Senior Pastor, Abundant Life Covenant Bible Church, Pasadena, California; chaplain for the L.A. Sparks
I married my husband, Barry, in 2002 and started a church in 2003. Especially in the beginning we would go places, and people would say “Pastor Wooden,” looking at him. He volunteers with the youth, but he would say, “No, there’s only one pastor in this family and it’s her.”
I was ordained at a non-denominational parent church, Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, California, in 2002. I was a staff pastor there. The same month I was ordained we decided to plant a church with the Covenant and I began the orientation process. It took a while because I had to wait for classes to be offered, but at the same time, when you’re planting a church there’s so much to do that you don’t have time to focus on a lot of paperwork.
Often in African American circles you need to “see” the call and then it is affirmed. Ordination in the Covenant was more educational to get a broader view of the Covenant and a larger breadth of pastoral ministry.
My first challenge on the path to ordination was myself. I was raised in a tradition that said women don’t preach. If women don’t preach, that means women don’t pastor. That’s how I was raised. So I had to get over that.
The second challenge was people just didn’t open doors for women back then. They were okay if you were preaching to youth. I once asked a man to mentor me, and he said, “We can’t help you be a pastor because you’re a woman. You can be an evangelist but not a pastor.”
Bishop Vashti McKenzie once told me, “When men come in, people automatically think that they’re called, but when a woman comes in, they have to prove they are called.” People are ready to stand behind the brothers. The pace at which you are ordained is slower because they need to see if this is true. It takes longer to see.
Doors still don’t open easily. What was different for me was that I planted a church. I just went out and got my own. I really felt that God was calling me to plant. My affirmation was the call itself. I had to focus on that.
I can always tell the people who are still struggling with women in ministry. I’ll go preach at a different place and people come up to me and say, “You know, you can preach!” Like they’re surprised. That’s okay though because they received the word and that’s a good thing. We’re still trailblazing in this area, you know.
People are still warming up to women in pastoral ministry. Women in the public realm—as CEOs and bosses—are a little more accepted than women in clergy roles. There are still barriers there. People are reticent to join churches that are pastored by women. It’s just not what they’re used to. I know people have come to visit our church, thinking, “There’s no way I’m joining this church.” But the Lord pricked their hearts and showed them a different view of what it means to be in the church. They had never been exposed to that before.
We’re still in a trailblazing time about how God uses both men and women but the greatest reward in ministry for me is seeing changed lives. When I see people growing and learning, that’s a reward for me.
Quirkiest item in my office:
I have a small stuffed pig with “Babe” written on it. I preached a sermon at Faithful Central a long time ago and used the story of Babe from the movie. I was really touched by this story. He wanted to be a sheepdog but everybody kept telling him he couldn’t be a sheepdog. In the sermon, I compared it to what God calls you to do. I wasn’t specifically talking about women in ministry. I was just talking about being a good servant of the Lord, following what the Master says and not what the people say. At the end of the story it’s just Babe and the master. He’s not listening to the crowd, he’s listening to the master who says, “That’ll do pig, that’ll do.” So people just loved that sermon—I started getting all these pig things from people—calendars and everything. The story encouraged me as a woman because in the end, you’ve got to listen to the Master. I want to one day hear, “Well done.”
When I grew up I wanted to be:
A teacher. I didn’t want to be in ministry. People used to tell me I was going to marry a pastor because I was teaching Bible at the age of nineteen. I guess the only thing they thought I could be was married to a pastor, not a pastor myself.
First live concert:
I snuck in to a Michael Jackson concert. My friend’s father worked the ticket booth—they used to have tickets like a carnival that rip in two. He saved the ripped end and gave it to us so when we walked in he’d rip it again. At least eight of us got in that way. We were way in the bleachers and we could barely see him but I was just happy to be there.