Speaker 0 00:00:00 Welcome to Lavish Hopes, season four. I'm your host, Liz Tesa. In this extended episode, I'm so excited to focus on the timely topic of male allyship and healthy, dynamic, equitable cultures where women can serve freely and fully alongside their brothers. This is important in the broader church, and especially within lavish hopes, home denomination, the Reform Church in America, as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of women's ordination as elders and deacons and 45th as ministers of Warden Sacrament in 2023. Joining me are two dear colleagues, Brian Keepers and Jeremy Simpson. Pastors change makers and longtime champions of women in leadership committed to creating authentic, equitable spaces of belonging for all God's children. Both have decades of experience in churches from Iowa to Michigan to Connecticut, along with a passion for equity, justice, and building communities that embrace the scriptural visions of Acts two and Galatians three and 28. This conversation goes deep fast as Jeremy and Brian share their journeys, reflect on their experiences, and offer helpful resources, encouragement, and of course lavish hope for a future in which the gifts, influence and leadership of women from all generations and backgrounds are fully embraced for the flourishing of the whole church. Let's jump in.
Speaker 0 00:01:33 Welcome to Lavish Hope. I'm Liz Tesa, your host, and I'm so delighted today to be here with two wonderful colleagues, male allies, champions for women in ministry and life. So grateful that we're gonna have an energized conversation today about all the things that they are engaged in and their commitment, again to women, um, in leadership and, uh, being able to exercise their gifts and influence in the community and the church and the world. So, welcome, Brian and Jeremy. So delighted that you guys are here. Thanks for making time.
Speaker 2 00:02:09 Thanks, Liz. It's great to be here. Yeah, super excited for this conversation today.
Speaker 0 00:02:14 Yeah, it's gonna be great. So, gentlemen, I would love it if you would be willing to just share a little bit about yourself and your ministry context, just so our listeners can get to know you before we dive into the content. Brian, do you mind going first?
Speaker 2 00:02:27 I'd love to go first. Thanks. Um, so I, I did not grow up in the church. Uh, I grew up in, in Iowa, kind of central Iowa, Northwest Iowa. Bounced back and forth, uh, became a, a Christian when I was a freshman in high school through a parachurch ministry. And through that para church ministry got connected to the one reformed church in my community. And Spencer, uh, had no idea what what reformed meant, um, but got connected to that church. And, uh, really it was, it was through that church that I found myself into the rca, the Reform Church in America. Um, it was in that church that I discerned a call to be a pastor. Uh, so that congregation continues to hold a special place in my heart. And, um, then I, I went on to Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, and then to Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan. I'm married to Tammy who teaches Spanish, and we have two daughters by way of adoption and one granddaughter. And I've been a pastor in the RCA now for 22 years. Wow. Which is unbelievable to me. Uh, served a church in Sheldon, Iowa for five years, close to five years, right. Outta seminary, then was in Holland, Michigan at Fellowship Reform Church there for 12 years. And then we returned to Northwest Iowa to Trinity Reform Church, uh, five years ago. And so I have been serving here since.
Speaker 0 00:03:52 Great. And then Brian, you also have had the opportunity to serve the broader church in, within the context of the Reform Church in America, which is the home base for Lavish Hope podcast, although we are, have our, um, have our reach far beyond just our little denomination. But, um, you also have served in some important roles, um, in the broader church. Can you just say a quick word about that as well?
Speaker 2 00:04:14 Yeah, I mean, Mo most recently I was part of the Vision 2020 team, uh, which was a team who was assembled together to really help the RCA find a way forward, immense, some deep differences, uh, human sexuality, I like to say it was presenting issue. I think there were a lot of other things beneath, beneath the surface of that. Um, so that was, it was supposed to be a two year process with Covid. It ended up being a three year process. And, uh, so just, just finish that up within the last year and a half being a part of that team, um, which was, it was a gift and it was about one of the hardest things I think I've ever, I've ever been a part of. Um, saw many, many beautiful manifestations of the gospel in that, and also saw a lot of hard things in terms of just, uh, tension and, uh, fracturing in the church. But when I look back, I, I still am really grateful that I got to be a part of that.
Speaker 0 00:05:12 Yes. Well, thank you, Brian, because I, I thank you for your service, uh, because, and I wanted you to just sort of name that for our listeners, because I think it's important for, for folks to know that you did get to see, uh, you know, this is lavish hope, stories of resilience and overcoming. Yeah. So you did get to see kind of, you know, change within the church and just the things that you just mentioned. So thanks for that. Again, so glad that you're here. And Pastor Jeremy, tell us a little bit about you.
Speaker 3 00:05:37 Yeah, so I grew up, um, in Holland, Michigan, just a couple miles away from Lake Michigan on the north side, the north side's, the Better Side <laugh> and, uh, was raised in, um, a black community that was very connected to, um, church and life. And so, um, it was the only Pentecostal church, um, in the city at that time. And, uh, was founded by, um, a church planter who had a heart for seeing a church that represented all nations. And so, um, his name was actually Dr. Uh, Leonard Stout Meyer, um, you might recognize that name from his series at the Western Theological Seminary. And so as a child, uh, my grandparents were very, um, intentional about me being involved in the church in some way. And, um, I always was connected to music and art and culture and being in that, that, that environment really, um, gave me the opportunity to, um, do some things that were different.
Speaker 3 00:06:36 And so there was a Christian Reform church not far from our church, and the pipe organist there, um, was my pipe organ teacher. And so through connecting, um, and lessons with her, there was another church on the south side of town that was beginning the work of Revelation seven nines in our community. And so that was Maple Avenue Christian Reform Church that was transitioning and beginning to look at what it meant to be, um, a church that was centered and called and committed, um, to this ministry of reconciliation. And so they had a youth choir that was really involved in our community. And so I began to be a part of that choir. And through the transition of Maple Avenue Christian Reform Church, becoming Maple Avenue Ministries and partnering with the Reform Church in America, I really got to get a picture, um, firsthand of God's work of building his kingdom among us.
