I grew up in Orange County, CA, had a great childhood, but was always a little weird. My mom tells me that when I was five, we went to a Christmas party, and when the room full of young children were asked “what Christmas song should we sing?”… amidst all the requests for Rudolph, Frosty, and Jingle Bells, I alone asked for O, Holy Night… it didn’t go over well. All that to say, between that incident and being the kid at summer church camp that was way too fascinated by philosophy and the meaning of life, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I became a pastor.
Yet the number one response I get upon telling people that I am a pastor is “What?! You’re a Pastor??”
I don’t know if it is because I am still young, if it’s because I am a girl, or because I usually have a glass of wine in my hand… but either way they are surprised. How did this girl who talks too much end up in a role most commonly thought to be occupied by old men? Every time I hear a variation of this response, it reminds me why I chose to pursue this ridiculous calling.
At 22 I was lost… dealing with pain and trauma I had no name for yet. The toxic culture of blaming women for their trauma mixed with cliche reasoning like “everything happens for a reason”, or “God will not give you more than you can handle” felt patronizing, vindictive, and contradictory to what I was experiencing. Who was this stone-cold divinity and why wasn’t he doing anything to help me?
Through luck, or the grace of God, I found myself surrounded by people who taught me the significance of community, the beauty of forgiveness, and that the true question was not “why” but “where” was God. Through the journey of seeking meaning via therapy, community, and my sociology and religion classes, I found myself in Seminary in North Carolina. My three years there were healing and empowering. I found a healthier understanding of God through amazing faculty and even more amazing friends- especially the women.
As a woman, I had always understood being a “good Christian” to mean being nice, and following the rules of purity culture. This could not have been farther from the truth. By journeying alongside these ladies I saw so much more grace, truth, and love shared and learned from our broken experiences and vulnerable questioning than any false tidy facade had offered. By being more focused on honesty and authenticity in their search for understanding the holy… these ladies showed me that God does not care about fulfilling societal expectations… In fact, she is more concerned about tearing those expectations down. God ordained us to spread love and peace through the holy messes that we are.
So to answer the many questions embodied by that response- yes, I am a woman, yes, I am only 30 years old, yes, I drink and curse and still consider myself a good person, no, I do not have all the answers, yes, I still wrestle with my own faith questions, no, I do not believe that being perfect is required of me or you, and yes, I believe that God loves our holy mess.
Nicole received a B.A. in Sociology from California Lutheran University, and a Masters in Divinity from Duke University. She has a younger sister and two great parents who still reside in southern California. Nicole lives in Queens, NYC with her partner, and is currently a commissioned Deacon in the United Methodist Church.
Patron Saints of the Holy Mess
In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.”
― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
“We want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.”
― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint
“If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.”
― Julian of Norwich