An Interview with Our Founder

Post Author: Diana Carroll

The Rev. Susan K. Olson is Assistant Dean of Students for Community Life and Career Services at Yale Divinity School and the founder of The Young Clergy Women Project. She recently agreed to be interviewed about TYCWP for Fidelia’s Sisters.

The Rev. Susan K. Olson, founder of The Young Clergy Women Project

The Rev. Susan K. Olson, founder of The Young Clergy Women Project

What gave you the idea to create The Young Clergy Women Project?
I was working in my capacity as Career Director at Yale Divinity School and was hearing back from young women who had graduated and had been in ministry for just a year or two. They were writing to me and asking to be added to the job list for non-ordained jobs. I was finding over and over again that women were leaving ministry after just one or two years, and so I started to ask why.

I found that women were just lonely. They were so isolated, and it wasn’t something I was hearing from young men—who also often have a tough transition into ministry, but it’s a transition that is a bit different than that of young women. The women are dealing with the isolation with an added layer of sexism on top of it. Many of these women had never previously experienced that kind of sexism in their work life.

At first, I thought I might be able to do something at Yale Divinity School to reach out to our graduates, but I discovered that I didn’t want to limit it to just our graduates and thought a forum that was not affiliated with any one institution was probably the best way to go.

How did you go about getting it started?
At first I just created a password protected blog site, where I would post blog posts that were really just questions. People would write answers on the initial blog site with the goal of writing some sort of article or proposal. But after a while, it became evident that the website itself was taking on a life of its own and was its own community.

At the time, I was really involved with the Cathedral College out of the National Cathedral and got this idea that it would be really great to get the young women from the blog together for a conference at the Cathedral College. So I set about trying to find a way to pay for that and stumbled across a grant advertisement from the Louisville Institute. I applied for and got the grant, which is how we funded the conference.

What was TYCWP like in the early years?
Very small compared to what it is now! The early years I think were marked with a lot of discovery and a lot of truth telling. It wasn’t until we had existed for about six or eight months that we began exploring the idea of becoming something permanent. There was a good deal of energy there and a good deal of excitement. I still remember the minute that Fidelia’s Sisters went live for the first time. It was really exciting. Things moved really, really quickly. We only had the grant from the Louisville Institute for about two years, and in that time, we had two conferences, we created a board, we got 501(c)(3) status, we created the deal with Chalice Press, and Fidelia’s Sisters launched. So much happened in such a short time. At the same time, I created this organization with the intention of not being involved in it. So it was kind of a funny feeling to have planned a really great party but always be looking for a way to get myself out the door.

What has been your favorite thing about TYCWP? What was the biggest challenge you faced in organizing it?
The biggest challenge I faced in organizing TYCWP was that I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t set out to start an organization or to start an online magazine or anything. It was just really organic, and there was no map, and so the challenge was that I didn’t know where I was headed. I certainly didn’t know where the organization was headed, and that was actually also my favorite thing about that time. There was no sense of what had to happen in order for this experiment to be successful. We could really just kind of set off without a map and see what happened. That was a tricky process for sure, but it was also a lot of fun.

What has surprised you most about where TYCWP has gone in the last eight years?
The Chalice Press deal came along in the last few months of my formal involvement with your organization, and that really surprised me. They approached us, and I was intrigued. It’s just been amazing to watch that project unfold and see the breadth of books that have come out of it. In watching from the sidelines since then on, I guess nothing surprises me about what’s going on with TYCWP, because even though the exact names have changed, the energy of young women with a voice is a force to be reckoned with. I can’t be surprised by what can happen with that kind of power and creativity.

What is your connection to TYCWP now?
I have no formal or informal connection to the organization anymore. I read Fidelia’s Sisters, and that’s about it. One thing that does make me laugh is that because I still work at Yale Divinity School, periodically students will quote an article in Fidelia’s Sisters and ask me if I’ve heard of the organization. That always makes me really happy.

What advice would you like to give to our current members?
This is where I should have some pithy thing to say—some  piece of wisdom from being so old—but I don’t have anything. I don’t need to give advice to the current members, because you’re doing things with the organization and with your individual ministries that blow my mind. You don’t need my advice at all!


Diana Carroll is serving her first year on the Board of The Young Clergy Women Project and is the editor of “Our Cloud of Witnesses.” A graduate of Yale Divinity School, she is the Rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Maryland, and also spends a few hours each week as Chaplain at St. Anne’s School of Annapolis. She is deeply grateful to Susan Olson for starting TYCWP and being part of her personal cloud of witnesses.

Image by: Susan Olson
Used with permission
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