“I don’t know how you do it!” they often say with exasperation and awe in their voice. Admiring onlookers into the mom life watch their pastor – their spiritual leader – change diapers, juggle food and feelings of little ones and teenagers alike, all while preparing for Bible study, lending a presence to the sick and suffering, and making ardent points in the finance meetings of the church. “Not all heroes wear capes!” she says with a chuckle and moves on to the next item demanding her thoughtful attention and spiritual readiness. 


While it is often meant in beneficence and jest as a word of validation and cheerleading, what if we were to pause and wonder at this question with something more than platitudes. How does the pastor mom do it? 

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three traffic cones

three traffic conesFor the fourth day in a row, I was leaving the church building after dark. As my three children and I made our way to the back parking lot after a long day of Bible, Music, and Art Camp, I was feeling guilty. Guilty that we were out past my toddler’s bedtime. Guilty that my kids had eaten pretzels and leftover corndogs from the church refrigerator for supper. Guilty that it had taken me all evening to set up for the next day because I hadn’t lined up any volunteers to help. Guilt weighed me down more than the sleeping three-year-old in my arms. As we trudged across the asphalt toward the car, I was dreading the hour-long commute home and kicking myself for making my kids pay—yet again–for being preacher’s kids.

So when I approached the parking lot exit and saw the tall orange cones that were blocking our path, I might have uttered profanity under my breath. In my exhaustion, I had forgotten about the repair work that had been done to the pavement that morning. I begrudgingly swung the car around, driving slightly recklessly, the way you do when you are grumpy and tired and in an empty parking lot that’s just begging for you to break the rules and exit through the entrance. But when I made the turn at the back of the lot, my headlights landed on two moving figures. I was startled. Who in the world would be hanging out behind the dumpster on the back corner of the church’s property at nine o’clock in the evening? For a few seconds, I suspected violence.

But as I searched for my phone to call for help, I realized that the people in the corner of the lot were praying. Read more

The author’s sons, Isaac and Micah
The author’s sons, Isaac and Micah

The author’s sons, Isaac and Micah

A Prayer for My Sons:

God, protect them.
Protect them from ignorance of their privilege and the advantages they will have as white men.
Protect them from entitlement.
Protect them from being indoctrinated into a system of white, male violence against women and against people of color.
Protect them from the temptation to stay silent and complicit when they witness injustice.
Protect them from the illusion that we live in a post-racial society of equality and justice.
Protect them from insular living that might threaten their empathy or release them from righteous anger when any of your children are hurt or in need. Read more

The author and her son

The author and her son

As many mothers do when their young ones run toward them, I scooped up my four-year-old son. Together we enact this move on a nearly daily basis, but this time, my lifting him into my arms was out of the ordinary. This time my son had wiggled out of his seat in order to make a beeline toward me as I was leading the confession and absolution of sins. My son is still learning what it means to have a mom as a pastor; I am still learning how to handle the stress of these unpredictable experiences in which my roles as mom and minister collide. We are learning together.

In the moment that my son wiggled his way down to the floor and stood beside me, I felt afraid that his actions might be interpreted as a commotion. He held my hand and mirrored my actions as I turned to face the altar and the congregation. That seemed innocent enough. But then he began offering nonsensical words as I read the official words of absolution from our hymnal. I felt as though I was dedicating an enormous amount of energy to being both a loving mother and responsible pastor, all the while hoping that none of my parishioners would sense my anxiety or grumble about having been distracted during worship.

But then I had the blessing of seeing what everyone else saw during those moments. One of our church members shared with me the photo she had taken as my son and I led worship in tandem. When I saw what had happened from my church member’s perspective, all the stress I’d felt melted away. It was replaced by joy that my son felt comfortable enough to participate in worship with me and gratitude that my congregation had welcomed a little child to lead them.

As I have taken more time to reflect on this photo, I am reminded of all the ways my son forgives me, even though he may not realize it. He has forgiven me time and time again for my mistakes: for the times I have yelled, for the times I have been too tired to follow his routine, for the times I have hidden myself in the pantry or bathroom just long enough to take a breath and a break, even if that meant leaving him outside the door crying. He offers his forgiveness every time he wraps his arms around me, every time he gives me a hug, every time he grabs my hand or brings me a book to read. Every time he hears “I love you” and responds with “I love you, too.” Every time.

My son’s words of absolution might have been gibberish, but that doesn’t mean they were any less real. My son teaches me how to forgive, and now this treasured photo reminds me to forgive myself. They both help me to remember why we say words of absolution in the first place: In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Plastic necklaces and a dove pendant mixed together: a metaphor for mothers in ministry.

Plastic necklaces and a dove pendant mixed together: a metaphor for mothers in ministry.

It’s Saturday morning. I dig through a clump of pink and green plastic princess necklaces as I search for my dove pendant, an image of the Holy Spirit I ritualistically grab to go with the dress I wear to officiate a funeral. I smile because the plastic necklaces are sure signs that someone else has been here today: my feisty two-and-a-half year old. I hear her defiant protest as I finally clasp the dove. “Mama! Come play with me!”

“I can’t sweetheart. Mama’s gotta go to work.”

Today the work I am called away to is a funeral, not altogether surprising work for a pastor. My daughter’s small, protesting voice keeps ringing in my ears and in my heart as her dad tries to distract her with an alluring tea party while I sneak out the door and quickly head to the car.

It is holy work, having the privilege of “marrying and burying,” carrying God’s blessing through the various stages of human existence. Weddings and funerals are a joy of my calling as pastor. But they also tend to fall on Saturdays – days that are typically reserved for my family.

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The author and her mother at the author’s graduation from seminary.

