Today we introduce a new column, “Ask a Young Clergy Woman”. This monthly column will tackle the important questions in ministry as submitted by you, the reader. Questions can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org , and will be answered by our editors, who will consult with experts, each other, and other young clergy lady colleagues to give you the best answer, or answers, out there. What question would you like to ask a Young Clergy Woman? It can be funny, it can be serious, it can be about shoes- because you are not the only one, and now you have your own advice column.
Dear Ask a YCW-
Where do you hide your boyfriend’s car when he visits?
Star-crossed and Garage-less
So you’ve met someone who you really, really like. She or he makes your heart race and your breath catch, and you’ve decided to take it to the next step and have an all night discussion of Systematic Theology at your house. But what if someone notices a car that isn’t yours late at night and infers you are up to something less academic?
[This discussion side-steps any limitations on your ability to have relationships that might have been imposed as a term of your ordination, by someone in authority over you like a bishop, commission on ministry, executive presbyter, etc. It also doesn’t cover the instances where your tradition tells you outright that you can’t love the person you love. All of those decisions are between you and God, and the only good advice this YCW can offer is regardless of what you decide, figure out how you are going to explain it to your higher ups if you ever have to. It has been said that the Church is the cross that Christ was crucified on, and most of our institutions have a long way to go before they mirror the Kingdom of Heaven. ]
Especially if you live in church-owned housing, this situation can make you feel like you’re back at Mom’s and Dad’s house and negotiating a thirty minute extension of your curfew, and that can cause you to start resenting the people whose souls you have promised to care for pretty quickly. The obvious solution for you and your honey is to find neutral territory like a hotel room. It adds up fast, and might feel a little sneaky, but when it comes down to it, when we said yes to this odd and wondrous calling, we also said yes to a certain level of living life in the public sphere, and this is the easiest way to avoid ever having to have that conversation with parishioners who are your parents’ age.
Even though it isn’t fair and it is ridiculous, as young women we are subject to even greater scrutiny when it comes to our perceived sexual lives, and it doesn’t stop when we age out of the “young” category either. The best bet is to keep things out of view until you are ready to make a more public affirmation of your relationship. Take a romantic camping trip, role-play your favorite pulp fiction novel in a highway motel, or make a fun mini-road trip out of checking out local attractions. This is the best-case scenario, of course, and it gives you and your paramour a chance to get to know each other better before taking the jump into a joint public life. And maybe working to be more creative in the time that you spend together will make that time all the sweeter.
Yes, you could hide the car in the parking lot of the local big box store, or, for those of you in very rural locations, maybe down a dirt road covered with branches and brush, but in the language of recovery, we are only as sick as our secrets, and blossoming love shouldn’t be hidden away. If you can’t talk to a trusted leader or supervisor in your congregation about your desire to have space for your relationship to flourish, talk to a colleague in the community- and maybe she will let you park the car in her driveway. But be prepared to hear that you should spend the nights apart from your loved one- and know that that isn’t the end of the world either. Sometimes the best place to hide is in the plain light of day.
Dear Ask a YCW:
How do you respond when, despite your best efforts, your largely elderly congregation keeps mentioning how young you are?
Really Not That Young
My New Testament professor in seminary was famous for answering almost every question with the phrase “Context is everything.” This is as true for the compliments that we receive in our professional lives as it is for scriptural exegesis. As a relative, though growing, minority in the ministry business, it can feel like we young clergywomen are being diminished every time a parishioner or colleague comments on our youth, but usually examining the context of the comments is key. I say usually because sometimes, the answer can be found in the one making the comments.
Did a matriarch of the congregation remark on your age as she was praising the moving service you just led? Then the proper response is a heartfelt “thank you”. We all age out of youth eventually, and should take positive feedback when we get it. Did the comment on your age come with a pat on the head and a condescending smirk after it was brought to your attention that your Geneva robe was tucked into your stockings? Then you might want to work on that relationship through a personal invitation to coffee or lunch, even if you’d rather do anything else in the world. Sometimes the most fruitful pastoral relationships are borne from simply asking questions like: “How are you doing, really?” You’ll quickly learn who is a perpetual grouch, and who maybe isn’t used to being heard without complaining.
Much of the time, I think, you will find that in a culture where we are compartmentalized by age or generation in so many ways, you might be the only young person your elderly parishioners interact with on a regular basis. Growing into old age outside of a multi-generational family home is a modern phenomenon, and it is a gift of our vocations that we get to spend time with all sorts and conditions of people, including the very old. Consider it one of the privileges of your ministry that you get to share memories made before you were born, and hear stories of a life that has been lived in a time with the most astounding technological advancements. And if someone really won’t let your age go as a topic of conversation, ask directly why this always seems to be what she or he mentions most about you. The answer might surprise you, and at the very least, the offender will be put on notice.
Have a question for a YCW? Email it to ask.ycw(at)gmail(dot)com.