Adrienne Overton grew up in Eden Missionary Baptist Church in Haughville. Her father was a pastor there, and her grandfather and great-grandfather before him were pastors. Traditional Baptists, they didn’t believe women should be in the clergy.
But when Overton, 38, heard the call from God to preach, she knew she was in no position to say “no.” The tricky part, she thought, would be breaking the news to her family.
“I knew I had to let my father know,” said Overton, who previously served as a youth minister. “So, I sent him a text and told him God has called me to preach, and I was so scared to see how he would respond. He was so open-minded and said, ‘That’s one of the things God shared with me when you were born and I first held you.’”
Overton said her grandfather had a vision that she would become a preacher when she played piano at church as a girl.
“It was so liberating to hear these two men who have been pastors now accept me and give me that go-ahead,” she said.
Overton became the head pastor of Eden Missionary Baptist Church in January after her father retired. She said the congregation has welcomed her with open arms and is supportive of her and her family — which includes her husband, a deacon, and their 1-year-old daughter.
Joanne Horn, a member of Eden Missionary since 1999 and Overton’s longtime neighbor, said she saw signs Overton would become a pastor when she watched her grow up.
“Later on in life, when she was going to college, that’s when I realized that she was different from most of the young kids,” Horn said. “She’s very intelligent and a very good young lady.”
Horn said she never imagined a woman leading her church, but the church took the change in stride.
“Things do change,” Horn said. “For a lot of people, it takes time to accept change … but we’re very proud and happy that she’s our pastor.”
Unfortunately, not everyone has been so accepting of a woman behind the pulpit.
Overton said her family has lost friends since becoming a pastor, and her father has gotten disparaging remarks about her doing “men’s work.”
However, while some were outright nasty regarding Overton’s decision to become a pastor, she said much of the backlash she’s faced has been implicit.
“It was in the form of not getting invited to the table,” Overton said. “I remember there was one event that was talking about women in the ministry, but there were no women on the panel. There is always an expectation that I bring something to the table, but I can’t sit at it.”
One of Overton’s goals as a pastor is to increase the visibility of women in the clergy so more women and girls can follow their own calling to the ministry. Beyond that, she wants the word to reach as many people as possible.
“I want to make the word of God as relatable as possible,” Overton said. “We should be engaging with each other and our external community to be a blessing to one another inside and outside our congregation.”
Overton is aware certain life events can turn people away from religion. She’s suffered miscarriages, and is a parent to a child with special needs. She said, however, that church leaders can use these real-life experiences to make more people feel at home in the church.
“Instead of acting like the church has it all together, how about we journey together?” Overton asked. “We all need God, because we all — from the top to the bottom — are at different places in our lives. We need to make the Bible relatable, be transparent and be empowering.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.