Updated: Aug 21, 2018
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today, Dorcas. I am super excited to interview you!
You were the first woman I ever saw preach. It was probably about 15-18 years ago and we were at an Assembly of God church in my city. I don't even remember anything about what you said that day, though I'm sure I did at the time! I do , however, remember exactly where I was sitting and what I was thinking as you spoke.
I was thinking "Ohhhhhh, you mean I CAN do that?!"
So, I definitely want to ask you more about that day, but first, can you give us a little background on where you grew up, your family, where you are now, things you enjoy, etc? I was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Southern California. I was the youngest of three sisters. My mother and father were Christians, but our life was by no means "normal." Have you seen the saying "Normal" is just a setting on a washing machine? That's my life!
My dad was a deacon, and he loved to teach the Bible (maybe I take after him) and my mother was a sweet woman who prayed with me and my sisters and taught us about God, but she had what I now believe was some sort of mental illness and we never knew what the day would bring. Eventually she disappeared, and I didn't see her for years. That's another story altogether.
I married Ken, my high school sweetheart, moved around with him for nine years, courtesy of the US Marines, had two kids, and eventually my husband and I decided to study theology. We attended an Assemblies of God school, Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, ND. ND was quite a shock to my California born and bred system. My husband became a pastor, and later a prison chaplain. I just figured I'd be a good pastor's wife. God had other ideas. More about that in a bit...
I now live in a very small town in Wisconsin. My life has been full of unexpected twists and turns! Being a Wisconsin "cheesehead" never was in my plan for life, but here I am. We've been here for decades. Our children are grown and now we have four grandchildren.
I love to read. I usually have at least three books going. Maybe one is a novel. Maybe one is a biography or history and maybe one is something "spiritual". I like to write and I love music of all kinds and usually I'm singing a song in my head (or maybe out loud). I also love nature and spend as much time outdoors as I can. I'm SO happy spring seems to have finally arrived in Wisconsin!
Have you been a Christian your entire life? If so, when did Jesus come alive to you in a real way? If not, can you tell us a bit of your testimony and how God finally drew you to Himself? I have a clear memory of asking Jesus "into my heart" at age four. I always loved Jesus, and I loved church, and that was a stabilizing influence in my unstable family life. We were Southern Baptists and I appreciate the respect for scripture that I learned in that denomination, and my pastor was a wonderful man. But it likely won't be a surprise to hear that I never saw a woman on the platform, unless it was to sing. Women sang in the choir, taught children, and brought amazing food to our church potlucks. There were no women serving as officers, board members, not even greeting or collecting offering. While I knew I wanted to serve Jesus, preaching never once entered my mind! I did think about being a foreign missionary, since that was allowed, but I knew that might not be possible because I have some disabilities. It was many years later when I realized that some of what I had been taught, even though I think it was well-intentioned, was hindering me! Actually, though you don't remember it, that is some of what I talked about on that long-ago day when I preached and you were there.
My mother's issues were based on "religious" ideas and caused me some anger. I prayed for God to fix her and save my family. When it didn't happen, for a while I stopped praying and I tried not to think about church or God or scripture. It didn't work. I loved Jesus, and that was that. My boyfriend, who is now my husband, was a Mormon. I was madly in love, but I was concerned about that Mormon thing and started to pray for him. God uses what is at hand.
Eventually Ken asked Christ into his life and left the Latter Day Saints behind and we married. By that time I had made my peace with God. I will always have questions about many things, but I suppose I realized that unanswered questions and painful situations are part of life and don't mean God doesn't care.
I was the one who had been a believer for years and so we started out attending a Southern Baptist Church. Later we ended up at an Assemblies of God church at one of the bases Ken was stationed at. He later told me he was called to ministry, though his original plan was to be a Marine "forever." Trinity Bible College was where I first heard that women sometimes preached.
