Melissa Florer-Bixler ’02: Mennonite Pastor

Dream: To help develop a L’Arche community in North Carolina’s “Triangle region”

“I love preaching,” says Melissa Florer-Bixler (at center in photo). As a Mennonite, she understands the work of interpretation as an act of the church community discerning the Holy Spirit; her role is to make way for the gospel using the gifts she’s been given. “It’s a vulnerable exercise,” she says, “and a sacred duty.”

Her wide-ranging preaching reflects passion for the Word, the world, and the Kingdom. In “Why We Sing, A Sermon on Psalm 96,” she invites the congregation to consider the eschatological implications of worship:

If we sing like singing is something our own little insular group does when it’s not busy doing real work, then no one is going to want to be a part of what we do here. People are busy! We’ve all got our idols to worship, whether that’s money, prestige, relationships, sex or politics. Psalm 96 reminds us that our singing isn’t one of these idols but says something about these gods: “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” Singing to the God Who Rules Everything will blow the doors right off the church.

Melissa characterizes her growing family with her husband, Jacob, as a “blend of chaos and light.” Two of their children were born while she was in grad school, and the baby arrived just this spring. “We’re tired all the time,” she says. “But there’s also toddler wrestling, pancake parties, and introducing the whole world to these little ones. We work to find the holiness of everyday things, and we’re learning to see parenting, partnership, vacuuming, and family meals as the crucible for our discipleship.”

Growing up, Melissa never had a female pastor. She’s thought a lot about what it means to be a woman in ministry. During grad school at Princeton she wrote this memo to herself: “Remember that you bring something amazing to the table. All those maternal references in Augustine? You get that. Discipline, discipleship, love, fear, commitment, ceaseless devotion, gut wrenching selflessness, care for the helpless, the recognition of our helplessness. What is motherhood apart from these things? These are also the defining characteristics of the Christian life.”

As she works with youth, college students and young adults in her church, she loves knowing that girls in her congregation get to see someone proclaiming the Word who looks like them—and like their mothers, grandmothers and sisters. “That,” she says, “feels like a little piece of the Kingdom of God.”