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A born and raised Southern Belle, Rebecca is currently studying at Presbyterian College looking to pursue a career in broadcast journalism as a reporter. An avid blogger, she works with the online newspaper The Hudsucker. She also is a part-time Social Media Marketing Consultant. Rebecca is a proud member of Sigma Sigma Sigma who's philanthropy serves children. Rebecca also has the distinct privilege of working with Sounds of Pertussis where she campaigns about the awareness of Pertussis and it's prevention by the Adult Tdap booster. This honor is done in loving member of her cousin, Landon Carter Dube, who's life was taken too soon from this disease. Rebecca loves her Lord Jesus Christ and enjoys pursuing her passion for telling people's stories!

P.O.W: Kitty Holtzclaw

In her exclusive series, staff writer Rebecca Rowell puts a spotlight on women in the workforce. P.O.W or Power of Women is a series of interviews with women who are making breakthroughs in their careers and teaching the upcoming generation a few things about woman power. 

My next profile for the P.O.W series is a woman pastor. She’s an ordained minister of the Methodist church. Her story that led to her becoming a leader in the church was not an easy road, nor is it always easy now. It is a road that not too many women venture down but as Robert Frost points out, that road less traveled typically can be the most beneficial.                 

When one first meets Reverend Dr. Kitty Holtzclaw, the first thing you notice is her vivacious personality. There is an automatic sense of welcome that resonates from her. When you engage in conversation with her, a sense of gentle wisdom emerges. Holtzclaw is a very well educated woman. She has her B.A in Elementary Education from Presbyterian College and later in her life went on to get her Master’s in Divinity from Erskine College and a Doctorate in Theology from Columbia Theological Seminary.

Our conversation delved straight into the issue of sexism and lack of respect for women in societal opinions in regards to women in leadership positions.

“We cannot get around the fact that [Scripture came out of a] sexist culture,” says Holtzclaw. “All through the Old Testament [and] all through the New Testament. Equality was not even figured into the equation.”

Holtzclaw stresses; however, not allowing all Biblical knowledge to be black or white. There is a need to leave some room for interpretation and a little gray area.

“Just because [sexism] was in there does not mean it was God’s Will because slavery is in there, murder is in there, and adultery is in there. Sin is in there. You just have to ask say how much of this is God’s Will and how much of this is a reflection of the culture that they were living in.”

As a child and a young woman that experienced the second wave of feminism, Holtzclaw labels what adjective was automatically placed with feminist and feminism.

“The ‘buzz’ word was often ‘angry feminist’.” With a laugh she adds, “And sometimes I am angry and sometimes I am not angry. Like a man would be. Sometimes they are angry. They are angry about injustice when they do not feel like they are being treated fairly.”

As a woman leader in the church, Holtzclaw faces many personal challenges and obstacles to overcome in her career.

“To me the biggest challenge I had to deal with is likability and effectiveness. At least in my world where [not being liked] can be equated with being ineffective. Where the most important thing is that I be liked; to be considered effective.

Sometimes these obstacles causes Holtzclaw to make tough decisions.

“[When it comes to the likability issue] I just try to be aware of it and know that sometimes I am going to do things that are not liked. You can’t not and be in this job or any job. Some of the things I will say on Sunday morning are not going to be liked.”

Holtzclaw’s leadership insight is not limited solely to the pulpit. She believes that leadership should be an even bigger responsibility for the church.

Reverend Kitty Holtzclaw (source: Broad Street United Methodist Church)

Reverend Kitty Holtzclaw (source: Broad Street United Methodist Church)

“This is not related to this but to me the church should teach business how to do business. We should do it so well that corporations should be coming to us and saying ‘How is the world do you run a business that cost this much off donations alone? How do you make that work with pretty much all volunteer organizations? How do you accomplish the things you do? To me that should be the church’s goal when it comes to leadership.”

Her personal call to ministry and leadership in the church came during a time in her life where she was solidify in her job both in career and as a wife/mother. Yet she heard a voice tell her to set herself on a different path. It is a story she says with a chuckle, that one will either get or consider crazy.