Did you always want to be a pastor/minister of the Gospel or did it catch you by surprise? What challenges did you face along the way as you pursued your call? I always wanted to please the Lord. I struggled with what I should do with my life, but being a pastor was not on my radar. I was a "helpmate." Not a leader. Or so I thought. My journey to understanding that God was calling me to preach was a long one that took years, involved many people, and would take hours to tell!
As I mentioned, I did eventually study theology, and I wish I could say that women were encouraged to preach when were were a Trinity, but that was not the case. Except for one amazing woman, Rev. Rosa Mae Wead. She was the wife of the college's president, had been a preacher, teacher, and a traveling evangelist. She was not young, and she was dying of cancer (though we did not know this at the time) and one of the last things she did was teach a class called "Women in Ministry." One time she asked us, "Ladies, why are you in this class?"
One by one, students described their husband's call to ministry, their husband's dreams and goals, every single one saying they wanted to be a good help to their spouse. Eventually, "Sister Wead" raised her hands and said, "Stop!" Shocked silence. Then she loudly and directly said, "Aren't ANY of you women in this room called to PREACH?"
I was in the middle of the rows of desks, and her finger was pointed at me and she stared at ME. Guess what happened? About five women burst into tears! And the whole atmosphere changed, and many admitted that they felt called to ministry, called to preach, called to pastor, but figured that meant "be a pastor's wife." The class went on for hours, and we prayed and cried and God worked. As for me, I was shook! Really shook. I knew God was calling me. A more unlikely candidate for a public speaking ministry would have been hard to find!
Around that time, I read a book, The Woman Question by Kenneth Hagin. I'm not sure where I got it, but it said women could preach and teach men, and made a case for that from scripture. That book, which I still have, has a lot of things in it that I no longer agree with, but God used it to rock my world and change my point of view about preaching and my call. Okay, so a woman could preach and not be some sort of abomination. So where were these women?
I spoke to men in leadership positions, and I was not encouraged. One told me, very kindly, "You don't need to be a minister, Dorcas. Anything God wants you to do can be done as a pastor's wife." I took him at his word and tried to be a good pastor's wife and be content. It didn't work. God's call remained.
From childhood on, I had a strong desire to be someone who took 2 Tim. 3:15 to heart. I memorized it, at age 12, in the good old King James Version, "Study to shew thyself approved, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
Eventually, I faced up to the fact that while being a pastor's wife is commendable, God was not leaving it at that! I got ministerial credentials and I did teach and preach and I ministered alongside my husband as sort of a co-pastor. We served two churches, and then he became a prison chaplain.
I was no longer able to be the "helper" in his ministry, and I was lost and dismayed. I did preach at the prison once in a while and I loved it, but I knew that wasn't really what I was called to do. Or at least not all.
One day, as I was expressing my distress at not knowing what I should do, our pastor looked me in the eye and asked, "Why are you not a pastor?" Right then, I knew that was what I should be doing. His words were like an arrow from the Spirit that went right into my heart, though not painfully.
Did it happen? Eventually, but it took ten years. Why so long? Because while my denomination technically affirms the ministry of women, churches and church boards, were and are another matter. I prayed and prayed and tried and tried. I cried many tears. Every door slammed shut, if it was ever open at all. I have a picture of a group of ministerial candidates from the night I officially became a minister. I am the only woman in the group. It just seemed too strange to many churches, and there just seemed to be no place for me. So what was I to do with what I was now convinced was God's call?
Eventually, a church not far from where we lived called the district office asking if there were any ministers who might fill in as their interim pastor. They were given my name, along with two men. The person on the pulpit committee who made that call happened to be a woman. Later she said to me, "I just thought to myself, hey look, a woman! Let's give the lady preacher a try."
I started as their interim pastor. Some people were unsure if this woman in the pulpit thing was biblical. Others were supportive from the first. Eventually we made a mutual decision that I should stay on as the pastor. Some people left. Others came. I stayed ten years. I also did some preaching in other places, as the opportunities arose.
