By Jen Gillan
In the summer of 2010, the summer before my third and final year of seminary, I traveled to the East Coast for the first time to spend three months in Springfield, Massachusetts. I was going there to finish out my internship hours in order to graduate with my Masters of Divinity. When I began seminary I had no intention of pursuing a lead pastor role. That was crazytown. I was already hesitant about pursuing any kind of pastoral role to begin with. But after my first two years in seminary, I grew excited and confident enough to imagine myself working at a church in a staff position. But not a lead role.
That summer, I found myself at Orchard Covenant Church where a Reverend Nancy Ebner was and still is the lead pastor. And it was there that I witnessed something groundbreaking: a petite, soft-spoken woman as the lead pastor. In her humble, confident manner she preached, led worship, visited with people, and shepherded a new beginning at Orchard. Not only that, she was doing grassroots, cross-cultural work of leading her church to embrace the steady stream of newly-arrived Burundian refugees and Kenyan immigrants to the neighborhood seeking a church. She invested in the neighborhood, bought a house next door to the church with her husband, made inroads in the area schools, and most recently joined the neighborhood council. Because of Nancy’s willingness to step out and follow God’s Spirit, Orchard Covenant Church is a presence of hope in the Indian Orchard community.
While there have been many voices along the way – both male and female, but especially female – that have encouraged me to imagine myself in a lead pastor role, it wasn’t until I saw Pastor Nancy actually do it that something inside of me shifted significantly.
As I watched her and as she shared ministry with me that summer, a voice inside of me began to express, “I could do that too.” As I saw her lead in such a thoughtful, creative way, with a foot in church life and a foot out in the community, something in me began to crack open and say, “I want to do that too.” As I saw her prepare well and lead boldly and yet be able to let go and laugh when things didn’t go as planned, I felt the tight, hindering grip of my own inner-critic loosen and I began to imagine more fully that I could lead well and faithfully too.
In the midst of so many big, flashy, and often shallow voices out there, Nancy’s quiet and determined leadership is refreshingly powerful. Her strength comes from her humility, her self-awareness, her integrity, her thoughtfulness, her ability to welcome the stranger, her tenacity to stick it out and to tend to and wait for fruit to grow, and her deep conviction that the church is a signpost of God’s Kingdom, often in small ways that lead to making big differences.
In my book, she is the real deal of a pastor.