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In May, I was ordained as a pastor in the Vineyard Association of Churches in my local congregation in Staten Island, NY. It happened in the most undramatic fashion possible. My husband is also my senior pastor, and since, for the time being, ordinations in the Vineyard are strictly at the behest of the local pastor, all I needed to do to be ordained was to have my husband sign a certificate saying so. In truth, I’ve been doing the work of pastoring for many years. Now I just have the piece of paper to prove it. 

In the few months or so since, I’ve been reflecting on my path to ordination, the forces that shaped me for ministry, and the particular context in which I’m now pastoring as an Asian American woman within the Vineyard Association, an evangelical and charismatic church birthed out of the Jesus movement of the 60s, and which, for most of its history, has been led mainly by white men. 

My personal story began in the ethnic and cultural “mixed plate” of Hawaii, where my grandparents worked in the plantation fields. My Japanese-Filipina mother grew up nominally Catholic and Adventist; my Okinawan father grew up Buddhist. They met after having both moved to Southern California for work and education. By this time, my mother was a staunch Christian, thanks to the influence of a Salvation Army camp in Kauai. She successfully “missionary dated” my father (who seems to have converted in record time), and they married and raised my younger sister and me in a local evangelical church. 

The denomination I grew up in was majority white, and culturally and theologically conservative. Members weren’t supposed to drink, dance, or go to the movies. In a laid-back, Southern Californian way, these rules were honored mostly in the breach, but I never saw alcohol or dancing at any official church function. So it surprises me now that my church was nevertheless full of women in leadership positions. Our choir director was female, and I had female Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, youth leaders, board members, and even a female co-pastor. Nothing about this seemed out of the ordinary to me.

Looking back, I can see how fortunate I was to have had female pastoral role models in my formative years as a Christian. When, as an adult, I spent over ten years in a complementarian church, where only men were allowed to be ordained, I felt a constant, irritating undercurrent of exclusion – almost like a chronic, low-key case of tinnitus – but I never questioned my own fitness to be in ministry simply because I didn’t have the right set of chromosomes. 

Yet even these female leaders I grew up with were overwhelmingly white, and none were Asian American. I sometimes wonder how this might have affected my trajectory toward becoming a pastor. I’ve been in various ministry roles since I was a teenager, but it’s only now, in my late 40s, that I’ve taken the step of ordination.

The Vineyard Association, where I now pastor, has had a long history of women in leadership, tracing back to its founders, John and Carol Wimber. John Wimber, who famously declared that “everybody gets to play” in the Vineyard, certainly believed women could be called to ministry, although he did not extend those beliefs to ordaining women or allowing them in church governance. 

After Wimber’s death in 1997, a Vineyard advisory panel took another look at the question of women’s ordination and, in 2001, affirmed that women could be ordained at the discretion of the local church. In 2006 the national board issued a broader statement:

[T]he leadership of the Vineyard movement will encourage, train, and empower women at all levels of leadership both local and trans-local. The movement as a whole welcomes the participation of women in leadership at all levels of ministry. 

Nearly twenty years later, women participate in the top tiers of regional and national leadership (exclusive of the National Director, who has always been male). Vineyard senior leadership is still predominantly white, but there are significant exceptions, including current National Director Jay Pathak, who is of mixed South Asian and Caucasian heritage and is making diversity in the Vineyard a priority of his tenure. 

In this context, I find it an intriguing time to be a female AAPI pastor in the Vineyard. First, while the Vineyard has, up to this point, been a loose, decentralized association of churches, it is now moving towards a centralized denominational structure. Historically, Vineyard ordination has been at the discretion of the local pastor. There are no theological or educational requirements and no oversight from the national body. The advantage to this process (or lack thereof) was that there was no barrier for someone who was already doing the work of a pastor to become a pastor. You didn’t need an MDiv, fluency in ancient Greek or Hebrew, or to pass a doctrinal review. As long as you had the blessing of a senior pastor and, to a lesser degree, other congregational leaders, you could be ordained. This localized leadership model has long given the Vineyard a grass-roots structure, agility, and adaptability to the needs of the local church.

For women, however, particularly those who are single and women of color, the Vineyard’s reliance on relationships has meant that it could be difficult to establish the same kind of mentoring and friendship networks that easily boost white men into leadership both at the local and national levels. One frustration I heard expressed several years ago by a female AAPI leader, for example, is that men who might have provided her with support and training simply did not want to work with her because they were afraid to be in potentially compromising situations. How could she be seen and mentored by male leaders if they wouldn’t even meet with her one-on-one? 

I don’t know yet what the new requirements for ordination will be or in what ways a centralized denominational process might make ordination and higher levels of leadership for women more accessible or less. However, the way that the Vineyard national leadership has articulated the as-to-be-determined path to ordination suggests that it might provide clearer opportunities for everyone, including women, to gain theological education, grow their pastoral skills, and be seen and cultivated in their callings.

