The Practical Pregnant Pastor

Divine Details

I don’t exactly know when I became a resident in the Land of Completely and Obviously Pregnant. I do know by the time mid-January rolled around, a stranger at an interment identified my pregnant belly under four layers of vestments: clericals, cassock, surplice, and, for lack of a better description, giant black cape.

Of course, I had to tell the congregation a child was on the way long before that. While all working women have to figure out how to tell an employer of a growing family, to be a pregnant priest or pastor is to be pregnant in a rather public way. Below the fold are a few to consider as when you become pregnant while serving a congregation:

Being coy is okay.  For once, I wished I was part of a tradition that expects its clergy to abstain from alcohol. As an Episcopalian, however, I felt like I had some sort of pregnant tattoo at wedding receptions last summer. This and other pregnancy indicators (throwing up, weight gain, fatigue) may draw questions you’re not ready to answer. Think of something you feel comfortable saying in those situations before they actually happen. For example, when asked, I told people I wasn’t drinking because I was feeling dehydrated; in North Carolina in August, this also happened to be very true. The bottom line is, just because someone asks you if you’re
pregnant, that doesn’t mean you have to tell them. Just know that someone will ask, so be prepared in a way that doesn’t leave you with flat-out lying as your only option, if you’re not comfortable doing so.

Wait until at least twelve weeks to tell. Many women miscarry at some
point, including young, healthy women. Though there is something to be said for miscarrying publicly, I decided that I didn’t want to create the possibility of spending more
time tending to others’ grief rather than to my own, so I chose not tell the congregation until I was sixteen weeks pregnant.

Take advantage of your new best friends: your vestments and clerical collars.
Sunday vestments, whether they be alb, cassock and surplice, academic
gowns, or other robes, are the most forgiving maternity clothes ever.
The garb that a lot of
people see you in will allow you to hide your pregnancy for months, if
you wish. If you’re from a tradition that expects a collar, do it. I
don’t look that great in black, the more traditional clerical color.
Even so, in those first few months of pregnancy, I was actually
thankful for black T-shirt and a dickie. Dressing monochromatically,
and all in black to boot, tided me over until I was ready to tell. I
also started wearing scarves in the middle of September, and odd
decision for a southerner in the summer, but a great way to mask any
weight gain.

Tell leadership first. Those charged with the congregational
leadership need to be the first to know any big news that effects your professional life; that includes pregnancy. I
told the rector as my direct supervisor first.
I also called my bishop for good measure. I later let the vestry, who is the elected board of lay leaders, know, before officially announcing the pregnancy to the congregation. However, I didn’t expect most of these people not to tell others; only dead people can keep secrets.

Communicate your pregnancy in multiple venues multiple times.
say you have to communicate information a multitude of different ways
before people actually hear it, and, not too surprisingly, pregnancy is not an exception to this unfortunate rule. In an effort to be inclusive, I broke the news in a variety of ways. After I told the church’s leadership, I
wrote about it in the next church newsletter. I also mentioned pregnancy in at
least three sermons (if you think that seems excessive, just think of
all the sports sermons parishioners have had to endure over the years). Despite
these efforts, some parishioners still didn’t know by December, well into my third trimester. By that time, I figured I had done what I could.

Do your homework. Any addition to a family comes with an administrative side. Figure out your options for parental leave. Make sure the groundwork is being done to add another person to your insurance.

You’re not alone. Other women, and other young clergy women, have done this before you. We’re out there. There’s a mothers’ group in the ning community. Pick their brains!

I’m not an expert; feel free to leave other helpful hints in the comments.

8 replies
  1. Jodi
    Jodi says:

    This goes along with doing your homework, but be prepared for the unexpected. I work with another pastor, so maternity leave wasn’t going to be a huge problem for the congregation. However, the other pastor was going to have to be gone some weeks very near my due date, so we contacted some other clergy nearby to be on call if necessary for leading worship, etc. It was a very good thing we did, because my daughter was born a full month early.

  2. Steph
    Steph says:

    Once you do go public with your happy news, be prepared for the congregation members to consider your pregnancy as theirs – every detail of your experience, and your growing tummy will be considered public property. (this will lead into your child being considered theirs when he/she does arrive). Some careful and diplomatic boundry-making will probably be necessary!

  3. Heather Culuris
    Heather Culuris says:

    When I gave birth to our daughter, one of the elder men of the congregation I served then said, “Aren’t you glad those come in ONE SIZE FITS ALL?” (HE was meaning the robe I wore for worship)
    Our daughter was the church’s baby and still is…. I love the care that she has gotten from so many….
    We did wait also to tell the congregations at 3 months, but had 4 congregations to tell so we had to plan that carefully so no one felt slighted because they heard it last!
    Thankfully no one ever touched my belly, but I was asked every worship service if we knew if it was a boy or girl yet…

  4. Julia
    Julia says:

    You had already helped me a lot, Ann, but this article gave even more good advice! I just told my congregation last Sunday when I was at 14 weeks. Already wrote about it in the newsletter. I’m kind of worried about the “protective” overdrive in the congregation since my husband is going to be deployed to Iraq during the time that I’m due. So, to the council and the congregation and a few individuals, I’ve had to give some polite, but firm “I am still the pastor. Do not protect me from my job” speeches. Ultimately, I believe they’ll be very supportive and I’m afraid my child won’t learn to walk until he/she is 3 or 4, from everyone wanting to hold the baby.

  5. Joy
    Joy says:

    Told rector, told bishop, told congregation, mentioned the news in newsletter article…I found that the biggest issue leading up to the formal announcement was dealing with the possibility of a relative being less than discrete on facebook 🙂 Thanks for this article, I read it a few times in my first trimester!!

    • Erica Schemper
      Erica Schemper says:

      Laura: I interviewed while pregnant. The congregation I was departing knew I was going (it was a time-limited sort of call); the congregations I was interviewing with didn’t know. I handled it by not mentioning that I was pregnant during phone interviews. I wanted them to get to know me first on my professional merits. But then when I got to the point with any church where they wanted to meet in person, I would call the chair of the search committee and say, “I want you to give this information to the committee. And then get back to me.” What I found was that committees were really more interested in calling a person who was a good fit than a person to fill a position, and they were willing to put up with some maternity leave if it meant getting the right person for the call. If they were really bent out of shape about the prospect of me having a baby, it was kind of a warning sign. It was a great way to find out how comfortable a congregation would be with someone who was a mother and a pastor!


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