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I grew up in the Reformed Church in America, and I remember enjoying my Sunday school classes and Thursday night catechism classes. There were many delightful women who taught those classes, and I remember them as knowledgeable and kind. And they always smelled good.

As I aged into high school Sunday school classes, I had male elders who were my teachers. Frankly, it was clear that these male elders did not enjoy teaching, but apparently no one else wanted to teach the high school kids. I wasn’t sure I blamed them. Many of my classmates were mildly rude or sullen and silent.

There was one exception among the teachers. The senior pastor, who also happened to be my wonderful dad, loved to teach the senior high school students. I didn’t always know how best to navigate life as a pastor’s daughter, but I did embrace my faith and my church.

Eventually, I made the decision to make profession of faith, a public statement professing my trust in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. In preparation, I was paired with a mentor, who was an elder at our church, as well as a cherished family friend. I loved those talks with John, and I felt loved and cared for and felt a sense of belonging to my church and my faith. I treasured those times.

As part of the profession of faith process, I was asked to articulate my faith journey. As I reflected, I noticed that, outside of my conversations with mom and dad and my mentor, John, it was largely women who shaped and nurtured my faith development. My wonderfully warm and caring catechism teachers, my cool junior high teacher with her Z Cavaricci jeans and blue mascara, and the kind and faithful women who mentored me as I babysat their kids. All these women showed me Christ’s love.

I also noticed that the women in my church were incredibly faithful. They taught most of the Sunday school classes and catechism classes, and they cared for the wee ones in the nursery. They brought meals to people with new babies or to people with illnesses or recovering from surgeries. They organized all the suppers and fundraisers at the church, and made the food for funerals, festivals, and youth group.

In contrast, I noticed that the men were the visible leaders, as elders and deacons and pastors, and that the women were the invisible leaders who did most of the actual service work of the church. Apparently some others had noticed this imbalance, too, and it was just a few years later, when I was attending college and then graduate school, that my home church elected their first female deacon. Many people responded positively to the idea, and others reacted with strong negativity. I was hurt by those negative reactions. These women were the ones that faithfully taught me, alongside the men. Why was their service not considered leadership? I began to ask questions about the nature of leadership and the roles of men and women in the church. As a college student studying history, it was only a matter of time before I began to find answers and more questions.

The Reformed Church in America has claimed the idea of being “Reformed and always reforming.” This phrase perfectly captures the experiences of living as a follower of Christ in the twenty-first century. We take our faith and doctrines seriously, but we also know that over time, people ask different questions. Some congregations had conversations about women in leadership in the mid- to late twentieth century, but within my home church, that conversation happened decades later.

As a denomination, we recognize that people change, our society changes, and the church changes over time, so the idea of staying Reformed and tied to our beliefs and doctrines makes sense, as we also seek to figure out how to live out our faith and doctrine in a different and changing world.

For me, personally, I have also had a journey that is Reformed and reforming. I keep and question my own faith and Reformed tradition, while also seeing the changes in my spiritual journey. I still ask lots of questions about the roles of gender in the church and the nature of leadership. As a professor of history at Northwestern College, an RCA-affiliated institution, I teach about the history of religion in the United States, about gender roles, and about identity. But I’ve also listened to college students of the Gen Z generation, who ask different questions about faith, authenticity, and identity. I believe that our denomination’s faith tradition is robust, and it can handle the next generation’s questions and concerns, just as it handled my questions about the nature of leadership and women in my formative years.

I’m grateful to be a part of the RCA.

This post originally appeared in Faithward, on April 12, 2023, as “How I’ve Experienced the Beauty of Being Reformed and Always Reforming”

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.


  • Bob says:

    Thanks for this. The safety of finding grace in searching for understanding is so important. From Bob

  • John K says:

    O Rebecca, thank you for the article.
    In today’s lectionary reading from Romans 9, a question arose for me: Did God actually “make/create” the “objects of wrath” (children of disobedience) or is he patiently awaiting/enduring their rebellion to purify them in God’s “Holy Fire”? The whole predestination/human responsibility issue comes up, that only Calvin and Christian “thinkers” have been willing to wrestle with during the Reformation and beyond.
    Reformed and reforming, indeed. Such a gracious God, calling us into communion with Reality, who is and was and is to come.

  • Willa Brown says:

    Rebecca, thanks so much for this post. It mirrors my experience growing up in an RCA congregation where the men made the decisions but the women did the work and more times served as spiritual mentors. Even in high school women were my Sunday school teachers. My mother also taught the adult Sunday school class. But the women couldn’t serve as elders and deacons. I am so thankful for “Reformed and always reforming” which made it possible for me to use my gifts and serve as a deacon and elder.

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