One thing I do know and that gives me hope and excitement for my fellow women AAPI leaders and other women leaders of color is that in the last few years, the national leadership of the Vineyard has formally committed in a new way to supporting diverse leaders and people groups. Approximately two and a half years ago, four different Vineyard associations were launched: the AAPI Association, the Black Pastors and Leaders Association, the Hispanic Association, and the Women’s Association. 

The AAPI Association was initially led by Dennis Liu, a Chinese-American pastor in Southern California whose wife, Evangeline Liu, is also ordained in the Vineyard. Their church, Vineyard of Hope, hosted the first AAPI Association Summit in the fall of 2022. One of the first orders of business for this newly founded association – now led by interim leader Kirk Yamaguchi – is to identify how many AAPI members of the Vineyard there actually are. Because of the Vineyard’s decentralized structure, no one has an accurate count. For example, when I asked several AAPI leaders how many ordained female AAPI pastors are in the Vineyard, no one had an exact number. The best estimate we could come up with is around a half dozen – and a few more who are functioning as pastors without formal ordination – but there may be more that we simply don’t know about.

All of the Vineyard Associations formed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which means we are only now beginning to explore and feel their impact. For Spencer Lee, one of the AAPI Association leaders, one question on the table as we enter into the Association’s second year is: What does an AAPI Christian consciousness really entail? 

Other questions follow. As more and more Asian Americans transition from ethnic churches into multicultural settings, how do we prevent accidental erasure and assimilation into white culture (which we know from research is the default endpoint of supposedly “multiracial churches”)? How can we identify the unique gifts of the AAPI community – seeing what and who is overlooked by the church at large, to serve those unseen in ways missed by the broader Vineyard movement, and also gather their gifts in ways that create a stronger Vineyard movement overall? How can the Vineyard become a place where AAPI Christians feel like they can thrive, contribute, and have their contributions recognized? Lee also wants us to become aware of the places where our community is vulnerable because of our shared heritage. For example, he shares that AAPI Christians generally need to engage more in spiritual traditions and disciplines of stillness and solitude, to make more time for these nourishing practices in our communities and in our daily lives.

What will the AAPI association mean specifically for AAPI women leaders like myself? For Mary-Anne de la Torre, Sr. Associate Pastor at the North Jersey Vineyard, and another core leader in the AAPI Association, the formation of the group has already been “life-changing, “healing,” and “given [her] the imagination for what’s possible.” Referring to herself along with many of her AAPI colleagues, she observed, “We didn’t know we could bring our whole cultural selves [to church leadership] and be welcomed.” In addition, her Filipina American background came with features – a hierarchical family and church culture – that made it difficult for her to lead and use her voice, particularly in spaces led by white men.

De la Torre notes how multiple opportunities to learn along with other Asian American, immigrant women in “spaces designed for us” – both in the Vineyard and in places like Fuller Seminary – have given her more confidence, encouragement, and awareness. In finding language for the shared experiences of Asian American women, she has felt less alone, as well as more able to encourage others to find their voice. While the average person at her church might not see the difference these experiences have wrought in her, she says that now “I show up to work differently. I do have more of a seat in authority at the table.” 

She concludes: “It’s holy, the work that the Vineyard is doing” in providing spaces and structure for underrepresented people and in equipping “every tongue, every tribe” for all levels of leadership and to have a voice. She sees this work as unfolding slowly, as “just the beginning,” and also as reverberating beyond the Vineyard family into the wider church. “Showing up as the full selves God has called us to,” she asserts, “will enrich any spaces . . . It’s a way of pulling heaven downward.”

As I embark on my first season of ordination, I, like Mary-Anne, am grateful for the many ways that Vineyard has invested in me as a leader. At different times, I’ve received support from not only the AAPI Association, but also the Women’s Association, the Society of Vineyard Scholars, and the Vineyard’s Well-Being of Pastors Initiative (funded by the Lilly Foundation). All these organizations have helped me grow in skills and longevity as a minister and enabled me to forge key relationships within the Vineyard network. I’m also grateful to organizations like City Seminary of New York and Sustainable Faith, who are committed to forming diverse leaders. And I am grateful to God, who is calling me and other AAPI women pastors within the Vineyard – and in many other spaces – to live into the full selves that God has created us to be. 

Carrie is a pastor and spiritual director at Vineyard One NYC, a small, diverse church in New York City. She is a co-founder of The Stillness Collective, an organization that creates spaces for busy people to find rest and renewal through contemplative practices, spiritual direction, and retreats. She holds certificates in Spiritual Direction and Ignatian Exercises Accompaniment from Sustainable Faith as well as a PhD in English and American Literature from NYU. You can read more about Carrie and her spiritual direction practice at

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