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Wear the Red Dress

I will wear red.
I will wear the red dress, even though
you will talk behind your hands to
wonder out loud –
what is she wearing
why is she wearing that
is that even appropriate
should a [insert literally anything here] be wearing that.
I will wear red.
I will wear the red dress
because you will notice something or other about me anyway
My haircut
My breasts
My ass
My legs
My shoes
My weird laugh
My voice that’s too high.
I will wear red
like the tree last to shed her leaves
that hussy show-off
she burns as her leaves die, her falling apart
is absolutely stunning.
She sheds her death like a skin
a beacon, a burning bush.
I will wear red like her.
I will wear red.

Me Too

silencing women

It started appearing on the Sunday afternoon in the week after the story about Harvey Weinstein broke. A simple Facebook post that caught me off guard and made me suddenly unable to breathe. It said:

Me, too.

If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.  #MeToo  

Please copy/paste.

There wasn’t just one or two or three. I stopped counting at 10. Most of these were posted by colleagues and friends who are also pastors.

I did not copy and paste. I did not add my voice to the mix. I have shared my story in the safety of Young Clergy Women International groups and with close friends and colleagues. But to make it a status…well, that would change everything.

I’m looking for a job. Will this influence employers who may see it? Will my former Head of Staff (who, for the record, was not the perpetrator, and whom I never told) figure out which member had sexually harassed me on numerous occasions? Would those who worked with me at my former church know? Would members figure it out? What would my friends think? These and a million other questions swirled through my mind as I read and reread the words “me too” and my mind flashed back to those awful moments I, like too many women, have endured. Read more

women protesting

Young Clergy Women, on Strike or Not

women protesting

Women Protesting

On March 8, 2017, in observance of International Women’s Day, activists called for American woman to strike from paid and unpaid labor, or to participate by joining a protest rally, not shopping or supporting women owned businesses, or simply wearing red to show support for women.

Clergy women made many different decisions about how to observe the day. The question for many came down to the nature of their work, family life, and questions about what the strike might accomplish. Fidelia’s asked them about their decisions. Read more

Young Clergy Women on Marching

On Saturday, January 21, young clergy women participated in the Women’s March on Washington, DC, and in sister marches all over the world. We’ve gathered some of their reflections on these events.

On the visibility of being clergy

  • I intentionally wore my collar to serve as a public witness as a faith leader: I had a conversation with a woman my age who has an advanced degree in Hebrew literature and Scripture, but did not go on to be a rabbi because she didn’t have female role models. She expressed gratitude that I was showing young women today that they, too, may be called to lead faith communities.
  • A reporter interviewed me and another clergywoman, and was surprised to hear that we were pastors. “Wait, you’re Christian, but you’re at this march?” I explained that I was marching because of my faith, not in spite of it: part of my baptismal call is to follow the example of Jesus, serve others, and strive for justice and peace for all.
  • I wore a collar to show that young women clergy exist, and that Christians stand for love and justice. My husband observed that when photographers saw a young woman in a collar, they ran over to snap a picture. It was interesting to notice how young women clergy were “desirable optics” for a reporter’s narrative. I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about that.
  • I had planned to wear my collar, but I start a new job next week at a non-profit that is primarily donor funded, and is supported broadly by churches and synagogues across theological and political spectrums. While I wanted deeply to participate, I also didn’t want my collar to get me on the front page of something and alienate church folks in a new city before I get to know them.
  • I marched beside my mother, also a clergy woman. I wore my collar because the reason why I march is my faith and my role as a faith leader: I was marching for congregation members who are queer and don’t feel comfortable being out at church; for undocumented parishioners who have sought help but come up against roadblocks; for the woman who had an abortion when she learned her much-wanted baby would not live and was in pain.
  • I marched with a group of fellow clergy women wearing matching jackets that said “Nasty Clergy Women.” The comments ranged from “Pray for me sisters!” to “I’m not religious, but that I could get on board with!”

