Women of Waco pursue church leadership roles, bridge the gap

Andie Pellicer, pastor of University Baptist Church in downtown Waco, strives to serve her church while making space for women in pastoral roles. Camie Jobe | Photographer

By Sarah Gallaher | Staff Writer

While the presence of women in ministry has long been a controversial topic within Christianity, Andie Pellicer is bridging the gap in her new role as the first female lead pastor of University Baptist Church of Waco.

Pellicer said she first felt a call to ministry in high school when she began attending church regularly. While she felt conflicted about the role of women in ministry, she said she knew the church was where she belonged.

“It was the first place that I felt genuinely wanted and loved,” Pellicer said.

Eventually, Pellicer decided to put her doubts aside and pursue ministry. She attended Fuller Theological Seminary to get her master of divinity and began serving as the lead pastor of a Presbyterian church in eastern Oregon.

“The first church job I ever had, I took it not even sure that women biblically could be in ministry,” Pellicer said. “It was a really strange space to enter — feeling such a strong call to ministry and also the fear of, ‘Am I doing something wrong?’”

Although Pellicer’s congregation accepted her as a leader, she said she still shied away from embracing traditionally feminine traits like tenderness to try to prove herself to others. Over time, she said she was able to embrace these traits along with being an “aggressively outgoing leader.”

To Pellicer, the biggest challenge as a woman in ministry was pushing back against theological and societal perspectives that told her women could not serve in leadership capacities within the church.

“You’re literally shifting a worldview,” Pellicer said. “When you’re bringing women into spaces of leadership, I think it’s really easy to keep them in the spaces they have been [in].”

However, Pellicer said she managed to overcome this challenge and fully believes women in ministry is a biblical concept.

At Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, students study ministry and evaluate the role of women in the church through a biblical lens. Third-year seminary student Holly Massie said Truett is very affirming of women in ministry, which impacted her decision when choosing a seminary.

“To those who say it is not biblical, I would say they haven’t studied their Bible enough or in the proper context,” Massie said.

Massie cited Psalm 68:11 as a verse that supports women in ministry. In the New International Version, the verse reads, “The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng.”

When Pellicer heard about University Baptist Church, she said she felt an immediate connection and applied for the lead pastor position. Although the church has long been affirming women in ministry, Pellicer is the first woman to serve in the lead pastor role.

“UBC unequivocally supports women in ministry,” the University Baptist Church website reads. “Women can serve in all capacities here, including preaching, pastoring and any form of leadership.”

After landing the lead pastor role, Pellicer said she decided to take a leap of faith and move her family across the country from their home in Walla Walla, Wash., to Waco.

“There was something really compelling about offering a place to heal and explore that I wanted to be a part of,” Pellicer said.

When University Baptist Church announced Pellicer’s appointment as lead pastor, she said she received an influx of messages from people supporting her and welcoming her to the church. Now, after months as lead pastor, Pellicer said she has not received any pushback from the congregation related to her gender.

In addition to the support from the entire congregation, Pellicer said she has received affirming messages from women at the church, many of whom never expected to see a woman at the head of church leadership.

“Representation is so wildly important, so for women to see another woman in the pulpit, there has been some healing among our congregation,” Pellicer said.

Although women have become church leaders in recent years, female lead pastors are still uncommon in the U.S. Despite the controversy, the growing role of women in ministry has inspired people like Pellicer and Massie to pursue careers in the church.

“I think it’s important for girls to see that women can be leaders in ministry and have a place to serve in God’s kingdom,” Massie said.

Sarah Gallaher is a sophomore from Seattle, Washington majoring in public relations with a minor in political science. During her first year on the Lariat staff, she hopes to help inform her fellow students about things happening on campus. Sarah plans to return to Seattle after graduation to pursue a career in corporate public relations.