Othella Grandberry wears the black robe and the collar. She knows there are some who would object, but she doesn't care. This is what she's supposed to do - she's known that since the age of 17.
An ordained minister at Trinity Full Gospel Baptist Church, Grandberry understands the challenges of preaching in an area where many view women's place as in the pews, not in the pulpit.
"Sometimes, we might go to another church that doesn't receive women ministers. They don't want us to take the pulpit," she said. "So, it can be challenging in that way."
She's part of a small group of Bowling Green women who preach and pastor churches. As the number of women entering the ministry grows, they still face challenges.
Even though a majority of divinity school and seminary students are women, church pastors are mostly men. While many denominations ordain women, several mainstream Christian churches in Bowling Green do not accept female preachers.
Therefore, women who want to preach often come across obstacles and questions that their male counterparts do not encounter. And it's not just men who oppose female pastors - many women don't want a female pastor, said Monique Moultrie, assistant professor of religious studies at Western Kentucky University.
Even when women get ordained, it's difficult to be placed within a large church; they tend to be smaller, more remote churches, Moultrie said.
"I do think that's a stumbling block that many women face," she said. "But the numbers are increasing despite the opposition."
At Life Fellowship Church on Fairview Avenue, the top two leaders are women. Head Pastor Arcie Brown has led the church for the past decade, while Associate Pastor Sherry Cecil also preaches. The fact that she's a woman is never an issue among Brown's congregation, which has grown over the years, forcing Brown to hold two Sunday services, she said.
There were a few questions when Brown first took over, and she initially found herself apologizing for being a woman and a pastor.
"I do not have to apologize for being pastor of this church," she said. God "put me here, so be it."
Brown often invites guest speakers, a majority of them male, to preach at her church, and she visits other churches to preach. She rarely runs into problems because of her gender.
The two pastors don't want to dominate over men. They simply want to do their jobs without gender being a factor, they say.
"It is the Bible Belt, and people will constantly bring that to the table, the female question," Cecil said. "Whether you're a man or a woman, you bring the same thing to the table. You're just a messenger."
The Bible Belt is home to a stretch of churches, both Protestant and Catholic, that don't believe women should be at the helm of a church. While women serve many roles in the Catholic Church, only men can be in the clergy.
That rule partly goes back to a tradition of male leaders in the Old Testament and partly to instructions in the New Testament, such as Paul's letter that says wives should be submissive to their husbands and the fact that Jesus chose men as his 12 disciples, said the Rev. Robert Drury of St. Mary Catholic Church in Franklin.
Drury has his own theology: In the Old Testament, the Jewish people made sacrifices that mainly were male animals. Therefore, men today sacrifice themselves to God by entering the priesthood, he said.
"I do not see it as a matter of women not being competent; women are totally competent to do what we do," he said. "But I still stay with that Old Testament tradition and the leadership tradition and the male sacrifice tradition. I just don't see that women will come into the clergy role of the church."
Others argue that Scriptures used to justify male-only pastors can be interpreted in many ways. For example, Paul's letters are more a record of the historical role women played in the church than a commandment for today's society, Moultrie said.
And, if Paul was instructing women during that time to keep silent in church, that means women probably were teaching in the synagogues and certain people had problems with that, she said.
Additionally, there were plenty of other letters written to female leaders of churches, where the first Gospel was being shared, Moultrie said.
"So, we have these examples where women are showed as the face of the church," she said.
Drury understands that others interpret the Bible differently, he said, and he respects female pastors of other denominations. In fact, his church sits next door to a Pentecostal church with a woman as head pastor and her husband as the assistant pastor, he said.
And women's roles have evolved in the Catholic Church over the years. Around the early 1970s, women were first invited to read Scriptures during Mass and be ministers of the Holy Communion sacrament. In the past, only boys could be altar servers, but that has changed to include girls, Drury said.
However, Drury does not foresee a time when women will be allowed to join the clergy, he said.
Other denominations also limit the head of the church to men.
The Southern Baptist denomination decided in 2000 to officially reserve its senior pastor positions for men only. The new rule was included in a revision of the Baptist Faith and Message - the faith summary was last revised in the 1960s and the gender issue was not addressed, said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
"That's not to say every church that calls itself Southern Baptist agrees with that and practices it," he said. "But the majority (do)."
Whether a woman can be associate pastor or simply preach at a church varies from church to church, he said.
About 30 women were Southern Baptist pastors when the latest revisions were made, and they were permitted to remain in those positions, Moultrie said.
But other Protestant churches have endorsed female leaders for decades. Several Pentecostal churches, for example, were founded by women, and the Presbyterian Church has ordained women for more than 50 years.
The Rev. Kara Hildebrandt, associate pastor at The Presbyterian Church on State Street, grew up in a Church of Christ branch that did not allow female pastors. After getting fed up with religion for multiple reasons, Hildebrandt spent years out of church. When she returned to religion, she was drawn to the Presbyterian Church and eventually attended divinity school.
She performs multiple tasks at her church, from preaching to programming. Anytime there is a baptism, a marriage or a death within the church, she's there. There are roughly three other female Presbyterian pastors in this region, and Hildebrandt plans to one day become head pastor of a church, she said.
"It's really kind of fun to wear my collar, and it's interesting because people are like, ‘I didn't know a woman can do that.' Then we have a really great conversation," she said. "Me wearing a collar and being a pastor shows that this (church) is something totally different than what can be found in the Bible Belt and in our area."
At Trinity Full Gospel on Center Street, four out of nine ministers are women. While the head pastor, Stacey Beason, is male, women often preach and are in charge of separate ministries.
When counseling women who go through ordination, Beason warns that some churches will not accept them.
"That's between (those churches) and their God. But here, this is how we do it," he said.
While women are not always acknowledged as ministers at other churches, Monica Beason, an ordained minister, doesn't mind sitting in the pews when she visits those churches. She is still confident that God wants her in the pulpit.
"That's why it doesn't bother me," she said. "It doesn't change what we know."