small girl covering her eyes

Coming out of the Clergy Closet

small girl covering her eyes

Hiding in plain sight

Last year our oldest child started at a new child development center. Unlike the commercial daycare setting we’d ended up at during the first year of our new call, the school is small and intimate, priding itself on a very deep sense of community. It’s the kind of preschool where we receive regular invitations from teachers to be involved in the life of the classroom and regular invitations from fellow parents to birthday parties galore.

Like most young clergy couples entering a new church, town, and phase of life, I was hungry for relationships outside of our congregation and thrilled with the prospect of meeting other parents. There is a known camaraderie among parents of similarly aged children, right? Knowing that nearly all the attendees of our preschool hold a connection to the large university that is the foundation of our lovely little college town, surely it wouldn’t be too hard to find some common ground?

But there it was. The question we clergy find ourselves staring in the face as we try to go about our daily lives. The question that traps us when we are young and single and are set up on a first date. The question we find ways to dodge when it comes from the person sitting next to us on the three-hour flight to a church conference. The question that confronts my husband and I when we are approached by a stranger at a cocktail party:

“What do you do?”

I hadn’t cringed at that question in awhile, but at our first preschool social (a dinosaur-themed birthday party) when it inevitably came up it was like I was twenty-two and out at a bar in Midtown Atlanta all over again, quickly muttering “I’m a pastor at the Presbyterian church” and moving the conversation right along. Driving home that day I engaged in a little self-confrontation…

“What was that all about?” I asked myself. It’s not as though I’m a seminarian or even a newly ordained minister. I’ve been at this awhile now and am comfortable in my pastoral identity. Call me to an emergency at the hospital? I’m there. Calm, cool, collected. Need to preach a sermon following a tragic event in the world? By the grace of God, I will. Yet for some reason this prayerfully forged identity becomes something I want to hide when I’m standing on the sidelines of the soccer field or the waiting room of the dance studio.

Eventually, I was able to identify at least a few reasons for this inclination to minimize my professional identity in social settings. The first is that there are very few places in my life where “pastor” is not my primary role. In the life of my own congregation the lines are beautifully blurred. The church I co-pastor with my husband has embraced our dual identities as pastors and parents as well as any clergy couple could ever hope or imagine. They understand when we have to reschedule meetings due to ear infections or trips to the pumpkin patch. They graciously smile when our children throw tantrums and green beans during the midweek fellowship supper. Yet our primary identity within our congregation is and will always be pastor, just as it should be. I love being their pastor, and simultaneously I long for a few small protected places in my life where I don’t have to be consciously in that role as I go about my business.

The second is that I don’t want “pastors’ kids”(PKS) to be my children’s primary identity. Or secondary. Or even tertiary (Yes, I had to look that up.). I often think our three little ones must be the most fortunate pastors’ kids in the world. My husband and I have now served two churches that take delight in them almost as much as we do. Yet, just like my own personal struggle, they are and always will be “the pastors’ kids”. Though they are blissfully unaware of this unique role at this point in their lives, I know the day is coming when they will put two-and-two together and realize that no one else’s parents are standing in the pulpit delivering the sermon each Sunday.

And so I want preschool, and later school, to be a place where they are just like every other kid. Where adults don’t feel the need to speak or act differently around them and where they aren’t expected to have an above-average knowledge of the Bible or be held to a higher standard of behavior. Perhaps these worries are all the result of my overly analytical imagination. However, generations of PKs who have gone before them might argue otherwise.

But back to preschool. I finally realized that, given that we live in as small of a town as we do, there is no escaping the reality of my identity. Wherever I am and wherever I go, I will always be both mom and pastor. So it was time to embrace this dual identity and stop glossing over it in conversation. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I came to this realization, something both wonderful and humbling happened.

Whether it was the princess-fashion-show-themed birthday party, the Thanksgiving feast, or simply walking through the school to figure out whether the class was on the playground or in the activities building, I can’t remember. But once again the question came up: “What do you do?” This time, it was from a mom I knew to be a professor at the university.

“My husband and I are the pastors at the Presbyterian church.” I said, this time without hesitation.

“We know lots of people in your church!” she said. “We go to the Episcopal church. Our priest is awesome. He came to our tailgate last week.

And just like that, it was over. No awkward silence. No “I didn’t-know-ministers-could-get-married.” or “Here are some reasons why my family hasn’t attended church in awhile.”

I’ve come out of the clergy-closet since then. In our preschool community it’s known that our kids have two preachers for parents. And guess what? I’m not sure anyone really cares. Teachers tell us when it hasn’t been a great day for the two year old. Or when we forgot to sign in the baby. Or when the four year old and her “best friend” had a dramatic falling out on the playground. Just like us, other parents understand that when we cross the threshold of the Child Development Center we all need a chance to shed our professional identities for a moment and tend to the little lives we, with the help of our extended childcare and extended families (including church families) are doing our best to nurture and grow.

The Crown and the Collar

The Imperial State Crown of the United Kingdom

The Imperial State Crown

“Elizabeth Mountbatten has been replaced by Elizabeth Regina, and the two Elizabeths will often be in conflict,” Queen Mary (Eileen Atkins) tells the new sovereign in a remarkably un-comforting letter of condolence, “But the fact is, the Crown must win. The Crown must always win.”

