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May 12, 2014

Unleashing The Ministry Gifts of Women, Men, and Every Ethnic Group


It’s one of our core values

Do you ever have a moment when someone says something and you think, “Well, that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!” This happened to me when I went on a walk in my neighborhood recently. I greeted some neighbors as we passed on the street, and one of them said, “I just saw your dog running down the street.” Really? That’s crazy, I thought, because I just left my house two minutes ago and my dog was safely inside wearing his collar which keeps him inside our electronic fence. Or, it’s happened when someone said, “Wow, I love those red pants you’re wearing.” And as I looked down at my khaki pants, I thought, that’s crazy, because I’m pretty sure these pants are khaki.

I have the same thought (and frankly, a few others) when I recently heard of someone saying, “ECO doesn’t support or encourage women in leadership or in ministry.” What!? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard! And, clearly, it’s not only crazy, it’s a complete fallacy.

One of our core values in ECO is egalitarian ministry. As it’s stated in our Core Values:

We believe in unleashing the ministry gifts of women, men, and every ethnic group.

Our Essential Tenets, affirmed by every elder in the church through his or her ordination, also articulates ECO’s belief in egalitarian ministry by stating:

The ministries of the church reflect the three-fold office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king—reflected in the church’s ordered ministries of teaching elders, deacons, and ruling elders. We affirm that men and women alike are called to all the ministries of the Church, and that every member is called to share in all of Christ’s offices within the world beyond the church.

Now, I could see how the naysayers (bless their hearts…) might think ECO didn’t support women in ministry if these were only words written on paper and we had no action to back it up. So, by way of factual evidence, let me start with a visual:

ECO Women In Ministry

Yes, that’s yours truly—the blonde wearing the red stole—with my hand atop of Shelley Homeyer who is kneeling during the service of her ordination as a pastor into ECO. This picture encapsulates so many amazing things about God’s reconciling work and His kingdom in our midst. But let me start with Shelley…

Shelley has been on the staff of First Presbyterian Church of Houston, TX for a number of years, but the Lord has tugged at her heart since she was young to be a missionary in a foreign land. As her ministry grew and as her seminary studies were completed, God made it clear to Shelley and her whole family (husband Paul and awesome kids Adam, Grace, and Ben) that they were to go to Uganda where Shelley would serve as an ordained pastor and they as a missionary family. So they will depart in June and begin this new ministry with the African Renewal Ministries through Antioch Partners where Shelley will teach in the local seminary and serve as a Discipleship Pastor.

Shelley had begun the ordination process through the PC(USA) but felt God opening the door to ECO. Yet, part of what made the whole ordination service so cool and life giving was the affirmations of so many from all different places of God’s kingdom. As you can see in the picture, Shelley is surrounded by those in her congregation who serve in ordained leadership. You may notice the guy in the blue robe—that’s Mike Cole, the Executive Presbyter of New Covenant Presbytery. He was a part of the service as well. The whole event took place with the participation and blessing of First Presbyterian Church of Houston. Only the awesome God, who made Himself fully known to us in Jesus Christ, who calls and gifts all His beloved children for ministry, could accomplish such a work and invite us into such a joyful celebration.

Shelley is just one of a number of ordained women in ECO who are faithfully living out God’s call to ministry—who are preaching, teaching, baptizing, administering the sacraments, leading worship, conducting weddings and funerals, ministering to the sick, needy or dying, strategizing, leading, visioning, and praying for God’s kingdom work, and especially how all of this plays out in ECO.

So, the next time I hear someone say “ECO doesn’t support women in ministry,” I think I’ll just laugh and then… I’ll reflect on this moment with Shelley and pray for her and her family in Uganda. Or, I’ll celebrate with joy that the first two ordinations that took place in ECO were women—Jen Graffius and Becky Lahana—and I’ll pray for the ministries to which God has called them. Or, I’ll check in with my sassy sisters in my Pastoral Covenant Group—Rev. Helen Harrison Coker, Rev. Claire Ripley, and Rev. Pam Cole—all pastors serving in various ECO churches. Or, I’ll read one of Dr. Laura Smit’s books and pray for the blessing of her ministry at Calvin College and her theology work within ECO and beyond. Or, I’ll think about the sweet faces of Micah, Peyton, and Piper Allin and pray with joy for the Rev. Beth Allin and where God has called her for now as a stay-at-home mom. Or, I’ll give thanks for the wonderful women God has called to serve as elders and the use of their gifts to build up ECO—like Brenda Smith or Janie Beaver or Sue Black or Linda Gray. Or, I’ll pray for the Rev. Betsy Straeter and Rev. Dr. Tina Hosler as they serve as moderators for two of the ECO presbyteries.

Or, I’ll pray and think about the women who are discerning a call to ministry or who are now in seminary and give thanks to God that they might find a home in ECO where they will be loved, celebrated, nurtured, encouraged and used mightily by our Lord for the growth of His kingdom.

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Anna Kent

Anna Kent serves as Director of Mission Affinity Groups for ECO and The Fellowship of Presbyterians. She also serves on the ECO Synod Executive Committee. A newlywed living in Huntsville, Alabama, Anna previously served as pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Waxahachie, Texas.

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