On women and church and (almost) giving up too easily

On women and church and (almost) giving up too easily

naked on the church steps
I don’t usually write about church here, but I’ve gotten so many kind emails and messages after this post I thought it was appropriate to post the follow-up here. Regular programming resumes tomorrow when we’ll be talking about Other People’s Bookshelves. 

For about a year now, my family has known it was time to look for a church. (And I do mean family: not one of us felt like our current church was a good fit any longer.)

This summer, we didn’t attend church much. It was just too hard. And the prospect of looking for a new church was overwhelming.


In early September, my husband and I sat down over coffee–on a Saturday morning date, no less–and made a list of what we hoped to find in a church. Location and doctrine were obvious points. Size was important to my easily-overwhelmed kids. And in this homeschooling season, we wanted to find a church with kids my kids’ age.

My husband specified he wanted to find “something that doesn’t make everybody crazy.”

I wanted to find a church with women in leadership.

My husband and I feel like the most conservative people in a liberal crowd, and the most liberal people in a conservative one. We knew that we were never going to find a perfect church, and the easiest item to drop–because of the unique demographics of our seminary town–would be the women.

There were several churches that suited us in every way but one: you’d never find a woman serving communion in them, or taking up offering, and certainly not standing in the pulpit.

I spent my twenties in churches like these, and I missed the women. But we didn’t see any other options.


I read Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist this summer, and one line kept springing to mind whenever we were talking church: maybe we can’t do much, she wrote, but we can choose to attend churches that affirm women in all vocations and places and seasons of life. (Paraphrased, because I am completely unable to find this line upon re-reading!)

Visiting churches with four kids in tow is brutal, but we decided to drag everyone to a church we’d only ever heard described as “liberal,” and not in a good way. But since we were hoping to find a church we could commit to for the long haul, we thought we should at least check it out.

And I say this tentatively, but we think we might have found our new church home. Unbelievably, it fits every line on our short list. My kids are comfortable there, and look forward to going. (Miracle.) There are tons of families and singles and older adults. The men and women serve together, in leadership and laity.

And the overarching message we’ve heard in the short time we’ve been there is love.

It’s too early to tell if this will be home for the long haul, but I’m grateful to have found it. And hopeful for our future.

Today is launch day for Sarah’s book Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women. You can get your copy on Amazon here or (almost) wherever books are sold. Check out more posts in the synchroblog here

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38 comments | Comment


  1. I have been in church my whole life. Five years ago, we walked into a Calvary Chapel a half mile from my home and we felt like we had finally come home. There is peace among the elders {something we had never experienced before} and peace among the congregation. To me, this has made the biggest difference in finding a church that truly exhibits Christ and we love it!

  2. Mary B. says:

    I am a “revert” to Roman Catholicism and I love it! I take my Church and her teachings very seriously, and I know that there will never be female priests. It amazes me how hung up critics get on that, considering the vast number of intellectuals within the Church who are women. Four Doctors of the Church are women, meaning that their critical contributions to Church doctrine and theology is officially recognized and celebrated.

    Today still, women theologians and apologists continue to make their mark on the secular world through teaching and defending the Faith. I guess for me, recognizing the role that women hold–and have always held–within the greater framework of the global Church, having male-only priests simply isn’t a cause for concern. I never feel marginalized or or “less.” I can imagine though, that in a small, independent church, having women be more visible could easily be a priority.

    Anyways, I’m so glad that you found a church you love! May it deepen the bonds of your family and your relationship with Christ!

    • Joanne says:

      Well said Mary. The Catholic Faith is rich in doctrine that upholds all human dignity. Just a plug for a letter written by Blessed Pope John Paul II, “Letter to Women”, written in 1995 regarding the UN Conference on Women held in Beijing. Beautiful letter that reaffirms the dignity of women in all social realms. Read it if you get a chance if you haven’t already. : )

  3. Sarah R says:

    I left the church I grew up in 7 years ago. It took me a year to walk into the local Episcopal church, because they have a terribly liberal reputation, but when I did, I fell absolutely in love. We have a female priest (that shocked me the first service- but I love it!), a lovely, meaningful liturgy, and a loving congregation who took me in and made me one of them. I had never heard of the Church Year, or canon law, or a number of other things that have now enriched my life for 6 years. I’m still amazed that this is the church I attend, because like you, I’m the conservative in the crowd of liberals and the liberal in a crowd of conservatives, but as you said in your post, the most overwhelming part of this church is the love, and that is why it is home for me.