Clearly, you were preaching in churches, behind the pulpit, when it was still extremely uncommon to see a woman in that role. (Correct me if I am wrong) What was it like when you started and what progression have you seen over the years as far as the acceptance and legitimacy of women in leadership roles in the church? Oh boy, I wish you were wrong! It was extremely uncommon, though there were women pastors and ministers in mainline denominations. I knew a few women pastors but they were Methodist, Lutheran, and so on. I knew only one other woman who pastored an Assemblies of God church in my state. It was a tiny church way up north somewhere. All of the "evangelical" churches like Baptists, Christian Missionary Alliance, and so on, disapproved of women preaching or teaching men.
I remember being at a ministerial meeting where lots of pastors were present. This was when I was ministering, but I was not a solo pastor, I was preaching in the church my husband pastored. One man, who knew us both, approached us but avoided looking at me. He said to my husband, with great solemnity, "So I hear you allow your wife to preach in your pulpit." Surprised, my husband stammered an affirmative. The man frowned at me, and he said, "Ken aren't you afraid to do that? The Bible teaches that Eve was easily deceived. Aren't you afraid she will say something wrong and you will be required to correct her error?" He wasn't joking. I don't remember what my husband replied.
I was once asked, at a different meeting of pastors, to make the coffee and the sandwiches. It was a joke, but I admit I didn't smile.
Sadly, there were many instances like that. I just learned to move on and get a bit more thick skinned!
I rejoice that nowadays a picture of ministers receiving credentials would include several women. There are many more women ministers in my denomination than when I stood in that line of preachers. There are children's pastors, worship pastors, youth pastors, and associate pastors. This is wonderful, and it is progress, and I rejoice. But I still don't see more than a tiny number of women serving as senior, or solo, pastors. Many still think it is only allowed if a man is a head over the woman pastor.
Some churches, though not all, allow women to serve as deacons. Actually, when you heard me speak at a church, it was because that church was considering whether or not to allow women to serve on the church board, and the pastor thought it might be helpful for the church people to see a woman in a leadership role. There are still many places where bylaws specify that deacons must be male, but that is changing. The just-retired General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, Dr. George Wood, was the grandson and the son of women preachers and he was an advocate for the full inclusion of women in any and all leadership roles in the church. And I am happy and, I admit, somewhat surprised to learn that the Assemblies of God has elected its first woman to an executive position. Rev. Donna Barrett is our new Executive Secretary. Maybe someday this sort of appointment won’t be a surprise to anyone.
What does "Christian egalitarian" mean to you and what is the importance of it in a practical sense? I see two branches. One branch regards women serving in leadership roles in the church. The other branch is about women and men in relationship and ministry in the workplace, and particularly the home. My husband and I both received the truth of women being allowed to lead and teach and preach long before we realized that some things we were taught about marriage, submission, "headship" and gender roles were not biblical at all. I could talk for much more time than we have about what happened to our lives and our marriage when we understood that we were equal partners in marriage, not a leader and a follower. How powerful it was, for both of us, to see that women were not the only ones called to submit! A practical sense? This is difficult. Old habits, die hard! Some things were easy to let go. Some were a relief. It was a joy to realize that he didn't always have to make the decisions, "lead" me, be responsible for everything. But who decides who says a prayer before meals? Who decides how much money to put in the offering plate. I'm laughing, because this seems kind of silly, but tiny pebbles cause irritation! It was work, sometimes, to figure out how this looked for us. Patricia Gundry, in her wonderful book, Heirs Together, says that marriage is like a kaleidoscope, always colorful, always changing, and always unique. I love that! We get to work out our own relationship, relying on God's guidance, in a way that is beautiful but uniquely us.
Do you feel gender roles are still at play within the Church? What effect do you feel this has on the Body of Christ as a whole and even on individual Christians? Oh boy, for sure! I see improvement, but there are still problems. Of course, it depends on the denomination and on the individual church, but it is still difficult for women in ways that a man will never deal with. I so appreciate the men in my life who have affirmed my call. It is critical, I think, for men to step up, make room at the table, so to speak, and take action for change. We need our brothers!
