Rebecca Gurney

As Interviewed by Hannah Griesmer, April 19, 2016

Rebecca Gurney: In Her Own Words

My name is Rebecca Gurney. I am an ordained Baptist minister. I was ordained in 1992, and I have served congregations, and I have served as a hospital chaplain. My job was being associate pastor. I had responsibility for several of the ministries in the church -- primarily in the college ministry since the church sits right across the street from the University of Texas. We were also a church that back in the nineties was trying to be welcoming and open to gay and lesbian persons, and I had responsibility for the Open Arms group, which was a group of all kinds of people who wanted to stand in support with gay and lesbian persons. I helped with worship, leadership. I preached.

There were many people who influenced me professionally. Your Grandpa Gurney was also a minister, and so we grew up in a household where ministry was very important -- and that was a big influence on me in choosing my career.

And there were many people who influenced me personally. Tranette Ledford was one of my best friends, and she's the one who really kind of led me into a better understanding of feminism and living. Living as a feminist. So, she was a really great friend, a soulmate, and even a teacher in that way.

So the church had ordained a gay man to serve as a deacon four years earlier. The State Baptist Convention did not like that we had done that, so the state Baptist Convention kicked our church out of the convention. That was really hard on all the people in the church, and there were lots of bad feelings, and everyone was trying to figure out “How do we remain a church?” There were groups that were starting to gather in certain people's homes, but it wasn’t a full church that was invited, and I felt like, rather than have these little splinter groups, we should have the whole church. Come together and have meetings and have it facilitated so that everyone could express their emotions. So I requested dialogue for the whole church to try to sort through.

That was a scary thing to do because there were people who were in conflict with each other about the situation, and so if you can get everyone together, then there is a chance that there will be conflict. But in a congregation of the faith community, you would want people to feel trust and support, regardless of their opinions. And the senior pastor did not want to do that, and he fired me. I think he felt threatened by my popularity with the congregation -- and felt very threatened to have everyone come together and have dialogue. That might get out of control. And I think perhaps the easiest thing to do was to fire the person who was asking for dialogue, and that's not right.

My son Nick was only thirteen -- just a little bit older than you are -- when that happened. He loved the church. He was part of the youth group and all of that, and both of us were out of there. And so we lost our church home. He lost his youth group. And professionally, it was devastating for me. So it was a messy situation.

So historically, Baptists for the most part, don't believe that women should be ministers. But, Baptist Church is autonomous to ordain whomever they believe is called to ministry. So, there were a number of very moderate Baptist churches who believe that women are called to ministry. And so in the 1980s, a group was formed called Baptist Women in Ministry, and it was a group of all the women who were ordained by the Baptist churches -- to kind of support each other to educate churches about women in ministry. To be a group that would advocate for women in ministry. I was serving as president of Baptist Women in Ministry at the time when I was fired, and so I had a very public role for the Baptist community. So lots of people couldn't figure out how in the world the president of Baptist Women in Ministry was fired from her church as associate pastor. I was in my first year as president when I was fired, and a couple months later, they re-elected me to serve a second year as president of Baptist Women in Ministry -- even though I had been fired.

Some of the younger women coming along and who are doing things that we never even dreamed of doing, and just so many people who have been working their whole lives and behind the scenes, for decades and centuries, to promote women and equality of women -- those are those are some of my heroes. And I'm so grateful for all those brave, strong people who have done so much good for so many. Because feminism isn't just about women, it's about all people, and equality. Because inequality hurts everyone. And equality is good for everyone.

I always wanted, and continue to want, my actions to be a contribution. My actions at the time were a contribution. I had no idea that when I was inviting all of us to enter into dialogue. I had no idea that I was putting my job on the line. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Because you know what, when you have a community of any kind -- and particularly a faith community -- if you can’t all come to the table and talk about the situation, then you don't have the things necessary for a community -- like trust. Like respect. Like truth. So I would have to say yes, I would do it the same. And I think I made a contribution. But it wasn't the way I thought it was going to go, but that's OK.

I'm writing now, and I'm writing about gender equality in the faith community, among all faith groups, not just Baptists. As I write my story, my memoir, I'm not really a writer, but I do feel called to tell the story because there's so much power in our stories. And it's just like history. If I don't tell my story, then I'm not doing the part of sharing the combined history that can hopefully be helpful to other people.