By Jennifer Dalziel
In the fall of 2011, Becky Ankeny was busy at work in her office at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. She dressed in bright blues and browns, with every color matching, while still exhibiting a uniqueness of style. With books and papers everywhere, and pictures from home to around the world, her office exhibited a fullness of spirit and vulnerability. It was clear to me that Becky is a woman called by God, with a passion to respond.
“It’s not really about ambition or aspiration that I want to model,” she says. “It’s about faithfulness.”
Becky served as Professor of English at George Fox University for 23 years, making the transition into her new role as the Northwest Yearly Meeting superintendent on January 1, 2012.
It was through a long process that Becky came to apply for the superintendent’s position. Her life thus far has been a journey intricately woven by God. As a woman in ministry, she has faced many challenges in the attitudes of others, as well as challenges in her own heart. In time, she has worked to fight these roadblocks with support, encouragement and ultimately a solid faith in the One who created her.
Growing up, Becky’s parents served as missionaries in Central Africa. Her father had Quaker roots deep into the soil of his family tree, bringing her mother to the tradition when they wed. Faith was woven throughout her family life, with prayers and daily devotions.
Becky remembers her mother’s faith and the impact that made from an early age. “She got up at 4 a.m. to have devotions every day and read through the Bible every year. That got me interested in trying that when I was about eight,” Becky said. Though her father spent time in devotion, “it didn’t register quite the same as Mom’s.”
While in Africa, Becky attended boarding school where she continued to work her way through the Bible most years, also engaging in prayer and story time. As she entered adolescence, she had mandatory Bible classes and chapel services. “That’s when I started on my own spiritual life a little more,” Becky says, reflecting on her experience, “probably because I didn’t like required religious things.”
As Becky grew into adulthood, she moved back to North America to attend George Fox University. At 19, Newberg Friends Church invited her to join their elders committee, an experience she calls “astonishing and really formative.”
“I didn’t really understand the gravity of being an elder, but just being in the discussion and hanging out with all those people was challenging, and some of them I had admired an awful lot,” Becky said. Vivian Thornberg was one of those people. Vivian took it upon herself to guide Becky and help her to see the importance of her role on the elders committee and in the church.
In the years following, Becky became more involved in ministry, giving guest sermons and serving as an interim pastor. When she was first invited to speak at Newberg Friends Church, she was “amused and irritated” to find that she was presented as “sharing” rather than “preaching,” because of the discomfort of the female secretary at the time. When she served as an interim pastor, the congregation was nervous about her gender. In the end, however, they came to embrace her, but were uncomfortable with having a woman long term.
Last year when Colin Saxton, then superintendent of Northwest Yearly Meeting, announced his decision to depart the yearly meeting and become the general secre- tary of Friends United Meeting, he approached Becky and encouraged her to apply.
“I don’t think so,” she replied. “I don’t think there’s a lot of likelihood that a woman would get this job and I don’t see any really good reason to try it.” As time went on, friends and acquaintances continued to come to her, pushing her to apply. Becky, however, wouldn’t hear it. There was more standing in her way than the opinions of others regarding her role in ministry, however. Becky doubted her own call.
As the search committee for the new superintendent began to meet, Becky was asked to apply. At this point, she struck up a deal with God. “I prayed that somebody over 50 or 60 years of age, who was a man, would tell me that I should apply,” as that was the demographic she predicted to be the most hostile if she were granted the position.
“So I went to church, and a friend of mine who was over 60, maybe close to 70, said, ‘I think this job is for you and you should apply for it.’” There was no room to doubt where God was calling her. “I made my deal, now I have to do it.”
Becky entered an intensive process of interviews and written applications. After the first interview, Becky finally realized this was something she really cared about. She admits that until then, she wasn’t really sure.
During last summer’s yearly meeting sessions, Becky was warmly accepted as the Northwest Yearly Meeting superintendent. Overall, she has been surprised at the sup- port and acceptance she’s received.
Her approval has met with some questioning of her authority in the Bible and the role of women in ministry. “I think it was a harder question to cope with than I had anticipated,” Becky says, “because I had quit asking [the question for myself, thinking] I can’t just spend my whole life questioning my sense of calling and my abilities that God gave me to use, [because if I do] that I’m useless.”
Becky is a woman, a creation of God and a messenger of God’s truth. Though she has met with struggles throughout her life, she has known her call and known her beliefs. When listening for God’s leading, Becky says, “sometimes you have no idea whether that was right or not,” but when others affirm her faithfulness, “it gives me some hope that I’m hearing correctly.”
In the end, one must be faithful so that God can be faithful in his call on each one of our lives. Becky has followed God’s leading and God has shown blessing to his beloved daughter, whom he created.
Jennifer Dalziel is a senior at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, where she is majoring in biology with a minor in writing. She has been a practicing Quaker since childhood, when she began attending a Northwest Yearly Meeting member church. Jennifer Dalziel is a senior at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, where she is majoring in biology with a minor in writing. She has been a practicing Quaker since childhood, when she began attending a Northwest Yearly Meeting member church.