This Women’s History Month, we honor all of the clergywomen in West Ohio who toil in ministry to make disciples of Jesus Christ in Ohio and beyond. We thank them for sharing their God-given gifts that help shape our lives.
This week we continue to share stories from a few clergywomen serving West Ohio.
Walking beside others to grow beyond ‘isms’
Walking down the steps of the church basement to her first church introduction, the Rev. Rae Lynn Schleif heard premature dissatisfaction from a Pastor Parish Relations Committee member. The PPRC member only got a glimpse of the new pastor’s skirt hem and high heels.
“Oh God, I prayed all day for a young man and his wife to come down those steps and look what we got!” the woman said. That was the introductory meeting of Schleif’s career as a clergywoman.
Schleif had felt God’s call as a 5-year-old attending a small church in Burlington, Iowa. The church invested in, nurtured and cared for the children in the congregation. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, she was sure of God’s call, telling friends in high school she was going to be a pastor. “God’s spirit moved in and through my life growing up,” she said, “calling me to ministry again and again.”
Over her 40 years in ministry, Schleif has mastered the gift of meeting people where they are, even naming their discomfort with having a woman as a lead pastor. Naming the issue up front creates opportunity to help people see and move past their cultural biases, racism and sexism. The goal is to become the people God has called us to be.
Retiring from ministry this year in her final assignment as assistant to the superintendent of the Maumee Watershed District, Schleif has lived through ministering to people who are not ready to release preconceived notions of how a pastor or preacher of the gospel should look. “We are called to be a voice of healing and accountability,” she said. “I am an imperfect woman called into ministry living out a life of that calling.”
As a district superintendent, she was working with a church to create a profile. One of the PPRC members requested not to have a woman. Schleif responded, “Oh, wow, are you saying that you wouldn’t want me to serve your church?” “Well, we know you,” they said. Schleif gracefully answered, “How about I bring you the best person with the best gifts for your church? Male or female? You will get to know that person, too.” This situation happened more than once.
In her career, Schleif has experienced sexism in multiple ways. As a young student pastor, she recalls colleagues “putting an arm around me and propositioning me.” Responding with anger, she shut the men down. “I never reported any of it,” she said, “mostly because I wasn’t aware of any process for doing so.” Even being aware of the male/female power difference, these situations still startled her.
Sexism also played out when people stayed away from church when she was pastor; sometimes more women than men did so. “In all cases,” Schleif said, “it was because they didn’t believe the Bible allowed women to be ministers, proclaimers of God’s word.”
Schleif shares many lessons she has learned with future clergywomen answering the call. She advises them to learn when and what to challenge and what not to do so. “If we challenge everything, we don’t build trust,” she said. “Be who God created you to be: a woman called into ministry who has the gifts and grace to lead people into relationship with Christ.”
Leading with love at the center of ministry
“This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” John 12:35 (CEB)
With love as her foundation, the Rev. Alethea Botts believes all people have value. Love lends to her natural ability to build and sustain meaningful relationships and ministries.
While enjoying a career in human resources for the State of Ohio, this wife and mother heard God’s call to leadership ministry. Botts said, “I had a great staff, great salary and a reputation for building relationships.” Yet, she felt God calling her to more.
Supported by her loving husband, Tommy, Botts began seminary and became an Elder in the United Methodist Church.
Gifted as a relationship builder, Botts excels at getting to know people and reminding them they are a child of God. She builds authentic relationships which are vital to ministry growth and congregational well-being.
Botts said, “I’ve witnessed growth in ministries through professions of faith, baptisms and reaffirmations." Other areas of growth do not translate into numbers. “I’ve seen lives transformed, hope restored, and renewed relationships built.”
Botts has served cross-racial appointments most of her career in southeastern Ohio. She has a strong sense of self and is sensitive to her relational impact on others.
Leading with love to grow relationships in ministry does not come without challenges. As an African-American female pastor, some male members have challenged her authority and, in some cases, totally dismissed her leadership.
Botts said, “Whether it’s male parishioners who want to call you 'honey', 'sweetie' or even try and kiss you on the lips as a Sunday morning greeting - I’ve definitely had some strange experiences that I can only attribute to sexism.”
Botts continues to be obedient to her call with her theology of love, investing time in loving people rather than shrinking to those who question her call to pastoral ministry.
Botts advises women coming in the ministry to be reminded of who and whose they are. She said, “God did not make a mistake when creating you as a female or calling you into ministry. Don’t let anyone convince you your gender somehow devalues you as a person or gift. You are an instrument of God’s hand.”
Written by Amy Graham, Comunications Specialist