  4. Lisa says:

    I know you aren’t in Delaware, but you might be describing my church. And it is a blessing to have all sorts of things click, isn’t it? I wish you well in your new church, and peace and joy in your worship wherever you are.

  5. Tim says:

    Your past few months sound like a fruitful sojourn with the Spirit, Anne.

    I’m completely egalitarian, but we just started attending a church where they’ve always had male leadership. The Senior Pastor told me over lunch he’s trying to move everyone to egalitarian ministry doctrine, but it’s a slow trek. I’m praying for him!

  6. Mandie says:

    Oh goodness, I feel like you’re describing Gabe & I exactly with the certainly most conservative amongst liberals and vice versa. It’s a weird place to be. I’m so glad that you’ve found a place that seems to be home. We took some time off of attending church for a while, too, and have begun going back (not to our previous church home) the last few months and it feels good. We don’t really know anyone there, and it’s a huge congregation, so I imagine we won’t know anyone for quite some time, but just knowing we have a ‘home’ is settling.

  7. Our family changed churches over the last year. It was tough road. Like you we feel like we really don’t fit in with liberals (too conservative) or conservatives (too liberal). Our church home now is not perfect but it’s comfortable. We like that there is visible diversity in race, age and economic status of the congregation. We also like that while there are a lot of children and youth they are not carted away to special programs but embraced as part the body – loud crazy, disruptiveness, and all.

  8. Suzanne says:

    We’re trying to find a church, too. Have been for years. I think making a list together should be our next step! I was raised assembly of God and Episcopalian. Dh was raised Nazarene. We’ve been all over the board, LOL… great post!

  9. Katherine says:

    Our PCA church is in discussions about this. Deaconess, women serving communion- anything. I cringe to think of our kids growing up and thinking that they only way that women are involved in the church is by attending, and maybe teaching Sunday School. Those are both wonderful things and important. But. (I don’t need to finish that thought, I don’t think).

    It’s hard.

  10. Tiffany says:

    “My husband and I feel like the most conservative people in a liberal crowd, and the most liberal people in a conservative one.” YES.
    Glad to hear we’re not the only ones and that you have found a place where you fit!

  11. Lucinda says:

    Glad you may have found a place and glad you won’t have to give up women in leadership – it’s just too important as Katherine (commented above) recognizes but still lacks in her church. We’ve been struggling for a good church fit in northwest Ohio – and seriously we will consider moving if we find a church in another area – that’s how much I miss community!

    • Anne says:

      I just did a major double take because the woman pastor who meant so much to me was named Katherine–but I didn’t say that up top!

  12. Tracy S. says:

    I am so glad you may have found a church home. I love my church, women regularly preach and lead ministries. I do have one big issue, though: Our elders are often presented as “elder couples” or an “elder team” but this is really not accurate. I noticed that they might talk about “elder couples” but when a decision was to be made, it was only the men that were involved.

    This made me look up the denominational beliefs and, nope, women cannot be elders or the lead pastor. The kicker is that my husband thinks this is just fine (“biblical”)–and I think he is not thrilled that I have discussions with my daughters about why this is a problem. It’s hard to even have a conversation about this in church circles without someone labeling you a liberal and then tuning you out. I hate it when people are afraid to ask questions!

  13. Nancy says:

    Loved the line about being the liberal in a room of conservatives and the conservative in a room of liberals – – that’s exactly what my husband and I have said about ourselves for the last 20 years! Our church isn’t perfect but it serves God, preaches the truth and holds us accountable. Wishing you peace and love on your journey.