Speaker 3 00:07:27 And, um, began to see areas where advocacy was necessary, not just outside the church, but as well as in the church. Um, and so that led to a journey and ministry that, um, blossomed out of Hope College and Fourth Reform Church. And that led to a journey in young adult ministry at Christ Memorial Church. And from there, I really felt, um, the call and kind of empowering wind of the spirit to, um, begin to understand what does this mean to be a leader in ministry and to be a pastor. I'd always only looked at myself as a musician. Um, but I, I tend to believe that the best pastors are musicians cuz we know how to, to play different rhythms and make different sounds and noises. But anyway, that led to, um, a journey and path of, um, discerning, discerning ministry. And so ended up at Fellowship Reform Church in Muskegon and served there for five years, um, where my wife Erica and I both were a part of that staff after we met at Hope College.
Speaker 3 00:08:27 And then we, uh, served at Sunshine Church in Grand Rapids in worship and teaching ministry. And Erica was the youth pastor there. And, um, through a journey of discernment and that process and calling to, um, to cross-cultural ministry, we left Michigan and moved to Connecticut, and we lived in New Haven, Connecticut, and were a part of a church plant that, um, existed out of Yale University. And so did a lot of work with the Institute of Sacred Music there and other things happening within the church. And, um, our church had a campus in New York City as well. So I got to engage with, um, that culture. And one of the things that was really significant in that time for us was really beginning to understand, um, what it means to work in equitable practice. And so my wife, Erica, um, we've been married for 15 years.
Speaker 3 00:09:17 She was working for United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, and I was running a nonprofit arts organization, um, out of Bridgeport, Connecticut, which is just 30 miles outside of the city. And really began to see that these students, especially our students of color and female students, weren't having the same access, um, to arts education as some of the other students. And so it began to really advocate for that and to start to, um, work and dive into realms of government, which was frightening. It was terrifying. I had no idea, um, what I was doing, but had a lot of good folks to lean on in that season. And so we served in that space for seven years, um, and then we started having kids and God brought us back to Michigan. We were looking to be closer to family, my family being in Michigan and her family in Northern Indiana.
Speaker 3 00:10:06 And so we came back here in 2000, uh, 16 and served at Southridge Reform Church, um, in Kalamazoo. And presently I serve as the executive director and campus pastor for Western Michigan University. Um, however, we are transitioning at the end of the semester to Nashville, Tennessee, um, where Erica will continue in her role at Can Bay, which is a company that, um, is producing a middle class, um, for Indian Women's amazing to see what they are doing in their, their, um, work in India. And really the work that India is doing here among us. Um, and I'll be serving, continuing in this role as supervisor for race relations and advocacy with the rca. So thanks for having me, and I'm just glad to be here today.
Speaker 0 00:10:50 Wow, both of you. My goodness. It's so exciting to hear just sort of your journey, right. Of where, where God has taken you and led you and where you are today. And you know, it's important for us because, um, in 2023 we'll be celebrating 50 years of women being ordained as elders and deacons in our church. Wow. And then also 45 years for women to be ordained as ministers of Warden Sacrament, like what I am. And, um, so as we're thinking about your journeys and your stories, I just want our listeners to really be present to the fact that, um, not all denominations, uh, welcome women in ministry. Uh, and some of them do it in different ways. And so part of this conversation is about the big picture of equity and championing women, um, in the church, and then also about you as men, you know, male allies, men who are in this work coming alongside women and who are doing it actually quite naturally. Right. It's kind of who you guys are. So we've got the, the both and there, the forest and the trees, if you will. So let's dive in. Uh, gentlemen, I'd love to hear, and I know our listeners would love to hear as well, our first question we always ask, which is, what does resilience mean to you?
Speaker 3 00:12:06 I think resilience to me mean standing. When I was a kid, my grandmother would make me walk down the hallway, um, with a book on the top of my head. And as I was walking, I had to have a straight posture. Um, and it used to make me so mad, but as I grew older, I recognized what she was teaching me was the power to stand tall. Um, and I think that when we look at our culture, there's a lot of areas where there are questions, there are questions around equity, there are questions around, um, basic freedoms. Um, there are questions around women's health. I think of those questions. And when I think of resilience, I, I literally think of women standing tall. I think of those trees, um, that we see in scripture. And we think of the Psalms where we will be trees planted along streams of water. And that resilience that can withstand struggle. That's what comes to mind for me being able to stand.
Speaker 2 00:13:00 Yeah, I love that. I mean, typically, you know, I you think of resilience as, um, being able to bounce back, you know, to get up after you fall down. Uh, I I've thought a lot about resilience over the last few years, uh, to be honest with you both like the last few years have been the hardest years of ministry in 22 years for me. Um, and some of that that, that hard was, um, even before Covid and kind of the perfect storm of things that have happened since. But even coming back to northwest Iowa came back to this place. We, we, we love being in West Michigan, but came back because we felt called to come back and invest in a place that had so deeply invested in us. And maybe I can share a little bit more at some point that'll come up in the conversation about some, some of the challenges that have come with this move.
Speaker 2 00:13:50 Um, so I've thought about this a lot and here's, uh, here's kind of the, the, the way that I've been thinking about it lately is that it, resilience for me is the courage to embrace the given life with, um, with gratitude and purpose. And the given life is a phrase I got from Wendell Berry when he talks about kind of embracing the given life and maybe not the life we planned. And, uh, so much of this last chapter for me has been about the given life. And, um, and that doesn't mean you just kind of, you know, you just kind of acquiesce to status quo. It doesn't mean that you, you don't stand with courage and, and, and have to disrupt things. Um, but, but for me, it has really been about being able to embrace really kind of the life that we've been given and to do so in such a way where, where I'm able to find grace and and gratitude for how God has been at working that even though so much of the script for us, for my wife and I, has not unfolded the way that we had hoped being in this place.
Speaker 0 00:14:55 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that's a good word. I I know that's resonating with a lot of people out there. Cause that's, that's, I mean, pandemic not withstanding, that's mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that's really what's going on a lot right now.
