Review: Clergy Moms


Momsinministry

Do not be fooled by its cover—a whimsical cartoon of a woman in full Episcopal clergy garb juggling a chalice and a baby as she walks a tightrope between her home and her church—Clergy Moms:  A Survival Guide to Balancing Family and Congregations—is anything but whimsical.  However, Clergy Moms is also not really a survival guide—only 21 pages are devoted to actual practical advice.  In fact, Clergy Moms is not even exclusively about clergy moms, but addresses all members of kinds of clergy families–“traditional” clergy wives, male clergy spouses, and same-sex clergy families.

The author, Allison M. Moore, an Episcopal Priest in Fort Lee, New Jersey, has written a descriptive and analytical book which draws on the research of Barbara Zikmund and others about the life of the clergy family.  The book is, frankly, terrifying.  But, maybe the book is only terrifying to those of us who have not yet had children and have not had to deftly juggle sick children and sermon writing, negotiate maternity leave and household chores, or be the primary caretaker for both a congregation and a family.  Moore uses anecdotes from clergy families she knows to illustrate the many tensions that abound for clergy who balance their families and churches.

Moore begins the book by naming the multiple meanings of call—particularly as it relates to one’s vocation and one’s family.  She then goes through a history of women’s ordination, and examines the cultural assumptions made about women and how those assumptions can affect the systems of both a clergy woman’s family and her church.  The tensions of being a clergywoman and mother are named, and then at the very end of the book some practical advice is given.

The strength of this book is its wide view—Moore has a very inclusive view on what constitutes a family.  She also takes a wide, analytic view of her subject matter—giving the reader a great deal of context—both historical and statistical.

The weaknesses of the book, to me, were wrapped up in its strengths.  Because Moore’s view of families is so inclusive, I lost the focus on clergy mothers.  I am glad she acknowledges that lay women married to clergymen, and gay couples have the same struggles as clergy women/mothers, but I opened the book looking for a particular subject matter and occasionally got lost in the multiple examples given. 

Perhaps I am being too Pollyanna here, but so many of the anecdotes and statistics  described in the book were rooted in stories of pain, I found myself wishing Moore had gathered more data from larger number of modern clergy moms so she could describe practices of families who do feel connected with one another.  I am a firm believe in sharing difficult stories, but I still long for positive examples of clergy women who manage to be mother and pastor while still retaining a sense of their identity and a sense of humor!

So, have you read Clergy Moms?  What did you think? What advice would you include in a book about being a clergy mom?


4 replies
  1. Katherine
    Katherine says:

    Thanks so much for this review, Sarah! I have this on my “to-read” list, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I think I’d have a hard time with the same things you mentioned – especially if the book focuses (almost) exclusively on painful experiences. I don’t think it’s Pollyannaish to believe there are healthy, thriving clergy families out there. We’ve certainly had plenty of struggles, but overall I think we’re doing okay.

    Reply
  2. Erica
    Erica says:

    I’m having one of those weeks when I’m not sure I can balance mom and clergy roles…
    …but even in the middle of a week like that, it’s not that bad. My kid will be fine. My church will be fine. And I’m sure Jesus will survive.
    Not to deny that there can be painful things about growing up in a clergy family, but there are good stories and healthy people from clergy families. I’m the daughter and granddaughter of ministers, I’m married to the son and grandson of ministers, and there have been some significant;y crappy experiences in both of our families, but I think we’re OK.
    That all said, I don’t know that I can add this to my to-read list because I am honestly just too darn exhausted! So thank you for the review!!!

    Reply
  3. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I’m a life purpose coach, a United Methodist clergywoman with 3 grown children who survived (and sometimes even thrived!) childhood, teenage and college years as I juggled 5 years of seminary, 20 years of church leadership and 6 years as program staff with The Greater NJ Annual Conference UMC. I would welcome the opportunity to hear your challenges as Moms in Ministry.

    Reply
  4. Beth
    Beth says:

    I’m sad to hear this review….I would have picked it up right away because of the lack of literature (or even advice books!) on the subject of particularly clergy moms. While I totally agree with paying attention to other groups who struggle with balancing ministry and family, I think that clergy who are also moms are unique and an emerging group in need of support and advice.
    I have been in ministry for eight years and a mom (including being pregnant) for seven of those. The advice I’d include is that at the end of the day, especially when serving a terribly needy congregation and a terribly needy baby at the same time (BTDT!), is that I regretted time not spent with my baby but I never regretted time not spent with my congregation. I didn’t shirk my duties by any means; I just gave my daughter’s schedule and needs priority over the congregation’s particular brand of crazy.
    And as far as practical advice goes, GET YOUR MATERNITY LEAVE POLICY (and any other policy, including “bring your baby to work”) in WRITING and signed by the council. While the baby’s still cooking/in the adoption process.
    It can be done…all that being said I love being a mom and a pastor, and wouldn’t trade either. I think my family is relatively happy and healthy, and I consider that one of my biggest accomplishments to date.

    Reply

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