For many of us, our work is to build something we wish we’d had when we were younger. I know that is true for me.
When I was a girl, I went to a church that never had women preach. To me, it looked like if a woman wanted to be in ministry, her options were to be a missionary, a teacher, or a pastor’s wife (in fact, I remember telling my pastor’s wife that I wanted to be a missionary teacher).
I was bright and gifted, but there were no models of anyone who looked like me preaching. I could be up front leading music or in a play, but there was no room for women’s voices or women’s stories in the pulpit.
So much of my ministry has been in response to that lack of women preaching. I started a church where women preach called Church of Mary Magdalene. I spent the past few years writing a book called The Women’s Lectionary, a handbook for a year of preaching about women in the Bible and feminine images of God. And lately, I have been teaching and coaching women who feel called to preach.
A friend and I started Church of Mary Magdalene after I had a dream about preaching for women. In my dream, when I got up to preach, the women moved their chairs up to hear what I had to say. My co-pastor and I would trade off weeks preaching and find a guest preacher once a month. We prioritized guest preachers who were Black and queer, using the platform we had created to lift up the voices of those who don’t always get opportunities (and paying them for their time and work).
Church of Mary Magdalene was my first experience with weekly preaching, and I enjoyed the challenge. About a year in, I told my partner Troy that I was feeling torn between wanting to use the Revised Common Lectionary—with the community and resources that accompany it—and wanting to preach about women. Troy said, “Well, why don’t you write your own lectionary?”
This idea captured my imagination, and I spent the next several days putting together a draft of a lectionary based on women in the Bible and feminine images of God. I met with my preaching professor, Ted Smith, to discuss the idea, and he encouraged me to write commentaries for each of the passages. I used this lectionary for a year at Church of Mary Magdalene, exegeting the texts to preach on them and then turning the sermons into commentaries.
In addition to preaching at Church of Mary Magdalene, I was preaching once a month at a local retirement community vespers. One evening after the service, a woman came up to thank me for my message. She said that she had never heard a sermon from Mary’s perspective before. “The women are there in the Bible,” she mused, “But no one ever talks about them!”
After two years, we decided to lay down Church of Mary Magdalene, but I continued working on my book. I found that these stories about women in the Bible connected unexpectedly and discovered new ways to think about God and how God speaks to people.
Incrementally, the project grew, and I finished my manuscript in December of last year. Now The Women’s Lectionary is available for preorder
from Westminster John Knox Press.
At the same time, I was working as part of the teaching team for the Introduction to Preaching class at Candler School of Theology. This is a required class for seminary students, and it usually has about 50 students. As the teaching associate, I gave some lectures and led a small group of seven or eight students, listening to them preach and giving feedback on their sermons.
I love this work. The students I connect with most tend to be women who come in saying, “I’m not sure if I want to preach.” Sometimes their denomination has told them there is no room for them, or they are afraid of public speaking. As a teacher, I watch them grow into preachers, gaining confidence as they get more experience.
These experiences in the classroom have led me to preaching coaching. Earlier this year, a seminary student asked if I would be willing to coach her in preaching. She applied for a grant and (fortunately, considering what has happened this year!) we planned to meet online.
The structure of coaching is simple: we talk before she preaches, I watch a video of her sermon after she delivers it, and then we talk again afterward. It has been a joy to see her learn and grow over the course of our time together.
I began by saying that for many of us, our work is to build something we wish we’d had when we were younger. That has been true for me, but it’s more than that. Through all of these experiences, I have built things that I wish I’d had when I was younger, but they are also for me now.
By writing about women in the Bible, inviting others to preach, and teaching young women who want to become better preachers, I get to hear so many women’s voices, and I get to add my own voice to the conversation.
Ashley M. Wilcox is a Quaker minister and a graduate of Candler School of Theology and Willamette University of Law. Originally from Anchorage, AK, she now lives in Atlanta with her partner and their orange cat.