Speaker 2 00:15:06 Yeah. I mean, I, I reread a book by Victor Frankel a couple summers ago, and it, and it just, I think I had last read it in college, but, you know, he is a, was a psychologist, Jewish psychologist who was in one of the Nazi death, death camps mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And he observed that the difference between those who were able to survive the harshest conditions, and not just survive, but as much as you can flourish, you know, as much as you can flourish in a death camp. Uh, the, the distinction he saw was, was there were those who were focused on the question, um, what do I expect of life? And, you know, how can I somehow change my circumstances? And, and those who were preoccupied with that, uh, just when, when, when they couldn't change their circumstances, they found themselves just, they, they lost hope and they died rather quickly.
Speaker 2 00:15:56 But he said, those who, who who flourished were those who, who were not so preoccupied with the question of, what do I expect of life? But what does life expect of me? And I may not be able to change these circumstances, but who am I gonna become in the midst of 'em? And these were the ones who were, they were, they were serving others, they were giving up their food for others, they were. Um, and so I think that for me, re resilience that kind of question of what is, what is God expecting of me? What is God calling me to? Who is God calling me to be in the midst of maybe a, a place and circumstances that I wouldn't have chosen? Uh, there's something in that that has just connected deeply with my own heart.
Speaker 0 00:16:43 That's really, really profound. Brian, thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that. You know, gentlemen, I'm just wondering when we're thinking about, you know, like examples of this, you're, you're alluding to that Brian, but I'm, I'm wondering if you might be willing to just share like a story of that just to, just to help us wrap our heads around what, you know, how does that contextualize,
Speaker 2 00:17:03 You know, so, so we moved back to northwest Iowa, uh, in 2017. And it was, it was the first move that we made with, with, with children who, you know, we had a high schooler, or our oldest was going into high school, our youngest was going into fourth grade. So we hadn't made that kind of move before that really was uprooting our girls. Um, you know, to the point that they had been connected in a particular place. Uh, and, and we were coming back to a, a more conservative community mm-hmm. <affirmative> post 2016. So even when I was here before, I, I knew that this was a more conservative place, politically, theologically, socially. But my experience before even growing up here was that it was a, a a more gentle, kind, kind of of conservativism. And, and not that that is completely gone, but people will tell me that there was a difference after the 2016 election, um, in terms of just anger and, um, permission to say things and to act in ways that frankly were really a surprise to come back.
Speaker 2 00:18:06 And that was even before Covid, you know, so to come back to a place, um, and, you know, just to kind of deal with, with just some of the struggle of do we really fit here? Um, do you know, can we really find a sense of belonging here? We feel very much like outsiders. Then Covid happened, and two weeks before c before everything shut down, I can remember this so vividly, uh, we learned that my, my daughter who was a junior in high school, uh, was pregnant. And so the journey of, I mean, I'm in a small town, orange City, 6,000 people. Trinity was a big church, is a big church in a small town. Um, and so that, to navigate that and to figure out how to do that together well as a family mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, and, uh, and, and, and then, you know, I won't go all the way into this story cuz I feel like it's probably my, my daughter Emma's story to tell at some point.
Speaker 2 00:19:02 But, um, she just really began to struggle after about seven months after, uh, her daughter, my granddaughter was born, and, uh, just ended up struggling with some mental health things and ha you know, really didn't have the capacity to parent. Uh, and so suddenly my wife and I, you know, found ourselves stepping into that kind of role too. We're so grateful that, that our granddaughter's, um, father, uh, birth father is very active in, in her life, uh, and his family is too, and we love them. And, uh, that's just been a gift. But, you know, and then I think, you know, I think on kind of on top of all of that, the stuff that so many have experienced so many pastors of racial tensions, you know, polarization with politics, then the RCA tension, which has, you know, has been, there's just been a lot of anxiety mm-hmm. <affirmative>
Speaker 2 00:19:56 Mm-hmm. <affirmative> in this pocket in northwest Iowa. I think, you know, I, I remember the low point when our daughter was really struggling, and that was the hardest thing of all. I mean, ultimately church stuff, denominational stuff. Like, I can walk away from that at the end of the day, but when your kids are in pain. Yeah. You know, I just remember at night laying next to my wife and just hearing her sob and just saying, I don't, I don't know how we're gonna get through this. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I have never felt that level of despair in my life. And I think that was when I was reading that book by Frankel Scripture sustained me in that. But just the sense of like, I, we have no idea where, how this unfolds mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, but we have today and this is the life we've been given.
Speaker 2 00:20:45 And the thing that I can control is who, who, how am I gonna show up for the life that I've been given? Who, who am, who am I gonna be in the midst of this? How am I gonna love my daughter? Well, how am I gonna be a pastor who, uh, is gonna have the courage to, to practice vulnerability and not hide my pain? I, I want, I don't, I don't want, I don't wanna share that pain in ways that are unhealthy. You know, so I, I had my, I have my own therapist and I have places where I can process that, but I also don't wanna just hide and bury that pain with them. But somehow, um, as Frederick Bakner would say, you know, that our pain may be one of the, the greatest gifts that were called to steward. And, uh, and that's been the journey of learning. How can I steward my pain in such a way that, um, yeah. The, the Bears witness to the hope that we have in Christ and that somehow might be beneficial for the building up of those around me.
Speaker 3 00:21:41 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I, as I'm sitting and hearing you talk, Brian, I'm, I'm resonating so much with all of this conversation cuz as I look back on, um, my own journey, I'm thinking of, you know, my wife Eric, our kids Jayden and Zoe, um, stepping into becoming church planners. And, um, you know, I've always, I've always thought about this, this role of hope as being able to, um, to provide a space of joy for someone else, to provide an opportunity where you can, you know, you think of that old quote that says, um, do all the goods you can. What is it by all the means you can, and all the ways you can and all the places you can, um, to all the people you can as long as you can. And that's, that drives, um, that drives the heart for really recognizing that space. But then, you know, you talk about showing up and I think about the spaces when we have shown up, and sometimes that seems to come back to bite us.
Speaker 3 00:22:43 Um, for me, you know, being a person of color, um, being a black male, it's a different experience. And so when we became, um, when we became church planners, um, there was a process that helped us to really discern how God was leading us in that. But then when we got on the road, it felt like, oh man, now we're starting to see racism. Now we're starting to see, um, now we're starting to see, you know, motives and agendas coming out, and we're, we're walking to the season where it really feels like, um, the hope that we had is kind of being crushed. And so I think for me, as I'm hearing you talk, I'm thinking about, um, how do we get to a place, um, how do we get to a place where we can really understand when hope doesn't look hopeful, um, when the things that we've been praying for and longing for and, um, waiting for don't seem to happen.
