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what I submitted

PPB and others were wondering what I submitted for critique. Here is the first piece:


It’s happened again.

Another friend of mine from seminary, ordained, installed and practicing ministry for less than two years, has given notice to the church she serves. She will not seek another call—not right now. She will be a stay-at-home mom to her two young children.

It just became too much square-peg-in-a-round-hole stuff. The evenings, the weekends. The church dragged its feet for a year before hiring a nursery worker to watch her daughter and son while their mother preached for them, prayed with them, served them bread and wine, cupped water in her hands and sprinkled it on their children and grandchildren.

She is excited, and daunted, to enter this new phase of her life. It’s right. It’s time. The family needed some space. Leaving ministry releases the pressure valve on her life.

I wish her well, and I sigh, and I wonder where everyone’s going.

My elder daughter was born my last year of seminary. It was the Baby Boom of ’03: ten babies were born over the summer and school year, four of them within one week of each other. We hosted showers for one another, shared maternity clothes, traded breastfeeding tips and colic cures. As I stumbled toward yet another 2 a.m. feeding, I’d toss out a quick, exasperated e-mail on the way. By the time I had tucked C into her bassinet, swaddled and sated for another few hours, I’d have heard back from at least one of the others: “I’m up too, I understand, hang in there.” Once we graduated and were ordained, the e-mails continued, this time centering around the guilt of leaving for an evening meeting with our toddler mid-meltdown, or the inverse guilt of saying no to a church activity for the sake of family time.

Now, three years after graduation, two of those seminary colleagues are women working in full-time professional ministry. We all keep in touch, but I feel more and more like the odd woman out. I miss their “I understand, hang in there” e-mails, and I wonder whether I, too, am jamming the square peg into the round hole by even trying to be a minister-mom at this stage in my children’s lives.

I do sympathize with my friend upon her departure from ministry. The process of parceling out one’s time and energy between two demanding roles can result in a feeling of crippling inadequacy even under the best circumstances. Thankfully, I am blessed with circumstances that are very good, if not the best: I am an associate pastor—the buck does not stop with me. And the church I serve respects family time. When I read to the session an article from the Presbyterian Outlook about the church elder who had some administrative concerns and took them up with the pastor while she was in the delivery room giving birth, they laughed in all the right places.

And I love the dual vocation of pastor and parent. I love processing into the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, seating myself in the front row, and finding my daughter waiting in the next row, ready to climb into my lap and fiddle with my lapel mike until it’s time to get up and speak. I love doing the closing prayer at a church potluck and not realizing until later that I have blessed and dismissed the congregation with a bright red sippy cup in my hand. I have loved sharing my pregnancy with my congregation, and in a tradition that had nothing but male clergy for centuries, I love reading the words of John Calvin on Reformation Sunday, my ample basketball of a belly visible even under a billowy Geneva robe. So often, the work/home dualities are described in opposition to one another—church time intrudes on family time and vice versa—yet I am convinced that each role enhances the other in profound ways, both practical and theological. Conversations with other young clergy mothers have confirmed this. But many of us also feel isolated (geographically and otherwise), baffled by unrealistic demands on our selves and our time, and adrift in a church that still does not quite know what to do with us.

This year my denomination celebrates the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. Two generations have passed since that milestone, and clergywomen are no longer the aberrations they once were. Today women outnumber men in seminary classrooms, and there are plenty of clergywomen filling our pulpits and serving in other ordained capacities—almost 80% of whom are mothers.

Still, whereas women make up between thirty and forty percent of the associate pastors, chaplains, interim pastors, supply pastors, and “at-large” positions, women make up only fifteen percent of pastors co-pastors, and heads of staff. Could the challenges of mothering children while providing spiritual leadership for a congregation play a role? My seminary colleagues would say yes.

On the hunt for some answers, or at least some conversation—surely somebody’s written a book about this, right?—I consult my expert on all things bibliographical,

Search: clergy mother

Results: an out-of-print doctoral thesis, and a “sexy nun clergy costume.”

I keep searching.

I also submitted "the birth of reverendmother" parts one and
two, and "remembrance," parts one,
two, and three.

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