Read more

tall pulpit with lighted, round sound board above it

Living, Breathing Woman Minister: A Review of Karoline Lewis’s She

tall pulpit with lighted, round sound board above it

Empty Pulpit

Five minutes into the ice cream social at my first ministry call, an older woman walked up to me, smiled, and introduced herself. Shaking my hand, she said: “You seem like a really nice woman, and I loved your sermon. I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be coming back, because I don’t believe in woman ministers.”

It happened so fast I almost didn’t register what was going on. My first instinct (thankfully, an instinct I swallowed) was a snarky reply: “Who knew that woman ministers belonged in the same category as ghosts, Santa Claus, and the monster hiding under my daughter’s bed?” Was I somehow optional, such that people could choose to believe in me or not, even though I was standing right there in front of her, smiling and holding her hand and saying, “It’s nice to meet you, too!”

Of course, that isn’t what she meant at all. This woman stood in a long line of individuals who, maliciously or otherwise, and often with a smile on their face, have diminished and denied women’s ministry and leadership. She was right there behind the Bible study leader who teaches that women should be silent; faith traditions that have ignored women’s contributions; pastors who steered women away from service to the Board of Trustees and towards the Christian Education committee because they are “better with children;” and parents who have taught their daughters that good little girls are quiet and sweet.

What I didn’t realize until I was a living, breathing Woman Minister, was just how much my gender would impact my ministry. Knowing what I know now, I wish that I had had the opportunity to read a book like Karoline Lewis’s She: Five Keys to Unlocking the Power of Women in Ministry back when I was still piecing together my pastoral identity. Read more

My Sisters, the Ghostbusters

345487149_9a3d3e1b2a_zWhen the Ghostbusters reboot was announced, I was pretty sure I’d want to see it, at least when it came out on streaming: I love the first movie. But when the hullaballoo over an all-female cast hit social media, I knew I’d be there with bells on. Even if the stars had been women other than Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig, all of whom I find incredibly funny, I was ready to support my sisters in this movie.

I say “sisters” deliberately, because for about a decade now, I’ve been convinced that comedy has become the dominant secular prophetic voice in North America. Depending on which sociologist you consult, I’m either a very young Gen Xer or a very old Millennial, and for people in my age bracket, the desk of a comedy host (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, SNL “Weekend Update”) has become the closest thing there is to a pulpit. And I feel a special kinship with the current generation of female comedians who, if they’re not my sisters, are at least my cousins.

And if a group of men were going to get cranky about the Ghostbusters cast as women? Well, you’ve got to support family. Count me in for opening night! Read more

On Catherine of Siena: An Interview with Shelley Emling, Author of Setting the World on Fire

setting the world on fireYou’re not a Roman Catholic, but you just wrote a book on one of the church’s most beloved saints. Why did you choose to write about a saint, and why Catherine of Siena?

I’ve made a habit of writing about strong, interesting women. I wrote a book about Mary Anning, a fossil hunter in the 1700s. I also wrote a book about Marie Curie after meeting with her granddaughter. My publisher and I were talking about the popularity of the current pope and she asked if I’d ever be interested in writing a contemporary, secular book about a Roman Catholic saint. She recommended Catherine of Siena. To be honest, I had barely heard of her and wasn’t too keen on the idea initially. But then some bizarre things happened. I got lost one day in my car and found myself in the parking lot of the St. Catherine of Siena school in a town near my own hometown – a school I had never noticed before. Anyway, I thought maybe someone was trying to tell me something and so I decided to delve in and write the book. And I’m glad I did. In addition, I have a lot of Roman Catholic friends but had never really had a conversation with any of them before about saints. When I started asking around, many of them told me that Catherine of Siena was their favorite saint. My respect for their opinion also inspired me to write about her.

Read more

Lena Dunham

Lenny Letter, for a Bigger World

Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham

In my world as a solo minister, the line between work and play, home and church, is blurry and indistinct. Every book I pick up has the potential to become part of my adult education lesson. Bedtime stories with my sons often translate into children’s messages. Baking cookies is both relaxing and a great way to liven up a stewardship meeting. No matter what movie I’m watching or magazine I’m perusing, the search for sermon fodder is always lurking there in the back of my mind. I love that all of my interests speak with one another, and are in dialogue with my calling.

