Photo illustration by Carole Allen

A Festival of Women Preachers


By Liv Larson Andrews

“Liv, did you preach on the text?”

My grandmother Florence often called on Sunday afternoons during my pastoral internship. Without any introduction, she cut to the chase: preaching. What was my sermon about that morning, and how did it go? If the texts for the day were especially challenging, she was curious how I handled them. She cared, not only about me and my pulpit, but about the quality of preaching within Lutheran churches. I always knew I had a dialogue partner in my grandmother.

Last month, Grandma Florence, age 97, died in her home. While we as a family give thanks that her suffering from kidney failure is over, we are feeling the great loss of her presence. I am sensing the loss of that dialogue partner, one of my teachers. At her funeral on Oct. 2, I was delighted to serve as an assisting minister. Two other pastors offered reflections, one from her academic life and the other as her congregational pastor. The first described her wit and wisdom, her dedication to peace and justice, and her astounding curiosity. The second gave a true sermon, a proclamation of how my grandmother is held in God’s grace as God’s child. He added, “and had she been born a man, I am certain she would have become a bishop, a teaching theologian, or another kind of theological leader in the church.”

It was that moment, hearing that sentiment, that made my heart leap up into my throat. He was right. Suddenly, the pain of wondering what might have been for my grandmother if circumstances or culture had been different swelled in me. She achieved so much, spoke and thought and learned and taught others so much. But she often had to push boundaries and swim upstream to do so.

Those of us who occupy roles of theological leadership sometimes bemoan the “role-model” part of our vocation, or the notion that others look to us as examples. While it’s OK not to always want to carry that flag, we also must acknowledge the tremendous power we are granted in serving as pastors. We may not want to, but we define the role as we serve. This is good and bad. We know what schmucks we are — how much we fail, how petty our fears can be. But if we are called, we are meant to be in this role and continue redefining it.

And so, in memory of my grandmother Florence Sponberg, I would like to host a Festival of Women Preachers at Salem Lutheran Church sometime in 2015. I’m curious about the community: would you come? Would you be curious?

About Liv Larson Andrews

Liv Larson Andrews believes in the sensus lusus, or playful spirit. Liturgy, worship and faithful practice are at their best when accompanied with a wink, she says.

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  1. I had a conversation yesterday with a pastor who asked a question: “Whould Jesus join ANY “pride” event or parade”?

    We spent time wrestling with the question. Does Jesus side with some and not others in public displays of quasi-segregation?

    I wrote a letter of protest to a local pastors event that was billed as a ‘male preachers only’ event on the grounds that I had female pastor friends that were just as interested in the topics being presented as men. You were one in my mind, when I stood against such ministerial segregation.

    So I guess to be consistent, I’d have to say no, I wouldn’t attend.

    I wouldn’t attend a “white only” event or a “black only” either. I’m for tearing down the “dividing walls” and the hostility they perpetuate.

    I would and do celebrate you. I defended you yesterday when someone who didn’t know you made a disparaging remark about Salem Lutheran being a “godless church.” I rebuffed them and recounted the truth about the wonderful pastor that I know who leads that church.

    I hope we can tear down the walls not build or rebuild more.

    • Liv Larson Andrews

      Thank you, as always, for your support and friendship, Eric.
      My hope with such a festival is not to create a women-only space, but to lift up the unique voices of women preachers for all to hear. Because the voices of women are deliberately excluded from many sanctuaries and pulpits, I believe we need deliberate action to repair that damage.
      If there is ever a festival of african-american preaching or worship here in town, I will go. I rarely ever hear someone other than myself preach (quite dangerous! 🙂 ) let alone a non-white person.
      Does that clarify my hopes a little?

      • I get the overall goal, I’m just not a fan of the focus on our differences be it: “black churches”, “White preachers”, “Gay marriage”…ad infinitum.

        I lean more into the Ephesians 2:14-16 paradigm:

        “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death”

        “Peace, united, one, together, reconciled…”

        • Liv Larson Andrews

          And Jeremiah says “woe to those who cry “peace, peace” when there is no peace.”
          I wish to go about ministry that reconciles. And I know there are ways in which focusing or even celebrating difference comes back around to exaggerating difference. But to reconcile, we must first speak truthfully. And the truth is that not is all united and together and one when it comes to women in ministry.
          If this is truly outside your definition of good ministry, then I will not look for you in the pews. But I think the same person who turned down that invitation to a men-only pastors gathering might also see fit to come support the women who were left out by listening.