The author and her mother at the author’s graduation from seminary.

“You’re going to seminary? Are you sure?” This wasn’t the reaction I was expecting from my mother when I called to tell her I’d applied for admission to seminary. After all, I was finishing up my year serving in Northern Ireland as a Young Adult Volunteer through the PC(USA), so seminary shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I thought my mom would be excited to hear the news–and she was–but her questions betrayed her excitement. She seemed worried. At the time, I was perplexed (and even spent a few therapy sessions processing her concern). But now, four years into professional ministry as a solo pastor, I realize that her protective instinct was valid.

You see, my mother is also a pastor. She knows the underbelly of the church world intimately. Just as I was beginning to envision my move to New Jersey and my studies in pastoral care, theology, and the Bible, my mother was imagining disgruntled parishioners giving me not-so-constructive feedback, the headaches of financial crises that plague mainline congregations, and the relentless onslaught of committee meetings and church functions–all things she somewhat jokingly refers to as “Working for Jesus.” Read more

The author's toddler daughter
The author's toddler daughter

The author’s daughter, the minister

Right before Christmas, my daughter fed the baby Jesus to our dog. We have a long-suffering boxer mix, Gary, who will do anything my 16-month-old daughter asks. I was working on plans for a Christmas event, and my daughter was across the room playing with our wooden nativity set which I thought was indestructible. I never imagined my daughter could possibly get into trouble while I worked no more than five feet away. I was wrong. She fed the wooden figure to Gary—and Gary, ever obedient, ate the baby Jesus like a dog biscuit.

This messy and absurd event was the holiest moment of Advent for me. While I was hard at work planning for Christmas, my toddler was (literally!) offering Christ to another living being. It was a powerful reminder of what my ministry should be and of what I believe as a Quaker. Quakers believe that each person carries ‘that of God within’ or the ‘Light within’ and is therefore a minister. My official title at my Meeting (the word we use for ‘church’ in Quaker speak) is ‘pastoral minister’ which suggests that I am only one type of minister in that community. I am a pastoral minister because the ministry I am called to is pastoral, but there are as many ministers at my Meeting as there are members and attenders.

My daughter is a minister. She ministered to me as she fed the nativity baby Jesus to our dog, reminding me with her joy and holy play that our faith is an embodied faith and that nothing can separate me from God. She and the other youngest members of our community minister to our Meeting each week, reminding us that we carry the ‘Light Within’ or the ‘Christ Within,’ that the Spirit is a Living Spirit, and that we each cradle within us the Divine spark. Read more

holding hands b&w
holding hands b&w

holding both the visible and invisible wounds

The words the nurse said that day return again and again to my thoughts: “If the ulcers that are on the inside of her body were on the outside, you’d have to wonder how she’s been making it through the day.” It was a Wednesday, the day of my then eleven-year-old’s diagnosis with Crohn’s disease. The MRI left no room for doubt; her digestive tract was heavily damaged. We would need to change her diet, monitor her inflammatory markers through blood draws, and begin a regimen of steroids and other medicines in an effort to put her Crohn’s into remission.

Hers was our first appointment of the day. As soon as she had changed out of her hospital gown and back into regular clothes, we descended four floors on a hospital elevator for her younger sister’s appointment—a diagnostic test to measure the reflux in her kidneys. The test would determine how successful her latest eleven-hour surgery had been—the third major surgery in the fewer than two years since she’d been born. Read more

ladder on the side of a building, into the sky
ladder on the side of a building, into the sky

Jacob’s ladder for the modern step-family

I am a pastor and the daughter of a pastor. I attended Sunday school, worship, and Bible studies for all of my growing-up years. I majored in Religion in college, and I have a Master of Divinity. I have taught and preached Bible stories to thousands of people across multiple congregations. But one night, as I sat on the couch listening to my husband, Lee, read a children’s Bible—Desmond Tutu’s Children of God: Storybook Bible—to our boys, the Bible surprised me in a way I had not expected.

If someone were to peek into our windows and watch us as we sit on that couch reading Bible stories together, we would look like an ideal American family, a picture of peace and virtue. But we are not most people’s version of an “ideal” family, and we are not always at peace—at least not right now. Our Bible time is a rare sanctuary in what often feels like a new and unstable world.

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swarm of ancient stars
swarm of ancient stars

A swarm of ancient stars

Starlight dims,
newborn stirs;
the body that bore the child
throbs still.

Angels heavenward,
shepherds to their flocks,
a child and her child, dew-covered,
clumsily nurse.

Aching journey to the temple–
abiding Torah, dedicated.
Simeon and Anna:
salvation seen, dismissed in peace.

And then the gap–
silence flanked by temple steps,
a long twelve years, one for each tribe,
no story to behold.

A mother’s mind
wanders the expanse
between blessed babe
and temple stowaway–

Between infant warm and safely swaddled
and beloved gone missing among dusty sandals.
Between “glory of your people Israel”
and “Why were you searching for me?”

Blissfully unaware of fear-besieged parents,
immersed in the teachings
an almost-man, according to tradition–
no wonder he dismisses her concern, as teenagers do.

But what of the gap, the in-between?
Restless nights of weaning,
mornings awakened and evenings drawn with Shema
recited by her lips, heard by his ears.

What of the hands that fed and washed and held
the One that would feed and wash and hold us?
What of her gaze guiding his play and wonder,
treasuring all these things in her heart?

Blessed are you among women, dear Mary,
mother of God whose twelve years’ mothering
garnered paraphrase without attribution–as mothering does:
“The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.”

Starlight dims.
Seen or unseen,
even in the noonday sun
it shines.