Michigan’s female religious leaders overcome obstacles for their calling

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Despite most religious vocations being dominated men, many Michigan women continue to step up as religious leaders.

A call to a life dedicated to God transcends gender, but many religions continue to restrict positions to men only. Even when women find a denomination that allows them to go into any position, societal perceptions create barriers.

Some mid-Michigan women have chosen to follow their calling despite facing obstacles.

Even at a young age, Rev. Kit Carlson of the All Saints Episcopal Church, was discouraged from “getting the wrong idea” that she may be called to be a pastor. She and her friend approached their church leader asking to be altar girls and assist with the service. Rather than praising the girls for their initiative, they were told that it was a role intended for their male peers only.

They were told that it may make them mistakenly think that they were called into a pastoral role, and “that would be so sad.”

Gretchen Hand, Pastor of families with children at South Church of the Nazarene, always knew that she wanted to work with children. In her experience, a lot of the other women she was studying had more issues with stereotypes than she did. There was an assumption by many that all the women that were studying religious life were going to be working specifically with children.

Although that was Hand’s calling, many of her colleagues wanted to be lead pastors and felt uncomfortable when everyone assumed that couldn’t be their calling.

Susan Sparta, who has worked as a pastor and in lay roles at several different churches, has faced an entirely different struggle. Not only is she a woman, but she is also a lesbian. For Sparta, being a woman did not present as many obstacles as her sexuality did.

Luckily, she attended a seminary that was LGBT affirming, which allowed her to follow her passion while being her authentic self. After being ordained, she spent about seven years working at a church that was nondenominational and accepting of the LGBT community.

Even after many years of religious involvement, Carlson faces issues with societal assumptions. She has been denied her parking discount for the religious at hospitals because the guards didn’t believe she could be a religious leader.

“He looked at me and said that I couldn’t be a priest because I’m a woman,” Carlson said.

Regardless of the backlash faced by these women for their gender and sexuality, they remain hopeful and dedicated to helping their communities.

“People are realizing that God calls all, not just men,” Hand said.

Despite the prejudice of some, Hand and Carlson are respected and supported by their churches. With her own vision, Sparta is currently working on creating her own religious community with the goal of forming a racially and ethnically diverse church that is also LGBT affirming.