So, it should come as no surprise that the books I’m reading, my podcast list, the magazines on my coffee table (when they’re actually stacked there and not knocked to the floor by my kids), and my Netflix queue are each full of an array of genres and stories. I’ll take in almost anything written, spoken, or acted, so long as it’s done with integrity and an eye toward the human experience.

My new favorite read is a weekly newsletter called The Lenny Letter. Read more

Coattail Justice

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

My early morning running buddy and I, both of us committed Democrats, have an ongoing dialogue about Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate: she is adamant that Hillary is the best choice for the Democrats in 2016. I’ve always countered with, “I don’t know. There’s something dynastic about it: it feels un-American to me for a family to have two shots at the White House.” We’ve been able to get a good half-mile out of this conversation several times in the past couple of years.

So, when Hillary Clinton finally announced her candidacy in April, I was surprised by my reaction to the news: I really want Hillary to win this one. The fact that my daughters will grow up regularly seeing women (me and others as well) as religious leaders brings tears to my eyes. I’m ready to feel that way about a woman president, even if she may have gotten a boost from a small dynasty, because sometimes justice begins with factors that level the playing field.

I was among the first 25 women ordained to ministry in the small Reformed denomination I grew up in. I graduated from seminary with a class of 55 M.Div students, only five of whom were female. We were still healing from three decades of fighting over women’s ordination. Occasionally, we were still fighting. Most of my professors and classmates were supportive. But there were times when it was a very hard place to be a woman. And through the whole process of education and call and ordination, my female colleagues and I had to take our advantages where we could find them.

Many of us were given scholarships by a group that had been pushing for women’s ordination. We often came back from weekend preaching assignments to report to each other that we had been the first female to step into the pulpit in a particular congregation. And when we were ready to look for church calls, we had to read between the lines to figure out which few congregations were truly open to considering women.

A good number of us were pastor’s daughters. I kept my maiden name when I got married a few months before I started seminary for a number of reasons, one of them professional. If I kept my last name, I would be the third “Rev. Schemper” in the denomination. And while my father is among the more liberal ministers in his generation, my grandfather was widely respected in more conservative circles. I figured it couldn’t hurt, if I was ever in a sticky church-polity match up between liberals and conservatives, to have the name as a reminder that “Reverend Schemper” was my grandfather.

The church where I did my first internship received grant money on the condition that they accept a female intern. There were several of us who spent a summer pastoring this tiny church that could never have afforded an intern, but the fact that the church was granted money was kept quiet because it looked unseemly.

A few of my friends were able to ease into a first call because their also-clergy-husband took a co-pastoring position with them, and it was perhaps just a little easier for a church to call its first woman-pastor when they were also calling her husband.

Sometimes I wondered if it was unseemly to take these advantages. Shouldn’t I just be breaking ground on my own merits? But there were plenty of obstacles, and to be honest, I was perfectly willing to grasp onto a few coattails if it meant an easier ride into the call to ministry. However, if anyone had suggested to me that any of my female classmates were making it through the ordination process only by working these so-called advantages, I would absolutely bristle. They were strong preachers, had wonderful pastoral care skills, could mediate their way through difficult conversations, and were so certain of their sense of call (you wouldn’t put yourself through this if you weren’t). I couldn’t be prouder to be part of such an amazing cohort of strong women.

And this is what I’m coming to understand about HIllary Clinton. It would be dishonest to claim that she doesn’t gain advantages from having been first lady. But even with that boost, whether you agree with her politics or not, there’s no doubt that she has qualifications and accomplishments that are all her own.

Sometimes, as women who are breaking ground, we do ride a few coattails. But it shouldn’t diminish who we are and the validity of what we are called to do. I’ve extended that grace to myself when I think about my own path to ministry, and I’m ready to extend it to Hillary as well.