Speaker 3 00:23:44 How do we, how do we continue to look forward? Um, how do we continue to go past, you know, the marker? Um, how do we show up in that? Um, for me, I've had to recognize this a certain level of surrender, um, yeah. And coming to a place of recognizing that in the midst of, um, longing for hope and in the midst of hoping to see, um, lives change and hoping to see God's kingdom and, and the church continue to go forward, um, and hoping to see a more racially diverse, um, radically inclusive, um, holy Spirit embracing denomination and hope of seeing those things, um, God, I'm gonna keep on doing all I can, um, and all the ways that I can, however long I can. Um, and I think in that we find that, that rest, we find that peace, uh, we find that that really, that really point of stillness that brings us to, uh, that longing again.
Speaker 3 00:24:42 So I just, that's what I was thinking about as you were talking, was just hitting me, thinking of that story and coming into Covid and the ways that so many pieces of church and life and ministry are so different than what we've known. Um, and it's really changed the level of hopefulness that I think some of us carry. But in the midst of that we can hold true, um, and stand fast that God is with us, that God is seeing, that God knows, and that God, God hears and is continuing to instill that hope within us.
Speaker 0 00:25:11 Wow. Gentlemen, we just went so deep, so fast. Thank you both. And you know, this is, this is also part of, um, of this whole practice, right? Of, of allyship too, is being willing as, as men in, in our western society to show up, um, authentically and vulnerably. And so I thank you both for the ways that, that you're already sharing, uh, with our, with our community here on lavish Hope. So, um, actually Jeremy just gave us a, a nice segue with some of what you were just saying to move us into the, the conversation around how you became supporters of women in ministry. So hoping that you could share a little bit about how that happened for you.
Speaker 3 00:25:52 So I didn't know that, I didn't know that women being in ministry was a thing until, um, until I came into contact with the Christian Reform Church. Because in my home church, outside of our pastor, and we also had an associate pastor who was female, um, women served in all forms of leadership. We had women elders, we had women deacons, we had women preachers that would come. We had women alter workers and women, Sunday school teachers. Um, so I didn't realize that there were other places that didn't celebrate or affirm women in ministry in that sense, until I came to the Christian Reform Church and recognized that they didn't have women, elders and deacons. Um, and there definitely were no women pastors. And that was, you know, some 30 years ago. However, I always felt that there was, there was this, this, this need to really show what equitable practice looked like, what it looked like to see men and women serving in a space, um, that didn't feel odd, that didn't feel strange.
Speaker 3 00:26:55 But seeing that we recognize the gifts and the calling, um, that's on your life as much as yours, and both of those are valuable. Both of those are made in the image of God. And so I've always had, um, an aching to see more of that within our churches. And I'm, I'm starting to see that shift. I'm encouraged by, um, what I've seen also at Western Theological Seminary in the ways that we continue to see women empowered in ministry and serving in crucial leadership roles. Um, but for me, it began as a young child, like I said, seeing women in ministry. Um, as I've grown and been able to do ministry in various places, I've recognized the value, um, that the voices of women have brought to the table. And even from a theological perspective, I think it's really important that we recognize, um, the ways that women have informed our theological practice. Go all the way back to the book. Um, it's there. Read it, it's there. And so I've, I've been encouraged by that over these last few years to see the way that that's continued to grown, um, and bring transformation to women in leadership.
Speaker 2 00:27:57 Yeah. Liz, you know, um, women and men serving together, leading together as deep in my heart. And I've, I don't know that I can think of like a moment where suddenly kind of the light came on for me that Oh, that's how it's supposed to be. You know, I mean, similar to Jeremy, maybe the difference for me though is that I, you know, I didn't, I didn't, like I said earlier, I didn't grow up in the church. Um, so I just don't have a lot of memories of, of seeing, you know, what, who who was leading in a congregation, who was preaching. Um, but, but as I think back to my own childhood, there have, there have always been strong women in my life. I think of my grandmother, my grandma keepers, who was the one who ended up giving me my first Bible when I was, I don't know, somewhere around seven years old through Christmas.
Speaker 2 00:28:43 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, children's Bible. Um, she was a very strong and gentle presence in my life. Um, my, my mom who continues to this day to be, um, one of the most important relationships in my life, my parents went through a divorce when I was a sophomore in high school. And so, um, I had a strained relationship with my father. And so my mom, um, probably was the more constant presence for me. I, you know, if, but I think if I had to think about like, where, where did it become something for me where it was like, okay, I wanna be an advocate and an ally here. This is like this, I'm, I'm, I, I need, I need to use my voice. Um, to be a part of empowering and lifting up and being lifted up by my sisters would, would probably be, when I served as a lead pastor at Fellowship Reform Church in Holland, and to, to the credit of Ken, Erics, my predecessor, Ken, he just helped cultivate this value in the life of the congregation with women and leadership on every level, including the staff.
Speaker 2 00:29:45 And I think that often is the changer. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, when you have, when you have some, when you have a female pastor and, and Ken, that was a high enough value that he did that. And, uh, and so I got to, I got to kind of step into that. And, uh, I, I would say my, my to to this day to, to this point, maybe my, my favorite years of ministry or the, the years of ministry that were most transformational for me, uh, were when I got to work with two female pastors. And for the first time, cuz Fellowship would often have multiple pastors, but usually it was still male, you know, the men were in the mi uh, the majority. But, but then I was suddenly in the minority. I had these two incredibly gifted female pastors, uh, who were my co-pastors, Maka Strong and Megan Hodgen, two of just the most gifted pastors.
Speaker 2 00:30:37 Amazing man that I've, yeah, absolutely amazing. And we were engaged in some work together that was called, uh, theri Church Renewal at the time. Now it's called Church's Learning Change. And that was work that we did so intentionally together around even growing and self-awareness. And you know, what don't I know that I don't know. And I needed my sisters to help me, even as somebody who was an advocate of their call, I, I needed them to maybe help me see things that I, that I still couldn't see. Um, you know, some of my own biases and prejudices or maybe even ways that I was intending to be an ally, but was hurting that at times too. Um, so they helped me grow so much. So it wasn't just seeing the remarkable gifts in them as leaders, but it, it was what I learned from them.
