By Ashley Easter
I remember standing on the end of my bed during afternoon “quiet time.” I was four years old, and I loved to use my imagination to transform my canopy bed into a space for adventure. With the blinds drawn and the lights off, I would stand at the foot of my bed pretending to be Jesus on the bow of a boat during a thunderstorm on the sea of Galilee. I would pretend to preach to the imaginary disciples on board the boat. I would try to mimic the rhythm and voice of the pastors who preached at my childhood church. I would try to remember the words Jesus had said from Bible stories I had been taught. It felt good, it felt right. I felt like I had been born to preach.
Other times I would line up my stuffed animals, and especially my favorite plush sheep, and serve them communion using bits of bread and little medicine cups to represent the elements, commemorating Jesus’ sacrifice.
And then, of course, there was that Christmas church service I conducted at the age of seven for my cousins when we were together for the holidays. I had spent the days before our holiday travels asking my mother to help me find where to read the Christmas story in the Bible, drawing my own sermon illustrations with crayons and markers, and choosing Christmas songs to sing together. I enjoyed every moment of our little “church service.”
For as far back as I can remember, I always felt called to preach. It wasn’t an uncertainty, I knew for sure.
I still remember the road we were driving on. I was about seven or eight riding in the back seat, my pastor-grandfather steering in the front. We were talking about spiritual things, a conversation I likely started—I always had questions. I told him I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up.
I expected a happy, joyful affirmation, but to my surprise that wasn’t the response, I got. He wasn’t rude or angry, but he told me firmly and matter-of-factly that preaching was only for men; it wasn’t for me.
I was crushed. From that time on I tried to push my calling down. I tried to find a loophole. Maybe I could be a missionary, or a children’s church teacher, a gospel singer who gave “testimonies” before singing a sermon, erh...I mean song. But none of that was quite right. As much as I wanted it to, it didn’t appease my calling.
With sadness, I watched as that same person who told me I could not be a preacher sought out male family members who weren’t as deeply interested in preaching and spiritual leadership as I was. He would buy them theology books and tell them about male-only seminary opportunities. Don’t get me wrong, these men are talented, and I believe they have valuable callings, but they didn’t feel called to preach the same way I did.
I felt there was more for me, but I also was led to believe that God would be angry if I became a preacher and spiritual leader.
It wasn’t until I was 22 and married before I allowed myself to believe in that dream of preaching again. I had recently shed patriarchal views of marriage and was feeling compelled by my theology studies to also affirm women in ministry, but I was still unsure. That’s when I heard Christine Caine preach. She was the first woman pastor I had ever heard give a sermon. And it was the most Spirit-filled sermon I’ve heard to date. She spoke God’s word with authority and passion. She was humble yet bold. Anointed yet relatable. It completely dispelled anything I had been told about women preachers. God was obviously speaking through her, and no one had the right to stop it.
In that moment realized I couldn’t let anyone stop me either. So, once again, I opened my heart to the calling felt in my childhood, the calling suppressed for too long.
My first public opportunity to preach was in 2016 at The Courage Conference, an event for survivors of abuse. As I began to preach that same feeling from my childhood came flooding back. It felt good and right. It felt like this is what I was born to do.
I wasn’t perfect, and I wasn’t polished, but I was preaching. A feeling of exhilaration came over me while proclaiming a message of love and justice. When the crowd began to audibly respond as my words resonated with them, I felt a fire grow in my soul that I knew I would never let anyone again extinguish. And I knew in that moment that even though from my childhood people had tried to stop me, no one can stop the call of God on your life. No one has the right to squelch God’s gifts within you.
They told me I couldn’t preach, but friend, I’m doing it anyway!
Ashley Easter writes, blogs, speaks, and advocates for abuse victims. She founded The Courage Conference, an event that empowers survivors of abuse to fight for their healing while also educating church leaders on prevention and proper response to abuse. She authored The Courage Coach: A Practical, Friendly Guide on How to Heal from Abuse. Ashley promotes truth-telling, advocates for gender equality, and educates churches and secular communities on abuse. You can connect with Ashley at www.AshleyEaster.com, www.TheCourageConference.com, on Twitter @ashleymeaster and on Facebook: /ashleymeaster.