Am writing something about Rola Sleiman, an inspiring person I met a few months ago in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli. She’s unique in more than one way: not only is she at 37 a very young church leader, she’s also the only female pastor in Lebanon – and, according to her research, the whole Middle East.
Did a portrait of Rola for India’s The Caravan magazine back in summer which is online here.
Meeting her and her church community was great. Rola said that her age and gender— which set her apart from other pastors — have never been an issue.
“I haven’t been treated differently. On the contrary, people accept me as I am. When I was appointed, the pastor who played a big role in my appointment said, ‘There’s no official law that stands against it, and we believe in equality, so why not select a woman,’” she said.
“But being a woman in a traditional male position is something that I’m always conscious of. It’s an inner challenge. You have to work double or triple to keep up with the age-old image of how a religious leader should be. We live in a patriarchal world, that’s a fact.”
Her congregation is small, only some 85 people. The church, which is part of the Lebanese-Syrian Synod, with churches in 40 cities across Syria and Lebanon, is right in the middle of Tripoli, squeezed in between two narrow streets. Much of Rola’s time is spent chatting with congregation members; those who come to Sunday mass and those she visits in their homes.