Today is International Women’s Day, and we’re grateful for all the women in this fellowship. We mark this day by remembering when GCI officially recognized the gifts and calling of women as elders in 2007. We can celebrate this, while also acknowledging the struggle women have faced and at times, still face because bias and resistance toward women in leadership has not yet been fully rooted out and healed.
To honor this day, we celebrate Debby Bailey and what she represents as the first woman ordained as an elder in GCI. We asked her to share her story.
August will make 21 years I have served in a pastoral role. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined this being part of my journey. A friend had a dream in which she saw me standing in front of the congregation as pastor. I didn’t know any females in that role in our denomination. Yet, as crazy as it sounded, something resonated within me. Five years later, our congregation worked with our regional director to form a pastoral team, which included me, to lead the church. The Holy Spirit had been preparing me.
Both the congregation and I struggled with the role. A female pastor was new ground. I kept asking myself if a woman should be a pastor and then pondered whether God would open the door if it was wrong. I didn’t give a sermon for a year, until I had to as part of a preaching class led by my regional support. Unfortunately, after that sermon, a couple left the church. The wife, a friend, said she didn’t believe a woman should be preaching. Our advisory council then recommended that I shouldn’t be on the speaking schedule.
After three years, the church assessed if the pastoral team was how we would continue. I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to take a stand. I would only be considered for the pastoral team if I could function fully like the other team members—which included speaking. The congregation accepted this decision.
Over the years, I have experienced hurt and disappointment but also a lot of joy. There were many days I wanted to walk away, but every time God stepped in and made it clear I was to stay. I had the privilege of being the first female ordained as an elder in GCI. I was commissioned by Regional Director Rick Shallenberger as lead pastor in 2021. Serving as a pastor has been the most difficult, exciting, and rewarding experience of my life. Now I can’t imagine pastoring not being part of my journey.
By Debbie Bailey
Pastor, Pikeville, KY, US