“People saw things in me that I couldn’t see that were available to women, but I didn’t see it around me,” says Abigail A. Sawczak, who sensed a call to ministry, but initially believed it to be through worship and missions.
Sawczak didn’t know any ordained women leaders. However, after others encouraged her to take part in the preaching category of Youth Ministries' Fine Arts Festival, she did well, landing a spot at nationals. Soon she fell in love with teaching the Bible.
Still, she lacked role models, so for a time at North Central University, she switched majors to social work.
“I had a lot of voices in my life causing me to question whether I could be lead pastor as a woman,” Sawczak says.
Then on her final day at an internship in Ireland, she had a yoke-is-easy-burden-is-light moment for the mantle she’d never seen a woman don. Sawczak says she received prophetic words through which the Lord clearly confirmed her call to preach.
“Though stormy and I couldn’t see, Jesus was waiting for me on the other side of my stepping out and being obedient,” she says.
After earning a pastoral studies degree in 2017 at North Central, the next year at age 23 Sawczak planted New Culture Church in Madison, Wisconsin. She remains lead pastor.
She’s also campus director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chi Alpha. In addition, Sawczak, who received her ordination in 2020, leads student ministry at Edgewood College, likewise located in the Badger State’s capital city.
Sawczak, 27, represents a trend toward rising numbers of females holding Assemblies of God ministry credentials, including those who, like her, are unmarried. While women have been preaching and teaching in the denomination since its founding in 1914, today a total of 10,383 of its ministers are women — 27.6% — a record for the Fellowship. A 2010 AG position paper reaffirms the role of women in ministry.
Official stats for 2021-22 list 782 female Chi Alpha Campus Ministries affiliates of the 1,538 total, or 51% female, notes Jeffrey S. Alexander, the campus ministry’s national personnel director.
SWITCH FROM DENTISTRY
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, after high school graduation Kristen N. Allshouse, 31, taught English as a second language in Tanzania for six months. Then Allshouse, granddaughter of Assemblies of God world missionaries to Fiji Paul and Marguerite Allshouse, enrolled at Western Washington University, with an eye toward missions abroad as a dentist. She became active in ministry in Campus Christian Fellowship, the name by which Chi Alpha is known at that school.
After Allshouse graduated with a public health degree, the university’s Chi Alpha leadership asked her to lead a mission of 19 students to Nicaragua. That’s where she says she heard the Holy Spirit beckon her to campus ministry as CCF missions director.
“My grandma caught the vision why campus ministry is so strategic,” Allshouse says. Marguerite Allshouse told her granddaughter that her impact could be greater ministering to hundreds of students on a U.S. college campus rather than being a lone missionary in Africa.
Soon after the AG Executive Presbytery elected Donna L. Barrett as general secretary — becoming the first female named to the denomination’s top leadership team — Allshouse heard Barrett’s keynote sermon at a women’s conference.
“She really inspired me to continue to pursue ordination, as well as feeling empowered to do things that might feel unprecedented,” Allshouse says. Although Allshouse’s undergraduate degree had no religion connection, she says ordination became a goal and hope.
“That is mostly in part because Chi Alpha has done such a fabulous job at casting vision for ordination and empowering women to pursue the highest levels of credentialing possible,” Allshouse says.
Of the 4,044 ordained U.S. AG female ordained ministers, only 11.7% are never married. Allshouse says being single occasionally presents challenges, especially while trying to raise financial support at churches.
“Sometimes I feel that I have to prove myself more than I would if I were married,” she says. “I have to know the Lord has called me to what I’m doing. He’s going to go before me to take care of me.”
Allshouse gained experience from her Chi Alpha Campus Missionary-in-Training (CMIT) internship and more training through Global University. Now on staff or four years at Western Washington CCF, in addition to overseeing student missions, she leads a discipling core group and plans, administrates, and trains interns to lead mission trips and goes on these trips herself. Occasionally she also preaches.
NURSING CAREER ALTERED
On the East Coast, biology major Alycia N. Bini planned to become a nurse. But her senior year, a missionary in Chi Alpha visited the church she attended and spoke of the CMIT internship at Edinboro University in northwest Pennsylvania. After two years as a campus ministry intern, Edinboro Chi Alpha campus director Joel F. Schreiber invited her to pioneer Chi Alpha at Penn State-Behrend.
For Bini, 26, that seemed a stretch. Like Sawczak and Allshouse, Bini is single. And like Allshouse, she didn’t have a religious-studies-related undergraduate degree. However, through Chi Alpha's partnership with Global University, she took online classes for all three levels of AG credentialing during her two years at Edinboro University and first at Penn State- Behrend.
Bini now is Penn State Behrend Chi Alpha’s assistant director, leading a life group, discipling students, and preparing for weekly worship services. This summer she’s starting new director training with the goal of leading Chi Alpha at Penn State-Behrend. Bini has a mentor in Nichole M. Schreiber, lead pastor of Erie First Assembly and wife of Joel Schreiber.
“If someone had told me when I graduated with a biology degree that I would be an ordained pastor in five years, I would have found it kind of unbelievable,” Bini says. “I’ve seen how the Lord opens doors that I don’t think I would have asked to have opened.”
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