Speaker 2 00:31:31 Um, and, and, and then seeing how valuable it was for us to have, I mean, together men and women to have a team of pastors like that. I I just think that we were able to minister in a way that was frankly, so much more effective in the life of the congregation than if it would've just been all females or all males. Um, I'll, I'll give you just one funny story. When I got, when I left in, in 2017, we were having dinner with a couple who, we were very close to an older couple in the church, and Carol Wagner, who another incredibly strong leader, by the way, who is with the Lord now, but got a phone call from someone. So had to step away to take that. And, and my, my youngest daughter, Abby, who again was in third grade at the time, heard Carol say to the person on the line, Hey, can I call you back?
Speaker 2 00:32:25 I'm, I'm, uh, we're, we're having dinner with our, our lead pastor and I just didn't use that language at, at, at Fellowship. Uh, we were, I was one of the pastors, um, and my daughter, Abby turned to me and she said, dad, you're, you're the lead Pastor <laugh>. She said, hi, that's funny. I just always thought you were the boy pastor <laugh>, you know, and, and in her mind, like, you know, you had the pastors and then you had dad who was the boy pastor, you know, who was kind of part of that team. And, uh, it was just one of those moments where I was like, yeah, I think that's right. I think that's right
Speaker 0 00:33:04 Out of the mouth of babes, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, they'll help keep us honest.
Speaker 2 00:33:07 <laugh>. Yeah. Yeah. It was was great. I'm so, and I'm so glad that my daughters, some for my daughters, they, I mean, they just don't know what to do with now being in a place where, you know, really there, there are not many women who are pastors, um, or in leadership. And that's, so I think they've had to deal with, you know, just, um, really kind of some of the, the shock of not seeing that because they were so used to them, both of them grew up Yeah. With women preachers, with, you know, women and leadership. And I'm grateful for that. It's also what's been a little bit harder about being where we're now.
Speaker 0 00:33:49 And you know, I, I will say that too, as a pastor mom raising two daughters, and then my daughters my young, my older daughters Godmothers, also was a African American female pastor. So who's, who's gone home to be with the Lord now. But, but, so I had, especially my older girl was just brought up with like all of that, all the things. And so, um, I think that's also what's an important piece is we're looking at, you know, they call it aspirational leadership, right? You need to see people in leadership who look like you, who are like you in order to be able to imagine yourself in that role. And so I just appreciate that you just naturally brought that up as, as a value and as, as an important component of this work of allyship and supporting women is by having women in, in leadership for your own support, like for the, for the collaboration, um, and the leadership in the present time as the leaders, but also for the generations to come to be able to see that, and not just for the women to see it, the little girls to see it, but for the boys to see it too, right?
Speaker 2 00:34:52 Absolutely.
Speaker 3 00:34:53 It makes such a difference. My, uh, I look at my daughter Zoe, and I watch her as she watches women lead and I can just see the look in her eye as she's, she's seeing them. But then to see women that look like her lead, it makes, it makes the impacts that much greater because she's recognizing that will be me one day. And that gives her the option to say, yes, I can step into that role. I can see myself leading in those ways. And it, it makes me always think about, um, what is that gala, Galatians three, you know, there's, there's therefore, you know, no Jew or Greek, you know, there's no slave or free, and when there's no male or female, um, and for me, I think that that speaks to our oneness, um, both in Christ, but our oneness in understanding the ways that we can relate to ministry and opportunities together.
Speaker 3 00:35:41 You know, it reminds me of my childhood. Um, we had what was called church mothers, and that's very common, um, within the black church to have church mothers. And I, I noticed in, in our community, um, any one of those church mothers could correct us, admonish us. Um, but they also taught us, they loved us. They cared for us. And, um, the, the beauty of that and the significance of it, more so than them holding the role of a church mother was that they showed us what it was to both have a love and a respect for people. Um, it showed us what it was to, um, to honor folks and to create a culture of honor. And I think that's something that we miss. Um, we miss so often today, especially post covid, we're, we're so separatist and siloed in the way that we approach life and the way that we approach culture, that we're missing out on the significance of what it is to have an empathy toward people, um, and treating people as they should be treated with dignity and honor and respect. But I, um, I think that there's so much value in us having a conversation around what it means to put those practices at the forefront of how we do life with other folks. Um, I think that's beautiful.
Speaker 0 00:36:54 Yeah. That's so good. Jeremy, so you've, you've already brought in the, the Imago Day from Genesis, and then you're talking about Galatians three and 28. And so I'm wondering, gentlemen, if you have any other scriptures that you found useful to you as you've really lived into your commitment, uh, to support women in ministry?
Speaker 2 00:37:13 I mean, I mean, one of the other ones for me, and I do think the biblical narrative from beginning to end. I mean, Jeremy, you said something earlier, like if we were just read the book, like if we would really read it, especially when you consider the context in which the Bible takes place and from which it's come, um, I've just come to appreciate how incredibly radical it is, uh, especially when we think about, um, women and the role of women. But I think another, another key one for me is, you know, acts two on Pentecost, where, you know, where, um, Peter is quoting the prophet Joel, let me just read it. Like in the last days, it will be God declares that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, all flesh, right? Um, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Your young men shall see visions. Your old men shall dream dreams even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. And I think this is, this is the new thing that God is doing that's connected to, I think, the way that God has worked in the past, both through men and women. Um, but to see the spirit pour out upon my sisters as well, uh, and, and not just to see it in scripture, then I've experienced it, you know, firsthand,
Speaker 3 00:38:33 For me, I, I always go back to John four, Jesus, in this conversation with the Samaritan woman, it, it says to me, um, how can, how can we say that, uh, women don't have a place, um, among spirituality? How can we say that women don't have a place among leadership? Um, Jesus touched her life because he allowed her to touch him. And I think in that instance, um, when we think of women in ministry, that's how I, that's how I perceive it. I perceive it as we are all available in this space to be used by God, um, in ways that we can't imagine. We can't begin to even fathom, um, the ways and plans that God has, uh, for expanding our borders of ministry and our capacity to be able to show love to more people, um, to be able to show that we are, uh, folks that believe in this egalitarian uh, society.