When I left my church after being the pastor for ten years, it was one of the hardest decisions of my life. This was, in part, because I knew I might never pastor again. I hoped I would, but it had, after all, been ten years of prayer and tears and searching before there was a place for me, so I was not confident that it would happen again, and it did not.
I had an interview with a pulpit committee at a church in a city I would love to have been part of. The interview was going well, I thought, until a woman on the committee asked me, in all seriousness, "Don't you think that the woman preachers in the ____________ denomination are what has ruined them?" I had to make myself be calm as I answered, "I don't know that the _________ Church is ruined. That's not our place to say. But no."
"Really?" she replied, "But don't you think God always wants a man and only calls a woman if no man answers?" I knew I wouldn't be called by that church, and I knew I likely would not be a pastor again. Not many congregations are excited about a female preacher who is not young.
Yes, gender roles are still at play.
The effect is far reaching. The Body of Christ is weaker, is cheated out of the fullness of expression and growth that God would wish us to have. We need strong, male leaders and role models. We also need strong women leaders and role models. We need to see and hear women in the pulpit as well as the church nursery or the kitchen.
Remember how it felt for you to see me in that pulpit, to hear that female voice? Just seeing me and hearing me, though not the message, just the fact I was THERE, made a lasting impact! That makes me smile!
We need to see men in the nursery and the kitchen, for that matter! I have come to hate the term "gender roles." My own son, now a dad, wanted to work in the nursery when he was a teenager. He loved children and they loved him. It was deemed inappropriate. No males in the nursery! How crazy is that? That hurt him.
There is nothing biblical, helpful, joyful or freeing about roles. I want to forget about our supposed "roles" and find our giftings and our callings and live those out.
As for individual Christians, the damage is so far reaching that to think of it brings me great sorrow. Misguided attempts to tell men how to be leaders and women how to be followers have crippled many individuals and many marriages.
I recall one day in my own life, back in the days when my husband was a pastor, when he made a bad mistake. I knew it was a mistake. I knew it might cause great difficulty. I was prostrate on the floor, crying in deep pain, afraid of what might come, almost yelling at God to please tell my husband what was happening and what he was doing wrong. It did not occur to me that I should have, as an equal partner of the gift of life, had a serious conversation with him. The results of me thinking I must always be a good wife, which meant always follow and always submit, were damaging and painful. I have talked and prayed and counseled many people. I know our story is not unique.
Did you ever want to quit? If you are willing, would you please share with us one of your toughest moments and how God got you through it? What did you learn from it? How did He grow you? About a hundred times. Maybe more. I did learn to toughen up and not let it bother me, too much anyway, when someone who was visiting my church realized I was the pastor, not my tall and handsome husband, and got up and left. Or when someone called to speak to the pastor and when I said, "You are speaking to her" hung up on me.
Once someone repeated, about three times, "I want the pastor."
"Yep. That's me."
"No, I want to speak to the pastor. Not you honey."
"You are speaking to her. I am the pastor of this church."
Silence, and then, "I want to speak to the PASTOR. Are you his wife? I don't want to talk to you, I want the real pastor."
I hope that kind of thing no longer happens!
I'll probably never forget the day when a strange woman looked me up and down and said sweetly, "Oh, it's really YOU who are the pastor. So I guess that means you are a pastorette?"
Oh boy, I certainly wanted to quit. But I didn't. God kept me still! I knew God had called me and that, in the end, I'd answer to God and only to God. I was bound and determined to be obedient to God's voice.
A tough moment. One was when I discovered that an influential member of my congregation had been meeting with others, analyzing my sermons for error, explaining why women should not preach! How I got through it? I talked to some people, others I just let be. It was really a hard thing. Prayer. Prayer and more prayer and still more prayer. Tears. Being honest with God. REALLY honest. Reading books and articles and blogs that affirmed the equal value and potential of women and men. Thinking of Winston Churchill saying, "Never, never, never, never, never give up."
