Meet female pastors and ordained women in Northwest Florida as they share what first inspired them to enter the clergy, how they see their role in ministry and what it looks like to be a female pastor.
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories about female pastors and how they inspire their congregations here in Northwest Florida.
We interviewed several pastors and ordained women in Northwest Florida, who have embraced their roles in the clergy with a passion to minister to their congregations and community, as well as a desire to pave the way for women after them.
Meet Faith Parry
Faith Parry didn’t always know her role in church.
Her father was a pastor, and, as a teenager, she felt frustrated by the expectations placed on her as his daughter. She didn’t feel the church accepted her for who she was.
"I was very independent in my identity and in my personality," Parry said. "I was one of those kids who stood out in the crowd. I had a hard time fitting in the church in a lot of ways because people expected, as the preacher’s kid, for me to be a certain way. But my dad was always very accepting to just let me walk my journey and not be overly pushy for me to be a certain way."
Parry first distanced herself from the life her father chose – at least until 2007, when she was roped into attending a Passion Conference in Atlanta during her college sophomore year.
"I didn’t know what to expect, and to be honest, I didn’t want to go," Parry said. "While I was there, I realized that just because people weren’t accepting the person I felt like I was didn’t mean that God wasn’t accepting that."
Then, it clicked.
Peers and mentors in the church gave Parry space to discover the role she was supposed to fill all along.
"I realized there’s a lot of people out there who feel like the church puts expectations on them, and they have to fit in these boxes," Parry said. "That’s not really how God creates us. He creates us all as individuals. We all have our own personalities and gifts and passions.
"Really and truly, the crowd we’re supposed to fit in doesn’t exist. We’re all created in the image of God to be unique, but still reflecting God. That’s when I felt like I was called to go into ministry and help people feel like they do have a place and people who may not feel like they fit in."
Parry knows her role now. Her path is helping others like her.
"The same struggles teenagers go through with the church are really the struggles we all go through," Parry said. "I went into full-time ministry so I could try to help people find that place of acceptance in the church."
Parry received her bachelor’s degree from Asbury College (now University) in Wilmore, Kentucky, where she met her husband, AJ. She then received a graduate degree at Asbury Theological Seminary.
She first served at Navarre Methodist Church for two years. Then, she was transferred to Shalimar United Methodist Church, where she is the Connection Pastor – a title she chose herself.
"(Pastor Philip McVay) gave me a chance to define my own role when I arrived," Parry said. "I chose the title of Connection Pastor because it relates to a lot of my passions, which is to help people find their place of connection to the church and also to keep the church connected back to the community."
Parry is a provisional elder, meaning she is not yet ordained. Bishop David Graves of the Alabama West Florida Conference assigns her to churches.
Her current title is similar to an associate pastor, she said. Parry plans to maintain her provisional status for now.
"People are really important to me, so I like to make sure I can spend time with the people around," Parry said. "I don’t like that process to take too much time. I wanted to make sure when I came here I didn’t negate relationships with people at the church because of the amount of work that goes into the ordination process."
Parry’s father, Greg McKinnon, is the executive pastor of Crosspoint Church. While she once distanced herself from his calling, she now loves how they’re both in the thick of it.
"It’s nice because we can sit down and have conversations like, ‘I’ve thought about this,’ or ‘I’ve read this’ and different things we’re doing in the church," Parry said. "My husband laughs. He’s like, ‘You guys get together and all you do is talk about work.’"
It’s interesting to compare their gifts as parent and child, Parry said.
"There’s a lot of things I’m like my dad, but there’s a lot of things that I’m different as well," Parry said. "He loves that I’ve decided to take this path and, of course, is my biggest encourager in everything. Just like when I was younger and I wasn’t sure where my place was in the church, he still gives me a lot of space now to figure things out."
Being a woman in ministry is different than being a man in ministry, Parry said.
One of the biggest differences she notices is the role her husband plays. The church doesn’t know what to expect of him, she said.
"The joke for male pastors is that the wives are expected to play piano and teach Sunday school," Parry said. "They don’t have expectations of females’ husbands. They don’t have any mold they fit into.
"Every time we go to a church, I tell my husband, ‘You find your place. When you’re ready to plug in, you plug in.’"
Parry is extroverted and AJ is introverted, she said. She likes that he can step back and share his insight with her.
"He likes to do it from the sidelines, and no one pushes him to do it any other way because there are no expectations," Parry said. "I think that part is nice."
In the United Methodist Church, Parry sees fewer female pastors in the conference and fewer female students in seminary. But that’s just tradition, she said.
"Our conference works hard to make sure they help churches understand we have, for a long time, had female pastors," Parry said.
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted for full female clergy rights in May 4, 1956, according to umc.org. But women preaching dates back to the beginning of the church’s history when founder John Wesley licensed women as lay preachers in the 1800s, Parry said.
"Back when Methodist preachers had a multi-point charge and they would have eight, 10, 15 churches – we called them circuit riders," Parry said. "They would ride on horseback between a large portion of churches and only visit churches so many times, and they would have lay speakers do the preaching until the pastors came back."
Women have been active in the Methodist movement from the beginning, Parry said.
"It’s really a big part of our tradition to have women teaching the Scriptures," Parry said. "Part of it is the balance. Men and women have different perspectives. We’re different and that’s good."
Serving together gives them the ability to enhance each others’ perspectives, she said.
"As a female pastor, I tend to look at things a little bit more from a more emotional perspective in a room — maybe not always as analytical," Parry said. "That’s not a bad thing. Because I can sit there and go, ‘How is this going to make someone feel when we talk about this?’ whereas others may look at something from a more factual perspective. We balance each other in that."
Parry hasn’t received much backlash for being a female pastor, but people sometimes ask why the church ordains women. She sees this question most often from nonmembers online and often refers them to online resources written by male pastors.
"The reality is, we don’t engage in debates on it," Parry said. "Usually when people have really strong opinions, to get in an argument about those strong opinions isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.
"If people feel really strongly that that’s not where women should be, me coming forward and trying to defend that is not going to help, and if anything, it’s going to make them feel not open to me even more."
As a young girl, when people asked what Parry wanted to be when she grew up, she responded, "missionary cowgirl."
While Parry doesn’t know why she said that or what it meant, her younger self did. And, she sort of is.
Parry is not only connections pastor, but also leads a motorcycle ministry. She is the chaplain for the Emerald Coast Hogs, her and her husband’s riding group. As chaplain, she prays for the safety of more than 100 members in the chapter and makes herself available if a member is sick or injured.
"I joke about the irony of me being a little girl wanting to be a missionary cowgirl because now, in addition to church ministry, I do the motorcycle ministry, and they call motorcycles steel horses," Parry said.