Throughout seminary, I knew several women who were single mothers and facing the surmounting task of ordination, exams and sermon preparation. Their diligence to their calling and their family always impressed me. They never claimed it was easy. However, the idea of single women choosing to become mothers without a partner was never even discussed. As women have finally gained a place as pastors among us, it is time to discuss the ideas of single clergy and the role of motherhood. Perhaps it is past time.
A recently published book, Reverend Mother, by Eron Henry discusses the emerging topic of single female clergy becoming mothers. In an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner, he said that he was “intrigued by this topic because some years ago I was faced with a similar pastoral question. One of my outstanding young female leaders in her 20s asked if it was okay to have a baby by artificial insemination [while single].”
The fictional account follows the main character Nora, through childhood, to school, to her experience in the church and eventually to her decision to be ordained. As she moves forward in ministry and attends one of the conferences of her denomination, her decision to have a baby as a single clergywoman is examined in front of a denominational committee.
Nora and the committee go back and forth with arguments over her choice to move forward with having a child. Perhaps one of the most poignant statements is in her initial defense of why having a baby is her personal choice.
Nora turns to the committee after being asked if she wants to say something and shares the following, “The church has been dictating to us for too long without exercising the patience of listening to us. We’re [women] treated as second class citizens by the church whose leaders have overwhelmingly been male. Even in this committee here today, there’s not even one female to express a view as to whether what I’m doing is right or wrong, good or bad.”
What this book and this specific quotation points us to is the continual conversation surrounding women, sexuality and religion. As more and more women and specifically single female clergy are beginning to examine the possibility to having a child or adopting a child, the church must begin to have these conversations. How is the church supportive in a situation like this? What are the conversations that need to be had? Has your denomination or local church issued a statement on this very topic?
As the concept of family continues to be redefined and broadened in way to recognize all of our God-created forms of love, this is another aspect of family, which will need attention. How do you think the church can respond?