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?