When I asked Carol Howard Merritt to contribute a guest post to this series, I knew she had some great ministry stories, but nothing could have prepared me for what follows. Enjoy!
“Well. The good news is that you did well on your tests. Your grades are way above what we require. Your IQ is very high,” the advisor began.
“Oh great,” I sat back in relief. I went to Moody Bible Institute in the hopes of getting into their Mission Aviation program. After months of orientation and testing, I was finally receiving the verdict of whether I was accepted.
“BUT,” she said, trying to catch up with herself. “The Board rejected your application.”
“Well,” she opened my file, pretending to examine pages for clues so she could avoid my eyes. “We don’t have any girls in the flight school. We’ve never had a girl apply.”
“That’s not true. I saw a woman in our orientation class,” I protested.
She shook her head. “She’s in avionics, not flight. Carol, we don’t even have any girls’ restrooms on the Tennessee campus,” She finally looked up and closed the file. Grasping the folder with one hand, she reached out her other hand as if she wanted to hold my palm in prayer.
I folded my arms tightly around my chest and imagined all of those secretaries relieving themselves in the woods.
She exhaled, shook her head diagonally, and continued, her words dripping with sympathy, “Believe me. The Board had a difficult time with your application. It felt like those men argued for hours. But the donors spend more money on flight school students than any other student. They just couldn’t take the risk.”
“What risk?” I asked.
“Think about it. What happens when you get pregnant?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you willing to promise that you’ll never get married?”
“What?” I said crossing my legs the other direction. I couldn’t figure out what she was saying. I was seventeen. Did she want me to take a vow of celibacy in order to get into the program?
“You can’t fly after you get pregnant.”
I sat. Taking it all in. She did expect a vow.
“Plus,” she went on, as her compassion took on a patronizing tone, as if she was trying to explain to a five-year-old the facts of big-girl life. “Being a pilot is a position of authority, and as a woman, it just wouldn’t be what God would want.”
“Why isn’t it in the catalogue that the Flight school is only for men?” I asked bitterly.
She continued her sorrowful head shaking. “We just never expected a girl to apply,” she smiled. Pointing to a box of Kleenex, she made an invitation, “You can cry, if you’d like.”
I looked at her, rolled my eyes and thought, Oh hell no. I am not giving you that satisfaction, and walked out of the room.
I left my advisor’s office, feeling shattered, ashamed and disoriented. I didn’t want to fly the planes to be in authority. I wanted to help people—to take medical supplies and building materials onto the mission field. Why was that act of servitude off-limits? I was not allowed to teach a boy who was over the age of six, because a seven-year-old male had spiritual authority over me.
The only thing that seemed acceptable for women was playing the organ and singing in the choir. I sucked at both. With my complete lack of domestic and musical abilities, I was useless to the church. I wanted to serve God, but how?
I suppose that’s when I began to question “God’s intended order for women.” I read Jesus’s parable a thousand times. We were given talents. We were not to bury them, but to use them.
So why had God given me all the wrong talents? Why did teaching and studying theology excite me like nothing else?
What finally saved me was the fact that even more than serving people, I wanted to serve God. I began the painful and arduous path of trying to live into the fullness of what God beckoned me to be. I had to tune out the eternal chorus of people calling me a “feminazi.” I had to quit imagining how I embarrassed my parents. I had to tame my thoughts that taunted me for not being good enough, smart enough, or just plain enough to be in ministry. I kept plodding along the path God set out, one step at a time.
I would have never planned this journey—going to seminary, becoming the solo pastor of a tiny Cajun congregation, leading a larger church in Rhode Island, and serving a church in downtown D.C. I began writing, and the process was like discovering an unused appendage. Then, I stumbled upon a whole new vocation, as I travel around, teaching church leaders and seminarians.
Now I’m working on a book, trying to trace the circuitous path behind me, in the hopes that others will be able to find their own way to live into the fullness of God’s call.
About Today’s Blogger
Carol Howard Merritt is a pastor at Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. She is the author of Tribal Church and Reframing Hope. She blogs at TribalChurch.org, which is hosted by the Christian Century. And she co-hosts the God Complex Radio podcast with Derrick Weston.
About the Women in Ministry Series
The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:
- Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
- Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.
Contributions Welcome: Contact Ed to pitch your post idea in 2-4 sentences.
You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list. (You also get a free E-book!)
Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed. Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.
Next Week’s Blogger: Stephanie Smith