“The Crown,” Netflix’ big-budget series examining the life and reign of Elizabeth the Second (Claire Foy), is a lavish production. The choice of title is significant: it’s a work about Elizabeth as she grows into – or kicks against – the weight of “the Crown.” For me, the series comes most alive in the moments where Elizabeth is struggling to work out how to be herself, and what that self is becoming, under the influence of her new role. There’s a striking moment in episode five, as Elizabeth prepares for her delayed coronation, where she tries the crown on for the first time, and looks at herself in the mirror. Foy’s expression reminded me strongly of my own, the first time I tried a clerical collar on. The director’s shot choices keep us conscious of the fact that Elizabeth is a slight young woman – wearing the crown, keeping the orb and sceptre steady during her coronation, is a physical effort for her, and that too may resonate for clergywomen serving churches with a tradition of vesting. At least Elizabeth doesn’t have to contend with a chasuble that’s long enough to trip her!

The central conflict, between one’s integrity as an individual, and the demands of the role one is placed in, is relevant to all of us in ministry. Read more

The Moms’ Group


Let’s talk about babies. For the last five years of my life, something has been happening in the background.

I’ve already shared on my blog about my journey through seminary and internship, and my first years of being a pastor. I’ve shared about my family and some of my vacations, my love for baseball and knitting, my thoughts on dialogue and division, and my crazy idealism for the world we live in. Recently, because I’ve been busy, I’ve shared more sermon transcripts than life reflections.

But behind all of this, for the last five years, Matt and I have been on a long journey to try to start a family.

It has been quite a journey. A journey that has included frustration and tears, losses and medical interventions, countless needle-stabs and blood draws, surgeries (major and minor), and through it all, enough peace in our hearts to keep stepping forward, one day at a time, without counting up our fears or losses or heartbreaks. Which is not to say that there weren’t bad days (there were plenty), or that we had the strength or gumption to keep pressing ahead indefinitely (there comes a point when you have to start thinking about stopping, for the sake of your sanity).

I wouldn’t wish this journey on anyone. And yet, as I have come to learn, this journey is so very common, and nobody really knows it.

There have been lots of blessings to come out of this journey that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I have made new friends and built new relationships with others who have struggled, just like we have. Friends of mine have come out of the woodwork to share with me their own stories of infertility and pregnancy loss. I have been forced to think – deeply! – about what I hope my life will look like, and what pieces of my body and soul I am willing to make vulnerable in order to pursue those hopes and dreams. I would venture a guess that Matt and I are closer and better because of all of this, and that our relationship is in a deeper place than we could ever have expected it to be after 8.5 years of marriage. I’ve been forced to be emotionally vulnerable (in a good way), and to learn to ask for/accept help (which I’m terrible at). Spiritually, I’ve run the gamut from praying fervently with hope to shouting at God in absolute anger. I’ve connected to Bible stories in far different ways, especially stories of barren women, but also stories of finding peace in trial, and finding kindred spirits in all those in the Bible who felt they had no other option but to cry out to God and put themselves out there, because they had no other choice.

But don’t be mistaken. These beautiful and unforeseen blessings do not, in any way, make this path easier. They don’t make this journey “better.” They don’t redeem the pain and frustration of spending so much time, money, and energy trying to accomplish something that should be simple; something that biology has been making happen since the start of the human race. Infertility and pregnancy loss are HARD.

As we crossed over into 2013, there were lots of transitions on the horizon. I had just accepted a new call, which meant leaving a church I loved in order to follow God’s call to a new church that I was excited to love. Goodbyes and hellos are hard. Even (especially!) the good ones. Also, this new church was in a new town in a new state…putting me five hours from most of my family and from the Chicagoland that is a HUGE part of who I am. Moving is my least favorite thing ever, because it involves packing, and so there was plenty of stress on the horizon as I packed both our apartment and my office, and as we went house-hunting in Decorah, and as we tried to make the most of our last weeks in Chicago before moving.

During this time of crazy transitions, we also decided to take one more (last?) shot at a round of IVF. We’d done a few cycles before, and still had a couple embryos frozen, and we decided (with the encouragement and blessing of my doctor), to try one last round before we moved away (and out of his care).

My official start date here at First Lutheran was March 1. I preached my first sermon here on Sunday, March 3. I spent Monday and Tuesday of that week trying to get my office unpacked and set up. And then on Wednesday, we drove back to Chicago, because that Thursday was my embryo transfer (the culmination of a month-plus cycle of medications and monitoring). The timing of the cycle and the transfer was certainly not ideal. It was just another thing to add to all the madness of moving and starting a new job and closing on a house.

But for some crazy reason, the absolute wrong time turned out to be the absolute right time. And so two weeks after starting my new job, we found out that one of those little embryos had stuck around, and we were pregnant. Thrilling news, and terrifying. Because once you’ve experienced a loss, it takes a long time for you to actually believe that the pregnancy is going to last. Between then and now, there have been plenty of anxious days. Plenty of worry and wonder. Plenty of huge sighs of relief every time blood draws showed my hormone levels going up, and every time my doctor has been able to easily find a heartbeat at our monthly appointments.

It took us until week 13 to start telling close family and friends. It took us until week 16 to share the news with the congregation. And it took us until week 17 to go public. For as much as your head knows that, statistically, chances of loss after 13, 16, 17 weeks are incredibly low, your heart still worries that you will (continue to) be the exception to the rule, the person who keeps defying the odds in the wrong way.

But it’s getting harder and harder to worry, and easier and easier to believe that THIS IS HAPPENING. FOR REAL. We crossed the 20-week mark over the weekend (halfway there!), and had our big mid-pregnancy ultrasound yesterday. And yes. There’s a baby in there. A baby with arms and legs that move and kick, a baby with a little heart beating away in its chest, a baby with teensy toes and little lips, who is just starting to get big enough for me to feel it when it tumbles and flips and kicks.

This article originally posted at Melissa’s blog on July 10, 2013 and is reprinted here in revised form with her permission. Currently, her little hedgehog is a bouncing happy baby named Sam.