On Oct. 29, in collaboration with the School of Theology and Christian Ministry and the Office of Spiritual Development, Dana Hojsack, director of community ministries, accompanied faculty and staff members Dr. Mary Paul, Dr. Rebecca Laird, Dr. Kara Lyons-Pardue, and 14 female students to the SheLeads: Reclaiming the Blessed Alliance for Faithful Mission regional summit at Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene (PazNaz). The students heard from expert speakers and a panel of female pastors, and were led by an on-site worship team that featured several PLNU alumni. We sat down with Hojsack to hear more about her experience at the summit.
Q: What initially sparked interest in the SheLeads summit?
A: Dr. Mary Paul heard about it from Missio Alliance, the summit’s organizer, and we knew that Rev. Tara Beth Leach, the first-ever female senior pastor at Pasadena First Church, was hosting the Los Angeles regional summit. We’re always looking for ways to encourage female students who are going into ministry or leadership.
Q: How long was the summit?
A: The summit was simulcast from the main venue in Chicago, and started at 8 a.m. in California and went until about 2:30 p.m. For us, it made more sense to drive up the night before and stay in the youth room at PazNaz. Rev. Tara Beth Leach very graciously had us over for dessert when we got into town, and then we drove back after the conclusion of the summit.
Q: Why did you feel it would be beneficial for the female students to attend?
A: For them to hear other voices, particularly those of women in leadership across the country, is extremely impactful. One of the women who spoke was the first female general superintendent of the Wesleyan Church. Being able to hear from her and be encouraged by the other speakers, as well as see a room full of 100-150 fellow students, lay leadership, and female pastors who are interested in diving deeper in their faith, really opens our students’ eyes to the opportunities in front of them.
Q: Why did you personally want to attend?
A: I oversee PLNU’s community classroom program in City Heights, as well as several student ministries in the community that serve the homeless, the elderly, and children, and I’m always looking for ways to be encouraged in my position as a campus pastor. I want to continuously learn more about my own faith and strengthen my own journey with Christ, while also learning how to encourage the young women we have the opportunity to mentor here on campus.
Q: Walk us through your day at the summit.
A: It went back and forth between simulcast and live, as each of the regional sites had live worship and hosts. It had a nice flow, and we weren’t looking at the screen for more than 30 minutes at a time. We sat in round tables and after each speaker we had time to discuss and ask questions about what we heard. We also heard from a great live panel. One aspect I really liked was that the worship was led by people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures — to me, it emphasized that no matter your race, gender, background, or culture, we’re all coming to Christ together as equals.
Q: Who was on the panel?
A: Janette Ok, a professor of New Testament at Azusa Pacific University; Mayra Macedo-Nolan, community outreach pastor at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena; Rev. Tara Beth Leach, senior pastor at PazNaz; and Jean Burch, senior pastor at Community Bible Church in Altadena. Janette is Asian-American, Mayra is Latina, Tara Beth is Caucasian, and Jean is African-American, so it was a cool panel of women from all different ages and backgrounds.
Q: What was one of the important things they shared?
A: Leadership is also about making space. Are we huddled together and not letting others in? Do we make space at the table? That was a great reminder that my job is to get students involved in the ministries we have off campus. If there’s something they are particularly interested in that we don’t offer, I work with them to find a place to plug in. It encouraged me to continue thinking of ways to make space at the table for students that may not plug into a traditional ministry we have.
Q: What aspect of the summit do you feel was most impactful for you, and for the students?
A: It’s always helpful to see both women and men up front sharing their experiences, struggles with faith, and victories of faith — it encourages me in my leadership both vocationally and personally. And for the students to hear different voices speaking to the same idea, and to see women in leadership who look like them or grew up like them — that’s always a positive. Ultimately, regardless of gender, we need all of our gifts at the table to make the Church a welcoming place for anyone who wants to come through the doors, or for anyone who is afraid to come through the doors.
Q: How do you think the summit will transform in the future?
A: The more I’ve seen women in leadership, the more I’ve been encouraged in my own vocation as a woman in ministry. Whether that’s been here at PLNU, in nonprofit and volunteer management, or in my church, it’s always encouraging to me to see someone who looks like me, who I can relate to, in leadership. I can only hope the summit will grow so that students can continue to be inspired to find their voice.