Speaker 3 00:39:26 And that's, that's the way that I've always felt. Um, John four represents that, and Jesus declares to her, but a time is coming, um, that you will all worship together in this place. And I, I, I think that that picture of worshiping together, um, says that, that God both calls us, he sends us, um, and affirms us, um, in ways that we need to model to each other, both vertically and horizontally in the ways that we connect with one another, but then in the ways that we put the, into practice in our own spiritual lives and our faith walk,
Speaker 0 00:39:57 It's so good. You know, I just got back from a trip with an amazing group of mostly women, but some brothers to, to Israel Palestine, to the Holy Land, and, um, just being able to really engage those stories. Uh, we went, um, under the auspice of s Salvus and her son, uh, Dr. Josh Old Testament professor, who really helped us interrogate the, the scripture. And also Reverend Dr. Denise Kingdom Greer was supposed to be going alongside us, and, um, was not able to, uh, unfortunately, but, uh, some of her wisdom traveled with us. And that story of the Samaritan woman at the, well, I mean, it's the longest conversation Jesus has with anybody in the whole Bible. So I was like, that's a context clue right there, <laugh>. Um, and so I, I think one of the really beautiful things that happened for many of our sisters, and these are women, you know, elders and pastors women, um, I mean, we had lay women, you know, too, but we, we did have a, a good, a good group of women who were theologically trained and really invested in, in the study of scripture and the things that were being brought forth, that they were being, the ways they were being illuminated in, like really what these stories held in terms of the value of women and the ways that Jesus called women forth, and the ways that women in scripture, uh, really created a transformation in, in, in their context against right patriarchal odds, if you will.
Speaker 0 00:41:21 Uh, it was really pretty amazing. So I, I love, I love how you both brought out. Um, we love our Holy Spirit acts, too. We love that. And, uh, and then that also goes back to, you know, the Old Testament to the Hebrew Bible with Joel too. So that's, it's kind of that bridge. And it's interesting. Um, another gentleman who was supposed to be joining us here today, Israel Camacho, he's, uh, not able to be with us, but when he first was part of our guiding coalition, and he came in alongside his spouse, Carla, and, uh, he was kind of like, what am I doing here? And as he was really starting to think about what does it mean to be a male ally, what does it really mean to be a pastor championing the women in your context to leadership? It was Joel to, it was Joel to where the Lord really, um, kind of revealed to him what's at stake.
Speaker 0 00:42:12 So he's here in the room with us. He's here on the podcast with us and absentia Brian, thanks for bringing that forth so that we could also have our brother Israel, um, as part of this with us. So what I'd, what I'd love to know, and I know our listeners would so enjoy hearing about, is where do you find hope in having men and women serve together in equal and equitable partnership? You know, this is something that you mentioned the 2016 election, you know, in these last five years, six years, um, there's been a lot of conversation we had. The whole Me Too movement also kind of came onto the scene. Church two movement came onto the scene. A lot of the brothers who had been more open to women in ministry started to dial it back because they were afraid that there was gonna be allegations and challenges. We just know there's been sort of like a, a turning of the tables on some of the ways that, um, there's been, um, let me just say unhealth in the church and in society where men and women are concerned in relationships. So I'm, I'm wondering, as we're kind of moving into a new season, where are you finding hope and and value in, in having equitable, um, and equal partnership among, uh, men and women?
Speaker 2 00:43:22 Yeah, you know, I think in my context where, as I mentioned, I mean, it's, it's just there, there just aren't as many women who are in pastoral positions or, um, in, in leadership. Um, I think for me, where I'm finding hope is that I, I see, even in my own congregation, I see more and more women whose hearts are being ignited with passions, who are being given dreams. Um, I mean, we, and we do have, in our congregation, uh, we, we have women, our elders and deacons, and we've had women who are women who are on staff and, and, uh, even female pastors. So I think Trinity is, is is unique to the area in that regard. Um, not exclusively so, but, uh, so I, I, I would say right now, when I look at just the health of, of my own congregation, even after going through a really hard season, I was telling you both before we started recording here, that it's been, you know, we're a smaller church than we were, uh, as we've lost some people through things.
Speaker 2 00:44:26 But I, I feel like we are a healthier church and we're becoming even healthier. And, and some of that health is, I just see more and more of this value of men and women leading together. It's, it's, it's happening. And sometimes in subtle ways, and maybe that would be some of my encouragement to those who of you who are in places where this is just a, it's more of an uphill battle start somewhere, and it doesn't have to be, uh, a sermon that you preach that, you know, I mean, it, it could be, but I, but what I've found is that even some things as simple as, um, you know, for us on, on a Sunday morning, we ins we make sure that there is always a female presence and a female voice in worship. Uh, and you know, that that's, that's more than just somebody who's singing on the, the praise team, which is maybe where most churches kind of allow that to happen, but somehow that there's a female up there leading.
Speaker 2 00:45:20 And one of the practices that I've just been committed to, uh, started doing this at Fellowship is that when we come to the Lord's table together, there are two of us who are always leading, and there's always one male and one female, because I want people to see, right? I want them to see the image and likeness of God in us together, uh, and that Christ who is the host, is the host, uh, through us together. So I, I think that there are, there are smaller ways that you can begin to change a culture. Um, I think one other thing that I wanna share, uh, Liz, and I think, I mean, you're aware of this, but when I, when I think about where I'm seeing hope right now, Isaiah 43 continues to be a scripture that is deep in me, uh, where God, you know, says, forget the former things, for I am doing a new thing.
Speaker 2 00:46:10 You not perceive it, it springs up, you know, in the wilderness. Uh, I am making a way in the desert, and I am, you know, bringing rivers, uh, in, in, into the wilderness. And so I, I see that happening right now in our region. Uh, two, two really exciting things right now. I mean, this is stuff that is most energizing to me right now, is that this last August we got to be a part of planting a bilingual church, uh, in a neighboring community, uh, with a Latina pastor who's amazing, uh, Martha Drayer. Uh, and she's a co co uh, co vocational pastor, works at Northwestern College as well, but has sensed the call for a long time to be a pastor, but didn't think she could, didn't think she could. And, and then this call just became irresistible for her. There, we were part of a process that got to affirm her in that she's in the, the commission pastor route right now.