  14. Karlyne says:

    “Location” sounds trivial, doesn’t it? But I noticed years ago that when I read (especially English) novels where everyone walked to church, I was struck with envy! We’ve just about always had to travel to church, and I’ve just about always hated it. I know in my head that if we’re willing to commute to work or visit or shop, then commuting to church shouldn’t be an issue. But it is!

    Where we are now is about the closest we’ve ever been to a “village church”, and I’m appreciating it. I worry, though, because it is a church of elders, as in over-80s! We have an amazing pastor (seriously, a tolerant Bible scholar, bless him!) who will soon be 84. We have women who serve communion and pass the collection, and they are mostly over 80, too. There are two couples who are middle-aged, as my husband and I are. But, my adorable grandkids, are the only regular kids in attendance (numbers swell to a dozen at holiday times!), and are the darlings of the congregation. They might not have other children for “socializing”, but how bad can it be to have 20 or so adults who love you unconditionally? And, most importantly, they love to come to church.

  15. Ashley says:

    I can so relate. Our family has been attending a church for about a year and a half where none of us feel completely comfortable because we are too liberal. We love the church’s work in the community but there are some areas where we are just uncomfortable. We are a out to start looking again and part of me dreads it with three kids ( we homeschool too).

  16. Tamara says:

    I can so relate. We sat in many churches as we looked for one to call home over the past few years, where I forced to face the reality that–if we attended–my daughter would not grow up seeing women in leadership … and neither my husband nor I were comfortable with that.

  17. Amy says:

    So glad you shared your story – my husband and I are in the same place with church. We’re wrestling with stay or go, and attempting to identify what we want in a church (missional, affirming of all, etc) and how/if that differs from our current church (and it will). It’s daunting, but reading your story is encouraging :-). And I loved this line: “My husband and I feel like the most conservative people in a liberal crowd, and the most liberal people in a conservative one.” If we lived in the same town, we’d be standing right next to you in both crowds!

  18. rachel lee says:

    we kinda did this too, in 2010, although without the real “searching,” per se. the little chapel-church we both grew up in fell apart. the leadership didn’t care, things happened in plain sight, women were ostracised. it felt wrong.

    and so we started looking for something new, something where Jesus was and where i could be myself and my husband could be himself and where our future little ones could dwell. and we think we’ve found that. i so indentified with this, “looking at the churches we’d only ever heard described as liberal, and not in a good way.” that made me want to give you a serious high-five.

    found you through Sarah’s syncroblog, and I am now following you, and I’ll be back. <3

  19. Carolyn says:

    Found you through Sarah’s synchroblog and love what I am reading. Like others the thought of being liberal when amongst conservatives and conservative amongst liberals really hits home. I always thought it was because I like to ask questions and get told I can be contrary for the sake of it – well I do like to play devil’s advocate sometimes! However, what you say rings true.
    Glad you think you have found a new home, I remember reading your earlier post at one point as well and I hope all your children love it. I am also glad it one that affirms female ministry. My own church only does to a certain extent – lead communion – yes, lead a specific ministry – yes, preach – yes, be a deacon – yes, but be an elder or a lead elder – no.

  20. Stephanie says:

    THIS LINE: “My husband and I feel like the most conservative people in a liberal crowd, and the most liberal people in a conservative one.” Exactly how we feel.

    P.S. We’ve been attending a home church 2x/month and it’s been refreshing…a good fit for our family in this season.

  21. Catherine says:

    Hi Anne, I really am so encouraged by you sharing your experiences with this – I so relate, as we’ve been in a similar situation for the past year or so and it really is so hard. I especially get the whole feeling of being the most conservative of the liberals and the most liberal of the conservatives. Never comfortable, always rubbing someone the wrong way! Our problem too visiting churches is that its so emotionally exhausting on everyone. Hoping that this one works out!

    • Anne says:

      Catherine, it’s encouraging to hear I’m not alone on the most liberal/most conservative thing. And golly, I understand the emotional exhaustion. Thanks for sharing, and I’m wishing you well as you move forward.

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