ministry gift to the Body. You are that gift. Excercise it with faithfulness and somewhere someday, perhaps, some part of the Body will belatedly lay hands on you in recognition of it.

If not,you have been set apart in a profound way. More importantly, in THAT day, you will hear HIM say "Atta girl." [Well done]

VJCalderon said...

Hello, Emily,

Forgive me for internalizing your post, but your thoughts are very similar to my own journey. I can't help wondering how many women experience the same confusion and affirmation or wonder about pastoral ministry or academia? I wasn't nearly so confused about my gifts and calling before I went to seminary!
Thank you for articulating our hearts so well.

Blessings, my sister.


S, RR, DK, GS, and PB: Your encouraging words carry much weight for the kingdom. Thank You.

Mel said...

Although you had shared this with me in person, reading it here again brought tears to my eyes. I have been so blessed to know you in person, to benefit from your wisdom, love, teaching, and support. The fact that the Holy Spirit used "Deborah" to affirm what I have already experienced with you is so gracious! God is so faithful and so good to us. I'm glad you received this confirmation. These are just a few of the reasons why my heart aches every time I remember you are moving and every time I try to imagine my week going by without our time together. I love you!!

Judy Sneed said...

I just hope your classmates will one day experience the leading of the Spirit as you have. That they will grasp the points Jesus made and do them. It is but joy that we do them. I have seen the Lord grow you in the last 6 prayer and understanding. I love you Em.

Carn-Dog said...


I know this professor you speak of. I think he is right. It seems almost fitting, given the cast of characters that he biblical narrative presents us with, that this is how this happened.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...


Thank you for your gracious responses. I am so blessed. Please know that your words have warmed my heart and encouraged my soul. It can be a scary thing to be so vulnerable on-line, but you've shown me that its worth it.

Grace and peace to all,


UnderMidnight said...

I can never think of anything adequate to say except that this gives me happy spots.

Steve said...

Miss Emily,

Mama Minister,

It is obvious to me that He has set you apart for something wonderful. Thinking of your ministering to groups large and small fills me with a sense of completeness. These folks are right. Trust God to always Make All Things New.

L said...

For what it's worth....I don't have that many readers, but I just introduced you to them in my post titled Wimmin Preachers.

Best of luck as you progress!

Anonymous said...

I am behind in my reading of your blog but I wanted to add my encouragement to the others. I know without a doubt that you are annointed, that God has special tasks for you ahead. Don't let anyone rob you of what God has in store for you. I have told you in person many times how I feel about you and how God has gifted you but I wanted to add to the group who have commented. You are so loved and it hurts my heart to see you leave us geographically. You will never leave our hearts and, thank you, God, for the internet and e-mail, you will only be a few keystrokes away!


Lon said...

Ever since this post, I cannot seem to encounter the subject of the ordination of women without thinking about you. In my recent wanderings around the net, I saw the Dec 07 issue of Open Theology dealing with the roles of women in the church, and thought you may be interested.

Hope you and yours had a great Cmas!

Paul said...


I'm obviously way behind in catching up on your blog. Honestly yours isn't the only one. But yours is one of the only ones where I haven't simply clicked the "Mark all as read" button, and posts like this are the reason why.

You've brought back memories of my time in CPE as a hospital chaplain as well as some very memorable times as a pastor doing hospital ministry.

Your supervisor is right. This is pastoral work. It may not officially come under the sanction of some local church right now, but this is pastoral ministry whether the title follows along with it or not.

I remember being blessed by the ministry of several women in that CPE program and I am happy to be able to add you to the list of women who's ministry blesses me. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.