Post Author: Askie
Dear Ask a YCW-
What words do you hold on to/say to yourself when you’re tempted to be other than you are (i.e. young, liberal, a girl, a feminist, whatever it seems like it would be easier not to be in your work life)?
How do you function as a mainline progressive clergywoman in the Bible belt or any other place that is “other”?
-Two Poor Wayfaring Strangers
Oh, ladies. This right here is the question, the one that all of us come up against at some point in our ministry no matter who we are, where we are from, or what our political or social beliefs happen to be. How do I be true to myself and and also be an effective minister no matter where I am called? How do I remind myself of who I am despite my congregation seeming to want or to need me to be somebody very different?
“God loves you.”
These are the words to hold on to. Remember that you have been called by God to this vocation of service and love. God has known you since you were in your mother’s womb, made you wonderfully and fearfully, held you in the palm of her/his/God’s hand along the way to where you are right now. God also gave you the passion that drives you to do work that is hard and often thankless and that could easily take up 24 hours of every one of your days and still not be finished. And, if we really believe this Christianity stuff, God has a hand in calling us to the communities we serve, no matter how uncomfortable the fit can be at times, and giving us all the gifts we need to do God’s work there.
Sometimes reminding yourself of this feels about as reassuring as friends and family telling a teenage girl that she is beautiful in the face of the onslaught of everything else in the world telling her she could be so much prettier/sexier/better. Stop a second, put down your laptop, and go pull out a picture of yourself as a teenager. Can you believe how gorgeous you were then? You can appreciate your then-self now because of the time that has passed. (A friend recently sent along a cartoon of a woman staring into a mirror, captioned, “I wish I was still as thin as I was the first time I thought I was fat.” This pretty much sums up the human condition, no?). And guess what? You’re gorgeous now, too- the lives that you’ve touched, the love you’ve given and received, the really bad times, the arguments you’ve had, the mistakes you’ve made- all of those are tattooed on your body, on your soul, and they have made you magnificent.
And here’s the secret: there is no place that you don’t belong. Are you the lone voice in your congregation crying out for childcare for working parents who can’t afford it? God put you there. Did you just have to point out to your warden that that thing she just said is actually horribly racist? God. Cheeks flushing red with rage as the minister next to you at a town hall meeting metes out some really, really bad theology? Yep. Just not knowing what to say to someone who has a life that is completely different than your own? That’s God, too.
That old saw about preaching to the choir (obviously coined by someone who never had to deal with actual choir members)? The Devil can be found in that moment when you are tempted to change what you preach to make the choir like you. Instead, think of yourself a decade or two from now, looking back on your time in this wilderness, on the lives you’ve touched, the minds you’ve changed, the relationships you’ve reveled in. Perspective is one of the best rewards God gives us, and with it, we can (almost) see that there is nowhere else in the world that we are supposed to be instead of here.
And, practically, choose your battles carefully. This is a marathon, after all, not a sprint. And keep reading, because there are some very important survival instructions that apply to you, too, in the question below.
Dear Ask a YCW-
Where do you turn when you have conflict with your boss?
-Really Likes Being Employed
Some of us do our ministry as solo pastors, others are part of a multi-clergyperson staff, some are in non-traditional ministry like working for advocacy or service organizations, some are bi-vocational, holding down a full time secular job while also ministering to a congregation “on the weekends”, but no matter what, we all have a boss. Whether that boss is a judicatory head like a bishop or executive presbyter, a board of directors, a CEO, or an actual senior pastor with a slightly larger and nicer office down the hall, we all answer to someone (in addition to Jesus). And where two or more are gathered, there is sometimes going to be strife.
The simplest answer to this question is: a colleague or colleague group. No matter where you are geographically, hopefully you have one or two other ministers within an hour drive who you know well enough to meet for coffee and complaining. Like regular confession, regular griping is good and necessary for the soul. Maybe you just moved to the middle of nowhere and the only other ministers in town are men in their 80s, and every time you run into them at the local clericus meeting they mistake you for the secretary and ask you to bring them coffee. So don’t go to those guys. (Though if you do get a chance to really get to know them, one or two will probably be a blessing and a gift in your ministry. The rest- and this knows no gender- will always be windbags who manage to offend you with every single thing they say, but the few make up for them.) Keep searching, and in the meantime find a therapist.
Scratch that- find a therapist anyway, because a decent therapist is worth his or her weight in gold, and will help you be your best self in the worst of situations. And if you don’t have a therapist yet, you’ve already made it to this site so reach out and use the internet and find someone, somewhere you can talk to via email or phone or skype, because keeping up with your sanity and your rent really does depend on having someone who is 1) safe, meaning completely uninvolved in your workplace, 2) on your side, and 3) willing to listen to you say horrible things and never repeat them. I promise, even when it feels like no one else in the world could possibly understand, you are not the only one.
Now this part is very important: this person or group of people cannot be parishioners or fellow staff members. It is very tempting to confide in the people we share joys, sorrows, and sacraments with about problems we are having at work, but when your work is also their work, or their church, this just isn’t fair to either one of you, or to your boss, no matter how bad he or she is behaving. We’ve all been tempted, and we’ve all crossed that line at one time or another, but it is always a bad idea.
And if you constantly find yourself in conflict with your boss, the best advice this advice columnist ever received (from a safe, supportive, confidentiality maintaining colleague) was this: if you can’t respect the person you work for, you need to find another job. (Also: if that person is abusive, you tell someone who can do something about it.) We are doing God’s work, and God doesn’t want us to be miserable, or to be compromised. It might take some time to move on, it might mean taking a job that isn’t ideal either, but life is too short to work as hard as we do and be miserable.
Do you have a question for a Young Clergy Woman? Do you think our YCW was completely off in her answers? Comment below, or submit your own question- or answer- to ask.ycw(at)gmail(dot)com.