Labor activist Flora Dodge “Fola” La Follette (1882-1970), social reformer and missionary Rose Livingston, and a young striker during a garment strike in New York City in 1913.
Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash
Behind every good woman there’s a man
They used to say “behind every good man there’s a woman,” meaning a wife holding down the home front, or typing the research papers and creating the index for the book. This year for Women’s History Month, I’m thinking about the opposite: “Behind every good woman there’s a man.” Put in a more nuanced way, many women who have made an imact have men to support and encourage them along the way. That’s been true for me.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that when she was elevated to the Supreme Court, “My dear husband Marty left his very succesful practice in New York to move to Washington, D.C., so that we would have our life together here. He was a remarkable man. He was so comfortable about himself that he never regarded me as being any kind of a threat.”
My own husband, Karl, moved 3,000 miles without a complaint so I could take a pastoral call across the country, after months of struggle even to get an interview. From the beginning, I knew he too, “was so comfortable about himself that he never regarded me as being any kind of a threat.”
Throughout my journey into ministry, I’ve had countless men encourage me along the way. My dad beamed his way through every performance and presentation when I was growing up. He helped pay for my final year of seminary. As an off-the-charts extrovert, he also showed me how to connect with people I didn’t know and show genuine interest in them, a skill that had served me well in ministry, even though I’m a bit of an introvert. I intuitively know how to work a room when needed, because I’m his daughter.
When I experienced my call to pastoral ministry as a college student, I had never met a woman pastor. I grew up in a denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), which to this day does not ordain women, although they can now be “consecrated.” However, my own high school pastor, Dr. Wendell Price, did his doctoral thesis on women leaders in the New Testament. Pastor Price encouraged me as I reflected on my own potential call on visits home.
They used to say “behind every good man there’s a woman,” meaning a wife holding down the home front, or typing the research papers and creating the index for the book. This year for Women’s History Month, I’m thinking about the opposite: “Behind every good woman there’s a man.”
I was attending a CMA-related college. I’d heard all the “biblical” arguments against women in leadership. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t doing anything against Scripture by pursuing pastoral ministry. I spoke to two of the Bible professors, Dr. Glenn Schaeffer and Dr. Leonard Wallmark. Both of them said, in essence, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” They encouraged me in my journey toward ministry, a relief to an earnest young woman who wanted to do the right thing.
As I entered seminary, I moved into the American Baptist Churches which did ordain women. Several ABC ministers helped me further claim my call and grow into ministry. Rev. David Wheeler was the co-pastor of Portola Baptist Church in San Francisco, where I was a member and did my field education. David supported me then and helped me develop ministry skills. Like my dad, David gave me great advice about showing up in places where I might meet people and develop relationships. Now, decades later, he continues to encourage me in my ministry of coaching clergy.
While I faced the challenge of finding a pastoral call, Dr. John Skoglund became my interim ministry partner in two settings. He was in his 70s, I was in my 20s, and we had a wonderful time working together as interim pastor (him) and interim Christian educator (me). John treated me as a colleague from beginning to end. It was a privilege to work with him.
At last I was ordained at First Baptist Church of Berkeley in 1988 after receiving a call to the First Baptist Church of Gardner, Massachusetts to be their pastor. My Berkeley pastor, Rev. Dale Edmondson, continued to support me through the long months of struggle to find a call, at times speechless with outrage. He preached my ordination sermon and offered blessings to me and my family as we prepared to move across the country so I could take up this new pastoral call.
Finally, my uncle, Dr. Thomas Collord, a New Testament Greek professor at that same CMA college I attended, had questions about women’s ordination. However, he came to hear my very first sermon. Not only that, he attended my ordination and took part in the laying on of hands. I have a photo of that moment which I treasure. It felt like a blessing not only from Uncle Tom, but from my grandfather, who was also a pastor.
I’m grateful for these men who generously encouraged me along the way. It would have been a lot harder—if not impossible—without them. Thanks be to God!
Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.