Women in ministry got coached on how to improve their effectiveness as preachers at a “Pumps in the Pulpit” conference at Crozet Baptist Church May 1.
“We don’t want you to step behind the pulpit not feeling confident,” Colleen Swingle-Titus, co-pastor of Crozet Baptist Church, told the group of two dozen ministers who participated. Most were from central Virginia, but others came from the Valley, Richmond and even North Carolina.
Kate Burke, a U.Va. drama professor, taught a “lectio divina” lesson and coached the ministers to how to improve their delivery of sermons. Burke, a specialist in voice, is usually teaching actors how to perform Shakespeare.
“I was given a divine revelation to apply it to scripture,” she said. “I’ve been doing it for three years. Language has architecture. Most people don’t realize it and they read and speak flatly, monotonously. I teach then to proclaim the words. It is the truth. We don’t know how to mark occasions vocally.
“Women are told they don’t have the right to proclaim,” she explained. “This is about being given your voice to speak with authority. One point is to speak in a lower range of the voice.”
“I felt called to the ministry when I was 17,” recalled Jessica Fuller, who is ordained and is the youth minister at Crozet United Methodist Church now. “I was told, ‘You don’t mean the pulpit, do you?’”
Swingle-Titus said that in some churches, “Women have not been granted the right to preach. There is a fear of loss of power by male figures in churches. Even in denominations where women are ordained, there is a big pay discrepancy.
“People will say they are open to a woman, but they wouldn’t consider a woman for an opening as a pastor. There’s a glass ceiling for women.
“We respect those who take the view—theologically—that women shouldn’t preach.” She said opponents of women preaching typically point to Timothy’s text about the submission of women and that they should not to be teachers.
“Things that are miniscule can cause wars,” said Swingle-Titus. “It gets to a question of who’s in and who’s out. This conference is to let folks say, ‘me, too,’ and for networking and camaraderie. And to experience different styles of preaching. I’m so encouraged about it.”
One minister said, “Women pastors are expected to do things that male pastors are never expected to do. You’re expected to be nurturing.” One gave the example of having to stop to change a diaper.
Participants brought three-to-five minute homilies to present and Burke critiqued them.
“The challenge is to feel confident,” said Swingle-Titus. “Kate [Burke] gave vocal lessons and pointed out mannerisms that women have that contradict their authority. The goal is to be more authoritative in the pulpit. She had us speaking out, not just listening to the word.”
Burke’s critique began promptly once ministers began their homily. “Your voice is dropping,” Burke would say, or, “You’re fidgeting.”
“It takes courage to be willing to listen to a critique of yourself,” said Swingle-Titus. “The message is to talk more like a man. It’s so subtle.
“People felt thankful for the conference because they had an opportunity to be in a group of women,” she said. “We’ve been trying for a few years to get a conference like this together. Women don’t get much opportunity to preach.”
“We are doing a lot of ecumenical, events together,” added Tabor Presbyterian Church pastor Jewel-Ann Parton. “In Crozet, women pastors are giving it energy. We are more relational.”
Tabor Presbyterian Church has a rather unique history. In the 1970s, it was the first Presbyterian church in Virginia to ordain a woman and Parton is Tabor’s third woman pastor.
“I’m so encouraged about the future of the universal church,” said Parton as the day ended.