Speaker 2 00:47:08 Um, we just ordained her as a teaching elder a couple weeks ago, which was awesome. And, uh, to see her lead and, and this, this church meets on Sunday afternoons in a, uh, coffee shop. And it, everything is not just bilingual English and Spanish, but it's multilingual. And it is, is, I would say arguably, it's, it's probably one of the most multicultural places that you'll find now in, in northwest Iowa and younger. I mean, the younger generations. So, um, Mary Magdalena Reform Church in Sioux Center, uh, if you're ever in the area, go check it out. The other, the other thing, um, another sister, uh, ordained pastor, uh, who is co vocational, uh, Deb Rensy, who I think she was on this podcast recently, right?
Speaker 0 00:47:58 Indeed. She
Speaker 2 00:47:59 Was. So she's part of our hospices campus, Trinity. We have a campus in Orange City, and hospices the town about 10 miles away. Uh, she was, uh, she plays an instrumental part in that campus. Um, but she, uh, she has a community of women who have come out of domestic violence situations and, uh, they, there's a number of things that they're doing together. Um, but, but they worship together and whispers of hope. I think it's hope, love, and joy. I, I just refer to it as whispers of Hope. Um, they continues to grow. And I just had a conversation with her yesterday, in fact, and she was saying, Brian, now it's, it's not just women and their kids who are coming out of these domestic violence situations, but she said, we have families now who are joining us, um, who, who want to be a part of this kind of community that's intended to create a safe place of belonging for these women and healing.
Speaker 2 00:48:55 And she has this dream, I mean, get her talking, maybe she probably, I dunno if she talked about it, but you'll have to have her back sometime if she didn't, of this, this healing center, like a retreat center mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which I'm thinking right now, this is what we need for, you know, not, not just for, I'm sure these women and their, uh, horrific experiences they've come out of, but we, our land needs this northwest Iowa needs healing. And, and, uh, I wonder if there's something that God is doing through Deb and this dream, um, that's gonna be even bigger than what, what she's thinking right now. But Trinity is super excited to get to come along, whispers of hope, and be a part of that ministry as well. And I, I think the thing that we've been really clear with both Martha and Deb is that this is not a one way street. Like this is not, um, you know, we don't want to be kind of the, the, the white males who are just kind of the ones who are, you know, calling the shots with this sort of thing. Uh, God is doing something in and through you, and we, we wanna learn, we wanna learn from you and with you, and we're in this together. So
Speaker 0 00:50:08 That's great. Brian, given all that you shared with us about your context, it's important to see exactly where God is doing the new thing. I mean, that is so hopeful. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and I know both of those women, and I'm so thrilled. And, and again, it needs to start, like there needs to be a place for them to launch their ministries from. And that's why when you're talking about this kind of catalytic change, you're talking about like, how do you be a champion of women in ministry? It is you, it's you, you gotta walk your talk, right? And so really being able to, um, to encourage them and create a space for them to launch out of is important. And I also appreciate your posture of humility, Brian, when you're saying you can learn alongside. I think that that's, um, that really resonates for me and a lot of the coaching that I do with churches, um, that posture of humility is so important. So thanks for that, Jeremy.
Speaker 3 00:51:05 Yes. So in my context of ministry, it's, it's a little bit different. I'm working in campus ministry and then alongside that, providing diversity and belonging and coaching for, um, creating spaces of inclusion. So what I'm seeing a lot of, um, which is so encouraging in this generation is that emerging generations, um, and this next generation, um, their level of leadership is increasing. And that, um, that to me says that we're finally, um, finally taking steps in the right direction. Um, you know, steps, steps are just that there's steps and sometimes steps are taken later, way later than they should have been. But I'm glad to see if those steps are happening. And we're seeing, um, more women in leadership where there used to be spaces that were only held by white men. Um, and so that's been really encouraging. When I stepped into this role here at Western Michigan University, um, there was a, it was a co-director ship, and so, uh, both of the co-directors myself, um, and the other co-director was a woman, um, who was white.
Speaker 3 00:52:09 And so together we were co-leading, um, for a season and, um, had a phenomenal partnership, but we did that intentionally to model, to leadership structures. This is doable, and it's important for people to see women in these roles. It's important people to see not only women in these roles, but also people of color, and that we're both learning, um, and listening to each other. It's one thing to get people in the same space and get them talking. It's another thing to get people in the same space and actually get them to listen and to hear what someone has to say. And that was valuable for me. Um, so I'm seeing, I'm seeing much hope in that to see that women are stepping into roles of leadership, um, both when it comes to affecting change within culture, within the church and outside of the church. Um, and that emerging generations are in essence taking up that mantle.
Speaker 3 00:52:58 And I think it's also, um, also important for us to recognize, um, how we can learn from the influence of women. We tend to, to lean in only on the, you know, kind of masculine influence and culture in some ways. But I, I think that right now we're seeing a massive increase of a listening ear and to lean into, uh, the influence that women play into society. Um, you know, we, we tend to separate ministry, um, or women in ministry from women in society. And I, I think that they're one and the same. Um, if you look at, you know, data within churches, you'll see that most churches are made up of what women, um, women make it happen. Women are the connecting points. And I think that we've leaned in too much to, um, having them take a backseat instead of fostering and boosting and supporting, um, them in roles of leadership.
Speaker 3 00:53:52 So I'm really hopeful about, um, seeing us continue to learn from the influence of, of women both at the local level, um, at the regional level, and even crossing over into governmental roles. I mean, look at this last, I'm not trying to make this a political conversation, but look at this last midterm election. Um, I think that we're finally starting to open up our eyes to some changes, um, that are happening. I'm seeing hope in, um, my partner Erica, um, in this move to Nashville, even for our family, he or she is connecting with, um, a community of women that said, we want to make an impact not only in the lives of folks that are just near us, but we wanna make a global impact. Um, and that's, that's doing the work of ministry, that is stepping out and saying, we're gonna find ways where we can not only affect spiritual change, but we can affect life change in a sense that shows the love of Christ, but affirms the gifts, the creative abilities, the ingenuity, the talent, um, and just the passion that women carry for, for things.
