By Hannah Paasch Cosand
If you are a girl and you go to church—
I don’t care who you are, your skill sets or giftings or talents – this is gonna be hard.
You’re gonna wanna give up a lot of times.
Maybe you’ll need to for a little bit.
Maybe you’ll need to for a LOT bit.
For as much as people scare you about how leaving the church probably means you’re rebellious and hard-hearted and maybe you’ll just catch pregnancy and a minor drug addiction by being out there in the world by your little lonesome, truth is: you’ll be fine. If you’re supposed to come back, you can come back when you want to come back.
If you’re supposed to stay, then STAY.
If you need to leave, get the hell out.
Early on, as a pastor’s kid, you feel the need to “find your calling” in ministry. There’s a lot to choose from these days, as it turns out. Only certain people are able to teach Bible stories to kids. Another kind entirely is allowed in the pulpit. For me, it was my voice. I have been able to belt out enormous choruses since I was a pimple-faced teenager, and it was one of the only places in the church that I could feel – for a moment, behind that microphone – entirely free. I joined every gospel choir and hymn-sing and chorale that would have me. My sister and I were singing on our megachurch’s official grown-up worship team before we could even drive.
Every once in a rare blue moon, I got to lead a song. All on my own! A whole SONG!
I looked forward to these services for months beforehand. I would play the practice tracks back so many times, memorizing every run, until I hated the melodies by the time I got behind the microphone.
But man, I felt powerful behind that mic.
I was, too.
Worship leaders didn’t know what to do with me.
The nerves would get to me and I would just sing louder.
I grew accustomed to being pulled aside by men in charge & asked to “just tone it down a bit”.
Just a little softer.
Just a little lighter.
Just a little less powerfully, please.
Again, with less emotion.
I spent the better part of two years singing for a “worship pastor” who did not once look me in the eyes from the day of my first audition (UGH at auditions for worshipping God but that’s a ragey article for another day) until the very last day that I sang beside him, lips quivering, eyes filling, trying not to unleash the full torrent of passion that my voice longed to let loose. He was a younger man – single, so more “at risk”, you know, of being tempted – and I think he was afraid of me, waltzing into the back room in my black leather jackets and bright red lipstick, full of fire and life. I don’t think he was ever actually attracted to me at all, but afraid of the possibility that he MIGHT. He called me “sister” in his Christmas thank-you note, and I remember reading the handwritten note over again with longing, wishing for once that a man who called me his sister might actually treat me like one.
I think it’s important to note that the only worship leader who ever acknowledged my potential for presence and power is the one whose heart I broke. That one is on me, I know. I was just so grateful to feel seen & KNOWN, that I mistook that divine connection for a romantic one and went right out and asked him to date me.
In retrospect, I think I had internalized the lie that my greatest power was in seduction after all, and that any connection I felt to a man in ministry must be inherently sexual.
The way that “church” as we now know it runs is not kind to women. It was ultimately built for men. This is not a problem that’s exclusive to church – society as a whole was built to fit men better. Most of any benefit that we receive from its structure is accidental and secondary. We are not the point. We are the helpmates; the sidekicks. “Submitting to your husband” is a problem for another chapter – but what about the leadership in the church? Should you submit to your pastor? Any random dude in the church who can throw Bible verses at you? What does submit even mean, anyway? More importantly, how can women flourish and thrive within the flawed structure we humans have assumed God meant by “the church”?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched my friends be scorned and judged for trying to find a congregation that “fits their needs.” Ugh, church is not ABOUT you, people will mutter.
But it IS “about” some people, isn’t it? People who fit the proper churchy molds. Women who are quiet and want to be moms and men who are strong and want to lead and people whose skin matches ours. You know, the professional types! The ones who say enthusiastic GREATS when you ask them how they’re doing. The ones who don’t ask a lot of questions.
I will not be thankful for crumbs from the church’s table anymore.
I will not bide my time or do my duty “serving” in positions that do not recognize, support or nurture my power. For me and for now, that means a break from church as a whole and a clean break from the flimsy, non-denominational churches that have been my ramshackle homes these 25 years.
When I choose a new congregation—if I do—it will be a place where I am seen for who I really am. When I reach out, arms will reach back.
When I choose a new church—if I do—it will be a place where men and women and everybody in between can call me “sister” and really mean it. I will be their family & they will be mine.
When I go back to church—if I ever do—it will be a place where people look me in the eyes.