“I was having pray time one day. I had been working in a church for a while as a Music Director and loved it. I still think that is the best job that anyone can have in the whole wide world. I didn’t hear voices, I didn’t hear voices in my ears but I heard it in my heart. ‘I want you to preach'”. 

After she felt God put in her heart the vocation to preach, Holtzclaw true humor still was present.

“I so eloquently looked up to the heaven, towards the sky, and I said ‘boy do You have Your hands full.'”

This calling came in the May of 1994 and Holtzclaw began seminary in the Fall of 1994. She ended up going full time and graduated three years later. Her experience as a woman in a field that did not often accept women prior to this time was tumultuous, mixed with victorious moment and a bit of benevolent sexism.

“The seminary I attended was Erskine because they catered specifically to second career individuals. [This seminary] was [a part] of the Presbyterian Church, a branch that didn’t ordain women. [It was] a very conservative church. I knew that going in. I was not misleading myself otherwise. I accepted that I was on their turf.”

Holtzclaw did not find herself alone on this journey though.

“There were a lot of denominations there. There were a lot of Methodist there, so I was by no means alone. There was lots of support.”

Yet this support system did not make her immune to the sexist atmosphere that was and still very much is, American society.

“There was this one guy that was particularly aggressive and would quote scripture. There were some [people] that wouldn’t talk to me or the other women. But I didn’t care. I was like ‘Whatever, I have my friends.'”

Even among those that were supposed to be the leaders, sexism even subconscious sexism, was prevalent.

“Professor wise, I didn’t have too much overt sexism. There was one professor who I thought was truly trying to understand. He sat down with a male colleague and me. He looked at me and asked ‘So tell me about your call.’ and did not ask my male colleague the same question. I truly felt he had good intentions about him.”

However, each experience with her professors was not so more positive than negative.

“We would have people who were Master’s of Divinity (MD), who were typically going to be preachers. There was also a MACE (Master of Art’s in Christian Education). So we were MD or MACE. [The professor] he had one assignment for MD and one assignment for MACE. And so he got to my desk and said ‘MACE?’ And I was like ‘MD’. See he automatically assumed.”

Holtzclaw did not let this discourage her though and persevered through his class and others.

“I made A’s in his class. But he automatically assumed I was not going that route [of becoming a preacher].”

(Source: Kitty Holtzclaw Facebook)

(Source: Kitty Holtzclaw Facebook)

Whether the professor assumed Holtzclaw was heading the pastor route or not, she did make it. Her strong will and belief in the faith that God was calling her to this leadership position, plus the support from friends and family, helped her through. During her years of seminary she also experienced this sexism from male colleagues. In one particular instance that Holtzclaw remembers, a male colleague assumed gossip was at play with the group of women students at the lunch table.

“I had three good girlfriends that was going through the process [second career] and we were talking about the work we were doing on a Bible passage (called exegesis), [discussing] the research we were doing. We just ate together, we self-selected to sit together, and the men were sitting over at another table. One of the guys came over and said, ‘What are ya’ll doing over here? Man-bashing?’ And we were like, ‘Actually we were talking about exegesis.’ It was just that assumption that we had nothing better to do than talk about our husbands.”

She and the other women seminary students took the reins of leadership by the end of their seminary chapter.

“But the year I was a senior [in seminary] I was Student Body President and all four officers were women. We didn’t plan it that way, while some people thought we did. After that they kind of saw to it that that never happened again.”

Holtzclaw encourages young women to continue to pursue their dreams and worry about a balancing act of parenting later.

“The balancing is harder than it sounds and not so hard as it sounds. You will work it out. It will not work itself out. But there is that other person there too that will be helping you in that partnership. There is no one ‘right’ way to do it. I think for a young woman that was the best advice from [Sandberg’s] book. I wish someone had been there to tell me that.”

How does she handle or advise other young women to handle sexism, whether intentional or unintentional?

“I try to remember that most people do not mean to do it. Most of what I encounter is benevolent sexism. Some people get really upset by that, but I don’t. I look at what is in the heart. The guy that just held the door open for me at the bank, I didn’t wig out that he didn’t let me open the door myself. I was just like ‘thanks’. I might hold the door open for him the next time. It is where it is coming from in their heart.”

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