In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy … (Acts 2:17a)
I have a brother who is 17 months younger than I and a sister who is younger by five years. By the time we became young adults, Christmas was a time for giving gifts that were silly or pranks or delivered with a message.
One year my creative sister gave me a button as a Christmas gift. It read: Ordain women or stop baptizing them! I wonder if a Pentecostal seed was planted that Christmas.
Fast forward to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth during the early 1980s. Coming from a small-town Baptist church, I brought with me to seminary all the reservations about women in ministry I had been taught. I even recall hearing the venerable Herschel Hobbs make a joke at Ridgecrest about the idea of women deacons. (Who says teenagers don’t listen to their elders?) But in seminary I met a colleague who introduced me to the book All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation by Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty. Their careful approach of respect for the Scripture while wrestling with the limitations imposed on our sisters in Christ changed my thinking and probably in truth altered the trajectory of my life as I became increasingly dissatisfied with the boiler-plate answers offered by authoritarian Southern Baptists on these topics.
And then a family story also broadened my theological tent.
My great-grandmother and great-grandfather McClain both were ministers in the Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination based in Cleveland, Tenn. My great-grandmother, a fiery matriarch, was a licensed minister in the 1930s. My dad says she was a better preacher than her husband. It seems she was not limited by the cultural restrictions of her time but followed the leading of the Spirit.
A few years ago, on Pentecost Sunday, I led the children’s moment in worship. I bought a pinwheel at a local craft store and when the children gathered around me on the chancel steps, I asked a child to blow on the pinwheel.
“Can you see her breath?” No, they all said.
“But what do you see?” It is spinning.
And so it is with the Spirit: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
Where do we see the movement of the Spirit? We see the Spirit aflame in the ministries of our sisters in Christ of every generation.