          • Liv Larson Andrews

            And I’ll bear no grudge if you decline the invite.

          • I would also decline an invitation from Mark Driscoll to attend one of his man only things. A point that seems to get lost in a lot of these counter balance moves. Why can he get eaten alive for his stance of men over women, dude only stuff but festivals of females is ok? It feels like we condemn and celebrate in conflicting manners.

          • Liv Larson Andrews

            Well, to be clear, this festival is not for women only. It will feature women preachers. I will likely involve male musicians and liturgists to model that we work best together. In hopes of honoring my grandmother, the preachers will all be female.
            And, I am not proposing a women-over-men idea. This festival is meant to heal the divisions made by Driscoll and many others.

          • I get that, and I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, I’m just bringing up angles of the convo that are very real parts of this ongoing work.

          • Liv Larson Andrews

            Can you help me think of women to invite? Who needs to be heard in Spokane? (the scope is not clear yet…whether we will stick to people here in town or raise some funds and invite preachers from elsewhere.)

          • Liv, we got a tweet from a group in Pullman interested

          • Liv Larson Andrews

            ooh fun

          • Liv and Eric,

            I read your original post and the thread that follows.

            I am deeply thankful for you both.

            Here is my suggestion and questions.

            Why not create a good preaching event, period? Liv, you’re a gifted leader and preacher, so it would make sense that you would lead the event. And I would look forward to learning from and with you, as well as other sisters and brothers.

            Wouldn’t such a no label gathering tell the truth of what’s wrong by addressing it in a way that embodies and practices reconciliation? Wouldn’t it freely demonstrate the kingdom of God reality without becoming mired in the anti-kingdom methodologies that surround us?

            Wouldn’t acting out the preferred future bring it about? At least as much is it can be brought about prior to Jesus’ return?


          • I was asked yesterday if I would attend a “straight only” or “man and woman marriage” rally? I wouldn’t, not because I don’t believe in the Genesis/Jesus examples of marriage (Gen 2:21-25 & Matt 19:4-6) but because I am not interested in publicly polarizing people. The ongoing cleaving of people into groups and subgroups to pit against one another. I am for listening, actually more than listening, I want to work and witness examples of kingdom unity where people work and worship together in solidarity. I want to become and be apart of the antithesis.

          • Liv Larson Andrews

            Again I would say that the cleaving has already happened throughout the patriarchal legacy of the church. I don’t wish to pit anyone against anyone else. I also believe that as women are shut out of pulpits elsewhere, I have the capacity to open mine up. This is an example of kingdom healing, a move toward unity, when we listen to each other across difference.

  2. Hi Liv. I know you’re not on Twitter, but we had a lot of feedback from people and ministries saying “yes!” and we wanted to pass that on…

  3. Liv, as always, well said! I would LOVE to attend a gathering of female preachers, and I would also hate it if men were excluded from the event because I think we can learn from each other. (and I know you aren’t planning an exclusionary event…)
    So, my two main reasons for attending would be: 1. I need to improve my preaching… and 2. I enjoy listening to and learning from preachers.
    (I’m also just a classic extrovert, so if there will people there, I want to go!)
    As for the format, I would like to hear only from female preachers for some of the same reasons you and Eric discuss in this thread. There are plenty of places I can go to hear men preach, but few, especially in Spokane, to hear a variety of women preach. (without having to miss church on Sunday, which is, ya know, discouraged) So, I’d like the speakers to all be women but allow guy-types to attend so that they can listen and learn from beings somewhat different from themselves.
    If we start sending email requests to some of the “big name” lady preachers, we might just get them. Nadia Bolz-Weber comes to mind.
    Are you a part of the RevGalBlogPals group? If not, you might want to join just to get an “in” with some of the preachers in that group.
    Thanks for the overall affirmation that we matter and that we are called. Really can’t hear that enough.
    And, I hear your broken heart in this post too. You must miss your grandmother terribly. God be with you as you grieve that loss. I lost my mother about 18 years ago and I still miss those conversations. 🙁

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