Speaker 3 00:54:55 And to see them doing this work of traveling to India and putting in time of building relationships. Um, that in itself speaks to, um, so much of what I think Jesus taught us. We have these models that tend to only show, um, these religious kind of acts and things that we do, but I don't think that Jesus came to have religion with us. I think Jesus came to have relationship with us. And so in building those relationships, we see the deep connectedness that we all have in the body of Christ and in so many ways that that brings healing, uh, to trauma, to years of trauma and abuse. Um, I think it also shifts the paradigm that some of us have about questions of women in leadership. It helps us to, um, both, both work through our own, discipling that out, um, and discipling in this process of recognizing the value that we all have in the kingdom of God.
Speaker 3 00:55:52 Um, and it dissenters our minds from patriarchy. Um, I'm seeing hope in that. I'm seeing hope in that many of our historical patriarchal systems are becoming open, and I'm loving the ways that that openness is bringing about change. Um, and it's also providing accessibility. Um, it brings us all to the table instead of us building, you know, that quote, instead of building higher fences, let's build a table. And I think in essence, when we, um, have this imagery of a table, it's a place where we all can come together and celebrate the goodness of God, um, and the accessibility that we all have in that, um, to listen and to learn from and be in community together.
Speaker 0 00:56:32 Amen. Amen. So, gentlemen, we just have a couple minutes left, but I'm wondering, um, just thinking about you've, you've both shared, you know, some of the, the challenges that, that you've encountered and then some of the, the things that need to be kind of overridden, if you will, um, regarding bringing women into full ministry leadership or leadership in general, right. And, and leverage their gifts. I'm just wondering in terms of like your hope for women in ministry and what encouragement might you have? Um, again, you've already shared lots of tools and tips and uh, resources for this, but as we're, as we're coming to a close, what encouragement do you have for leaders who are trying to create a more egalitarian culture in their faith community?
Speaker 3 00:57:17 I would say, uh, be bold. Be bold, stand up. Um, you know, the, the scripture encourages us, um, in so many ways to really lean into what God is saying. And, um, you know, I think about the book of Revelation that, uh, we should hear what the spirit is saying to the church. And the, the window of the spirit doesn't call us to silence. The window of the Spirit calls us to action. The window of the Spirit calls us to, uh, prayer. The window of the spirit calls us to connecting and to loving on and to building relationships. Um, the window of the spirit calls us to empower those that God has, uh, gifted us to serve. And so what better way to serve, um, all of God's people, uh, than to show up and to stand up for what we know is right and for what we know builds God's kingdom. And I would say secondly, um, as you begin to do that standing, you know, we tend to be concerned about who's gonna stand with us. Those that will stand with you will, will shine in those moments, and you'll know those connective pieces where you'll be able to see, um, God at work right among you. Um, because as you arise for your lightest come, the glory of the Lord rises upon you also. So I would say stand, be bold in that and, uh, proclaim the goodness of Christ, um, to all.
Speaker 2 00:58:39 That's so good, Jeremy. Um, I, yeah, I think I would say, and, and, and, and again, I'm thinking of those who may be in a context where this, this is just, this is not as much part of the culture, so you really are having to be a part of a kind of adaptive change. Um, culture change. I think I would say again, start, just start somewhere. Uh, start somewhere. I think I would say also expect resistance. And it's, and it's not, it's a Todd Bullinger who says, you know, when people try to sabotage, it's not necessarily because they're horrible people that are just wanting to do evil things. It's because they're anxious people doing what anxious people do <laugh>, right? Um, so when there's that kind of change there, there will be some resistance. And, and that's okay. To, to Jeremy's point, I think that's where we as leaders, and especially as allies, need to build our capacity to be able to disappoint people and to, you know, we can, we can take that, you know, I think another thing, so we, we also have, uh, a a number of young people, uh, in our congregation and college students, and I have found that often people tend to be more open to, to, to children, young adults, um, even some of our college students when these women are being able to use their gifts and being able to use their gifts up front.
Speaker 2 00:59:55 And, uh, you know, um, I still hear people say at Trinity, one of the best sermons they heard was from a, a one of our daughters of the church who was a junior in high school who for a youth Sunday or something like that, delivered the sermon. And beautiful. You know, so I think that there can be ways to even draw out the gifts of the younger generation, um, by giving them an opportunity, especially the, the, the, the females to, to utilize their gifts. But it takes time. And, you know, I I would just say be patient to Jeremy's point. Be be bold and courageous and trust that the Holy Spirit is working.
Speaker 0 01:00:36 Amen. Amen.
Speaker 2 01:00:37 Resilience. Resilience. Yes.
Speaker 0 01:00:40 Good. Bookend, right? We started with resilience and we can end with resilience. Well, gentlemen, thank you so much. Brian Keepers and Jeremy Simpson, thank you for being allies and champions and co-labs and, um, and thank you for sharing so much of your, your journeys and your story and your wisdom with us here today on the Lavish Hope Podcast. God bless you both and your families and your ministries.
Speaker 2 01:01:04 Thank you very much. Thank you.
Speaker 0 01:01:17 Thanks so much for engaging this episode of Lavish Hope, season four. I hope my conversation with Jeremy Simpson and Brian Keepers has offered insights into what lavish hope, resilience, and overcoming mean for you and your community. If you'd like to connect with them to ask questions or get further insights on anything we discussed, they would welcome that Brian can be reached at keepers dot [email protected]
. That's k e e p e r s Brian, b r i a n gmail.com. And Jeremy [email protected]
. That's j simpson rca.org. This episode is brought to you by building God's church together, a ministry of women's transformation and leadership that equips faith communities to welcome the gifts of women and create healthy environments where everyone can serve freely and fully together. You can access this resource at our website, our ca.org/women. The Lavish Hope podcast executive production team includes Maria or Lorraine Parker, grace Reuter, and me, Liz Tesa, sound design and editing by the amazing Garrett Steyer. Until next time, may you find ways to cultivate lavish hope and build resilience each and every day. God bless you.