About every 6-8 months I get both forgetful and antsy-for-change. The combination is that I forget how much I dread the process of getting my hair braided, and I mindlessly set up a time for a 100+ braids to be put in my hair.  About a week before, In the Company of Women, I was  seated in my friend’s basement, my hair at her mercy and we began to talk about women and the Bible. She shared childhood perceptions of  how God views women and outlined the poor teaching she has sat under that reinforced that God is a misogynist.  That was all I needed to get started, as I said to her, “this is my favourite topic.” She laughed and said, “I can tell” as my head bobbed up and down with enthusiasm. I shared my perspective that humans are the misogynists, but Jesus demonstrates that God is a feminist.  

As my hair was finished and I was packing up to go, I looked around her space, with her three boys poking their heads in and out, and reminded her that it is up to her to change the narrative for her children — to help them understand that God loves women. It amazes me how many people I encounter who carry in their hearts this notion that God does not like women. This perspective negatively affects their view of God, the church, men, and themselves. It’s an idea that limits what they do, what they say, and if they will or will not lead wherever it is that God has placed them.

From where I sit: this is not ok, and never has been. It is my outrage and my desire to see change — to make things right— that fuelled my passion as I stood before those attending In the Company of Women and declared:

Silence is not an option.

What followed that day was a series of encounters with women and men who are equally tired of silence when their church does not affirm their ability to lead, when their loved ones dismiss their calling to pastor or when they are viewed as less capable by their congregations. Here are some stories of people, impacted by In the Company of Women.

Krysta Szkarlat:

In the Company of Women was a perfect gift straight from our Heavenly Father! I am called to preach and teach in the Church, but my local church and significant individuals in my life refuse to affirm this within me because I am a woman. To be amongst individuals who do not question my calling was a huge breath of fresh air. I loved sitting under so many gifted women and hearing their journey into leadership. I appreciated that this was not a women’s conference, but a space for men and women to focus on this Kingdom issue. I enjoyed meeting Sarah Bessey as I have read her books and follow her online, but I also loved meeting Linda Ambrose — What a powerhouse!

I appreciated that this was a 100% Canadian event; God is on the move here in Canada and we’ve got our own gifted voices right here. As I headed home after the event I was filled with a powerful sense of gratitude for the gift that this event was for me and I watch in anticipation for what God will do through His daughters.

Emily Arbo:

Initially, I came to In the Company of Women because of Sarah Bessey. Jesus Feminist had a tremendous impact in my life, so I was very excited to hear her in person and I was not disappointed. But what really stood out for me at the conference was that we were talking openly and honestly about something that is usually relegated to sparsely attended workshops, women’s conferences, back rooms, or empty sanctuaries once Sunday morning services are over. We were vocal and loud about topics that are too often discussed in hushed voices or with half apologetic tones that connote that maybe, just maybe we shouldn’t be talking about it all. But on May 19th, 2017 we were — a gathering of men and women — dealing head-on with a topic that, whether we acknowledge it or not, is informing and persuading and impacting the church. It is influencing the way we lead, who we choose to lead us, and how effective we are in fulfilling our mandate, as the Church. Finally I was in a room where we, both men and women, were talking about it, directly, in a way that was redemptive and inspiring.

The question that remains is what will I do differently because of what I experienced and heard. I left deciding that I am no longer going to be apologetic about talking about women in leadership in and out of the church. I’m not going to pretend that I believe women can only lead other women, that our stories only resonate with other women, or that women are not enough on their own. Instead I want us to have these conversations — even if they are uncomfortable, even if they don’t seem to resolve anything in the moment, and even if they don’t take me where I think I want to go. In fact I want these conversations to be like the one we all had together: direct, redemptive and inspiring.

Thank you to Linda Ambrose for reminding us that this topic is so much more complex than what it seems.

Thank you for the stories about fathers and their support and encouragement in the journey of female leaders.

Thank you to Jared Siebert for his desire to see women rise up and take their place as leaders alongside men.

Thank you for passionate and urgent preaching that was able to renew my passion for leading in a ministry context.

Greg Langman:

I came to the In the Company of Women with a sense of expectancy. God was going to show up in some way in my life. How? When? Where? These things I didn’t know. I just knew that I needed to be there. I have three daughters and so I’m always intrigued about learning more about how I can better support and encourage them to trust God for whatever he has for them. At the end of the day I left with a renewed passion and vision to clear the way for all of God’s children to be faithful stewards of the gifts God entrusted to them, so the world will experience Jesus. I want to open doors of opportunity for the women in my life and I want to walk with them in a relationship of mutual giving and receiving.

I echo the words of Krysta, Emily and Greg — joining forces with the Canadian church to discuss the importance of welcoming, celebrating and empowering women to lead was moving and inspiring. I am so glad I was able to hear their stories and the stories of others.

But to be honest, the highlight of the conference was what happened the following day as a result of what was presented. I was sitting in a denominational meeting when our Bishop stood up and apologized to the female leaders and pastors in the room who have experienced discrimination, the proverbial glass ceiling, or have felt their call to be a pastor was not taken seriously by the local church.

To have a leader of 150+ churches stand and say that we are behind women, we ordain them willingly, and we support them without question is important. It is important because even in denominations where women are ordained without question, their ordination is questioned by pastoral search committees, boards and congregations. Even in denominations that have had female leaders for decades (and some would say centuries), many local churches still wonder if a woman can handle the role of pastor. Even in a denomination where women are told they are invited to the table, many have struggled to feel as though they are welcomed there.

When a leader says we stand with you as women in ministry, as women who lead: a message is sent out that says from the top down, we believe: Silence is not an option for women or for men. If such a response and reaction is possible from one, small conference, imagine what is possible if all those who attended In the Company of Women were to live as though what they witnessed was important enough to make room for men and women to lead together.

Small beginnings start big revolutions.