“A man will never need to ask himself, ‘what does it mean to be in ministry?’ But, a woman must ask and wrestle with the question, ‘what does it mean to be a woman in ministry?’”Carson Pue
“If you were a male, you would be further along in the denomination.” This statement has been said to me several times and was meant to be a compliment, instead, it reveals the patriarchal system that is a stronghold in the church. In my denomination, to be in leadership requires you to be an ordained Bishop, however, only men are allowed to hold this credential. Women can only be licensed or ordained ministers. Statements like these hurt me to my core, many are okay with women being preachers, but they are not okay with female pastors. When churches open, female pastors are not considered potential candidates to pastor those churches. Female ministers and pastors are frequently overlooked, and, in many cases, there is no pathway forward for promotion or elevation even with education or experience. This reminds me of the quote in our reading journey, “Even when we think we have arrived we still have another mountain to climb.”
Last year during the height of the racial unrest in the United States and the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, one Sunday I found myself crying profusely. Like many black parents, I became deeply concerned for my five children, especially my four black boys. I found myself reflecting on my life journey as I call it “a minority among a minority.” I’m a black, female pastor functioning in a predominantly male role. Suddenly, I felt my own invisible pain due to the injustice and inequities that I experienced over the years, especially in ministry. So, as I pulled into my garage that Sunday, I heard the Holy Spirit clearly and forcefully say to me, “Write to the leaders of your denomination.” I wrote a long letter and sent it to the five top leaders of my denomination. The response was gracious. They thanked me for writing, and they acknowledged we as a denomination have a long way to go. One leader affirmed my leadership and acknowledged my involvement in several different leadership roles that are not normal for women. No commitment was made nor was anything mentioned about my concerns or the recommendations that I made in the letter. I hope that there won’t be a “cost to speaking out.” However, I stand strong and push forward knowing that there are countless young women standing on my shoulders who are praying and hoping for a breakthrough.
During one of our Girl Child reading journey meetings, Emily stated, “We cannot go forward until we untangle ourselves from the past….” Then Rev. Domnic spoke about his call, his liberation from the chains of patriarchy, and his lived experiences witnessing gender inequalities. Again, I felt the weight of gender biases that I have experienced and I could not hold the tears back. Somehow, at that moment I realized that I needed to step up not just for myself but for the next generation of young women who are answering the call of God to ministry. I need to continue to create awareness and speak out against gender inequalities in the church.
Even though there have been many struggles, I have had successes as well. I was the first female to serve on several boards and in some cases the only female in my denomination. I was also the first female to serve as President of the Black Ministerial Alliance of Boston (BMA) from 2016 to 2021. A few years ago, I was invited to preach at one of our COG Regional Conferences. After the service, two women rushed up to me and said, “Please keep preaching, because you are the first female preacher we have ever seen. We don’t see female preachers speaking in regional meetings that were not women’s ministry events.” I hope that by serving in these positions, I can pave the way for more women in my denomination to be in leadership.
I think of Esther whom God placed in the kingdom to destroy and dismantle the “chains of hate” that threatened her people’s lives. The Girl Child journey has unearthed in me an awareness of the chains that threaten so many girls and women. Like Esther, I will continue to stand in the tension and trust God for a favorable outcome. This is my journey to identify, debunk, dismantle, and destroy the chains of patriarchy that have chained me and other women in ministry. I am determined to chart the course for the younger generation who are coming behind me.
Dr. Arlene O. Hall is an Ordained Minister in the Church of God (COG) with international offices in Cleveland, TN. She has a Master of Arts Degree and a Master of Divinity Degree from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, MA. She earned a Doctor in Ministry Degree in Pastoral Leadership from Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, TN. Currently, Dr. Hall is the co-founder and Lead Pastor of Deliverance Temple Worship Center and serves on several boards in the community of Boston as well as the Church of God Denomination. She has five children and two grandchildren.