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Feeling Anonymous in Ministry

The power of being seen, recognized, and named.

My name is Dori. But that’s not always the name I wanted. Long before Finding Nemo and Ellen Degeneres made my name popular, there were many names I wanted rather than Dori. For some unknown reason I went through a season in 1st grade where I signed all of my papers “Dor.” That’s right. Just drop the “i” and call me “Dor.” I have no earthly idea why I thought this was cool. Thankfully it didn’t last long. My brother started calling me “Window” and I realized that having “Dor” as a nickname wouldn’t actually make me popular.

After my “Dor” phase, I went through a “Jason” period. I have always been a bit of a tomboy. I preferred playing football, climbing trees and picking scabs over wearing dresses, doing my hair and anything associated with the color pink. That’s why I dreaded the annual intergenerational tea party hosted by my grandmother every December. The ritual was set: the women of our family would cook all morning, decorate the house and get dressed up—all for the purpose of drinking tea and talking with other dressed-up women. Needless to say, I didn’t get it.

Just before the tea started, the women in my family would gather in the living room for a picture. We would then turn and take a picture of the men as well. But their picture was more of a joke. They weren’t dressed fancy or anything. No, the men were comfortable in their blue jeans and t-shirts ready to go to the hardware store, the movies, McDonalds, or other adventurous “man” places.

By third grade I decided enough was enough. After my mom finished helping me get dressed and ready, I went to my suitcase and did what any true-blooded tomboy would do. I put on my blue jeans and my t-shirt. I pulled my perfectly fixed up hair into a lop-sided ponytail. And then I hid. Because that’s what you do when you’re a tomboy at a tea party.

The time finally arrived for the pictures to be taken, and I was nowhere to be found. “Dori? Where are you? Dori!” I could hear my name being called throughout the house. That’s when I made my move. I walked into the living room, marched up to my mom, and boldly proclaimed, “My name is Jason and I’m going with the men.”

Of course, after the laughter died down, I was marched back to my suitcase where my dress was waiting for me. After all, my name was Dori and I was sticking with the women.

Anonymous God

So here I am today, many years later. I have learned to like my name and to like being a woman. My name is Dori, and I am a church planter. My husband, Rich, and I moved to Chicago in December of 2010 to start a church on the north side of the city in one of the most diverse zip codes in the United States. It has been, and continues to be, the most awe-inspiring, gut-wrenching, grievous, joyous thing we have ever been called by God to do. My new book, Anonymous: Naming the God of Esther and the Women Who Plant Churches, comes out of our experiences together as co-pastors of NewStory Church in Chicago.

Like many churches, every season we encourage our congregation to be a part of a small group. In the winter of 2016, I was given the opportunity to co-lead a women’s small group on the book of Esther. Throughout this small group season I began to notice parallels between the women in our group and the stories of Vashti, Esther, Mordecai, Haman, and Ahasuerus.

Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not have the name “God” in it. There is no mention of “elohim” or “yayweh” in the entire book. I guess you could say God is anonymous in Esther. But in other ways that isn’t true at all. God’s handprint is seen throughout the book in countless coincidences and nuances. My life is like that sometimes. God hasn’t spoken to me through a burning bush. I haven’t touched the scarred hands of Jesus. God seems anonymous. By faith, however, I believe God is real. God is living and active. God is moving and if I raise my sails at the right time, God moves me.

One day I shared these thoughts with a friend and mentor from Stadia, the church planting organization that helped start NewStory. Specifically, I was talking with Debbie Jones who leads Bloom, a ministry of Stadia that intentionally empowers women to maximize their role in starting churches. It was Debbie who first helped me see how the anonymity of God within the stories of Esther connected with the stories of church planting women.

Feeling Anonymous

As a female church planter in Chicago, I have not felt anonymous. I am incredibly blessed to have Rich as my husband. He sees me as an equal partner in ministry, values my opinions and loves leading with me. Upon moving into the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago we quickly realized how important it was for me to have the title “pastor.” We noticed an interesting thing happens when Rich meets someone new and says he is a pastor. At best people begin confessing the last time they went to church, and at worst the conversation ends. But when I introduce myself as a pastor, at best they visit our church, and at worst they ask for more information about the church. No, titles are not the end-all-be-all goal for women or men in ministry. In Chicago, however, my title helps lead people to Jesus. Ultimately it’s not about titles; it’s about calling. As long as I can be obedient to God’s calling on my life, I can give or take the title.

So when do I feel anonymous in ministry? Ironically, it’s when I attend Christian conferences or other events for church planters and pastors. I am happy to be Rich’s wife and I am thrilled to be introduced that way. Meeting and marrying Rich continues to be one of the best parts of my life. At the same time, I can’t help but notice how Rich rarely gets introduced as Dori’s husband, though I know he’d be just as thrilled with that introduction. Rather than fight this or face being misunderstood, I tend to adjust in these moments, to think of what Jesus would do and to err on the side of humility. After all, God doesn’t seem too bothered by being anonymous in the book of Esther.

But does this anonymity have to continue? As the mother of two girls, I can’t help but wonder, What will life in the church be like for them? I see my daughters as two incredibly strong people, made in the image of God to reflect the glory of God in the unique ways God has gifted them. In a world where their bodies are often treated as tools and their minds are often seen as threats, what will the church offer them? What will the Bride of Christ give to these girls who may or may not become brides themselves? Whether or not they ever start a church, my hope is that we begin seeing the role of women within the church as vital to the mission of God. My daughters are not anonymous. None of our daughters are.

So why did I write Anonymous in partnership with Sara McGue? May it not be for fame nor for glory—it is Jesus alone who deserves our praise. No, when Debbie asked me and Sara McGue to put our names on this book, she validated us as women, as ministers, and as writers. That’s what naming does—it validates the one being named. She also validated the other women whose stories fill the pages of Anonymous. Just like there are many characters in Esther, there are many people who are a part of the book—21 to be exact. The bulk of writers who contributed their stories to this book are Bloom church planting women, some with titles and some without, but make no mistake, all significant. In addition to these Bloom church planters, several other women—from different countries, denominations, churches and ministries—have added their stories. It is my hope that this diverse group of often-anonymous women will reveal the handprint of the often-anonymous God. It is my hope that by naming God in the story of Esther, we will find our names in the stories of church planting. It is my hope that all of our names will come together to lift up the Name above all names, Jesus Christ.

So here I am. My name is Dori and I’m sticking with the women.

Image: Spencer Hall

Dori Gorman is the co-founder and co-pastor of NewStory Church, a Stadia-partner church on the north side of Chicago, Illinois. She holds a BA from Baylor University, and a Masters of Divinity from Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan College. She is gifted as a shepherd-prophet, with a passion for preaching, discipleship, and coming alongside the forgotten. Dori has pioneered several initiatives in Chicago, including a fundraising organization for Swift Elementary School and an after-school club for middle school students. This article is taken from the prologue of her new book Anonymous: Naming the God of Esther and the Women Who Plant Churches.

April24, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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