And God blessed, and people came to faith in Jesus Christ, and good things happened. God was in it all.
If you could speak to a group of young men and women today who are feeling led to pursue leadership roles within the church, what advice would you give them?
I would tell them that ministry is not for the faint of heart. It's tough! Really! But there is such joy in it as well. There is nothing, no opposition, no difficulty, no sorrow, that is equal to the joy and fulfillment of knowing that you are doing what God has asked you to do. Nothing!
I would say to find a mentor. I would have greatly benefited from someone who had been where I was. Ministry can be lonely, and I needed guidance that I sometimes did not receive because I didn't know anyone else who was facing the things I was. I do think this is better these days.
What's the best bit of advice you've ever received? The best was to stop worrying about people. About people's opinions. Peoples words. To just get up, hold my head high, put my shoulders back and do what God said to do. To preach the word and love God and love people and let the rest go.
The worst advice was, "Go home and don't worry about getting a license to preach. You don't need it. Be a good pastor's wife." God bless those pastor's wives! It's a tough job, sometimes and they can be powerfully used by God! But it was not what God called me to be.
Now, I'm asking you so please be honest, it won't be consider bragging...what are some of the things that you're really proud of that you've been able to do with God over the years? Why do they hold such significance in your heart and mind?
I would love to say that I started a ministry that grew to phenomenal influence and changed thousands of lives. Or that I took my small church and it grew to a mega church. Nope, that sure didn't happen.
But small things, done with love, become big things. I do believe that. I often think of the pebble tossed into the lake--how the ripples go out and out and out--do they ever stop? By God's grace, I think I was able to do some small things with great love.
On a city sidewalk, I once encountered a man who had been an inmate in the prison where my husband was the chaplain. He rushed up to me with a big smile and after hugging me, happily told me about something I said while preaching at the prison chapel that he never forgot. He was doing well, had a job, a wife, and a church home. Just one man, but the ripple goes on.
I love teaching the scripture. It's that "rightly dividing the word of God" thing that I believe God planted in my heart when I was a child, a very shy little girl with coke bottle glasses and a strange family and no thought of ever speaking to anyone. It gives me joy to know that I've had opportunities to change lives by my actions, but also by handling scripture with care. People have told me, more than once, that something I said, or taught, or preached, changed them, changed their marriage, changed their direction, gave them hope. I can't measure the value of that! How happy it makes me that you remember when you saw me, a very ordinary woman, standing in a pulpit in obedience to God. I think part of what I am proud of is that. How to put it...just being me. Me and God! That's powerful! I'm not the "best" anything, except I think I'm proud of my attempts to be the best ME. To fulfill my God-given purpose. To glorify him. To never, ever give up. And no matter what, no matter how difficult, how challenging, to obey God's voice. I'm proud of doing the hard things. Of just putting one foot in front of the other and going on when I wanted to stop. The results of that won't be known till eternity! I hope that I made it easier for women who came after me. Maybe I made the sight of a woman in a pulpit less strange!
Any new projects you're working on or things you are looking forward to? I am retired from full-time ministry, but I am part owner of a small business (health insurance) that has done quite well. I am enjoying it, but I just had my 68th birthday and I am working less, and I'd really love to get back to speaking. That is what gives me joy and energizes me. I am praying for opportunities. I also love to write and I have a book about one-third finished. I'd love to get back to it. It is a novel about a single mother who pastors a small church in the northwoods area of Wisconsin. I also have another idea or two for writing. I'd love to be the Grandma Moses of the literary world and write a great book in my "old age."
Thank you so much! If our readers want to connect with you, where can they find you on social media? I used to be a pretty regular blogger. My now sadly neglected blog, called The Owl's Song and I'd love to get back to it more regularly. I am on Facebook but not much else. I confess I have a Twitter account but you won't find me there. People can email me firstname.lastname@example.org if they'd like.