The Power of a Gaze

By Gail Song Bantum

Have you ever had to do something, or figure something out on your own because you’ve literally never seen someone like you do it? My favorite story that I love to share is about my first experience baptizing an adult. I’ve grown up in the church, my mother was an associate pastor and church planter, and I’d been in ministry for 18 years before I was ever given an opportunity to baptize someone. I can’t lie… I was excited. And then, even more excited when I was asked a week later, to baptize several college students in a lake!

Well, that excitement was quickly snuffed out when I had a terrifying epiphany the next day – I had NEVER seen a woman baptize an adult before. NEVER! And, as much as I had experience in ministry, grew up in the church, earned a world-class seminary education, and can even theologize the bejeezers out of what baptism is and means, I had never witnessed a woman baptize anyone in 37 years of my life. The crazy thing is that I’m usually hyper aware of gender equality in almost every setting I’m in, but that reality had never crossed my mind. My first thought was obviously shock. Then, my thoughts quickly moved on to lament, and then to a fierce determination to change that narrative for young women called to ministry on my watch – that no one in any church that I pastor will ever be able to say that they’ve never seen a woman baptize or preach or lead worship or administer the sacraments, etc.

This might all seem trivial to some but there were truly profound questions that I wrestled with as I prepared for these baptisms. I knew that some of those college students would be grown men twice my size! What does that look like? Is it ok to have another person help me so I don’t accidentally drop them (aka drown them) because I couldn’t lift them back up? Would asking someone for backup upper body strength be a sign of weakness? Are these men not going to trust me to lift them out or even want me to baptize them? I honestly thought about all of these questions. At the risk of killing folks, I did end up asking another pastor at the lake to assist me with a couple of the men. In the end, it all worked out fine.

All this to say, I believe there’s power in a simple gaze. While I had none to reach back for in the moment, I know that the 70-ish students at that lake, on that day, will never have to say the same.

I realize that every time I baptize, preach, administer communion and lead worship, every person in that room (male and female) will walk away being able to say that they’ve seen a woman (of color) do ________. What a gift!

To see someone like us, doing the thing we hope for (or ought to do), allows for greater imagination and courage!

How are you making a difference in your own spheres of influence? As a sister, what are the things you’ve said yes to amidst your own fears, believing that in the end, it would make an impact on someone else’s ability to imagine? As a brother, how are you making room for gazes of all kinds, knowing that we are called to pastor and disciple every person that walks through our doors? How are we forming our young girls and women of color to know that nothing is beyond reach for them? How are we forming the gaze of our brothers as we encourage them to serve in Children’s Ministry – holding babies, changing diapers – that these spaces are not just women’s work?


7 thoughts on “The Power of a Gaze

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  1. Gail, I love this behind-the-scenes glimpse…it’s one thing to say yes to women in ministry, but you illustrate how essential it is to teach/model/mentor all aspects of the work. You raise really important questions here. Thank you!

  2. This is great, Gail! I love the approach to leadership and discipleship as making an impact on someone’s ability to imagine and helping form their gaze in the arena race, gender, and identity.

  3. Agreed, Gail. It’s tremendously powerful to have examples of leadership that look like one does, in gender and race. I remember unexpectedly weeping in a seminary class when I encountered my first Latina theologian. It blew me away that others, like me, could think and lead in a church context. And I like how you put it – it’s about widening our imaginations – our own and of others. Thanks, Gail.

  4. Amen. I will also say in my own experience baptising an adult (who is a giant, in my opinion) I also worried I would accidently drown him. 🙂 But what I really appreciate here is your candor and honesty. We need role models and so often the world lacks them. I’m thankful for you as a colleague in ministry but also because I know you (and many of our other female colleagues) are doing good work to help shape the minds of women in years to come. We need, as you say, to help stretch the imagination of young women (and middle aged and older women). Thanks, Gail.

  5. Thanks for sharing. I remember my first covenant midwinter event there was woman keynote speaker. Until that point, only four years ago I had NEVER seen a woman keynote speaker at a denominational event. It spoke VOLUMES to me. I want to see that more so that others can have that same gaze.

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