female and male people sitting in wooden chairs with high bars and lower tables, a high ceiling with vintage lights hanging down and a large window with many panes in the background and buildings and greenery outside

That Awkward Moment: Making Small Talk as a YCW

female and male people sitting in wooden chairs with high bars and lower tables, a high ceiling with vintage lights hanging down and a large window with many panes in the background and buildings and greenery outsideWe don’t know each other well, but we’ve been chatting for awhile, maybe at a party, or at a playdate for our kids.

The subject of what we do for a living hasn’t come up yet, and we’re talking easily about other things. But then the time comes when we would normally talk about what we do for work and I don’t bring it up. You might wonder if it’s because I don’t work, whether I’m a stay at home mom or unemployed, so you think maybe you shouldn’t bring it up. But I can tell you want to tell me what you do for work and so I ask.

My hesitation is not because I don’t want to know what you do for work—I really do—but because I don’t want to answer it back. It’s not that I’m embarrassed by what I do for a living—quite the opposite, in fact—it’s just that once I tell you that I’m a priest, everything about our conversation is going to change.

The first thing you’ll do is apologize for swearing.
(It’s ok! I have actually heard those words before. In fact, I’ve even said them!)

You start scanning my face to see whether I’m judging everything you do.
(I’m not.)

Then you worry you’re offending me with things you say.
(You’re not.)

You start to wonder if you can ask me all the questions you suddenly have. And sometimes you ask. And I try to answer them honestly, usually refraining from the snarky ways I’d actually like to answer:

Do women priests even exist?
(Would you believe me if I told you I’m actually a hologram?)

Are you allowed to have sex?
(No. My three children sprung from my head like the children of Zeus!)

You might feel awkward talking about what I do for living at all and so you ask quickly what my husband does for a living. You learn he’s a teacher, and suddenly we have lots of things to talk about. Everyone likes talking about teachers. The conversation flows on from there.

But then, sometimes….

You ask me about God.  Read more

Worship Bloopers

In times of solemnity, we have all heard things or said things that were unintentionally hilarious.

I recently watched the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”  I found the romantic leads to be one-dimensional, and the movie wasn’t particularly funny, with the exception of one scene. Rowan Atkinson, a British actor most famous for depicting Mr. Bean on screen, is a nervous priest officiating one of the weddings. His scene had me hooting, and he ended his first prayer by saying, “…who reigns with you and the Holy Goat,” before self-correcting and saying “uh, er, Holy Ghost.”

The anxiety of Rowan Atkinson as priest is squirm-inducing and the wedding guests stare at him intently, their anxiety increasing as they await his next malapropism. He makes many, including asking the groom to repeat after him that he promises to take the bride “to be my awful wedded wife.” The groom modifies the words to say, “lawfully wedded wife.” “That’s right,” the priest admits, before rushing to end the service (and the end of his misery!) by concluding, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spigot …Spirit. Amen.”

Movies, of course, tend to hyperbolize the mistakes made by a character for comedic effect, but there was enough truth in that scene of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” to make it memorable to me. I’m sure many of us could share stories of things that we have heard or things we have said in times of solemnity that were unintentionally hilarious. One pastor told me that she accidentally called God “immoral” instead of “immortal.” One male colleague at my last church told me that he was ministering to a family before a funeral, and he suggested chlamydia as a good choice for the flower arrangement (unfortunately, chlamydia is not a flower; it’s an STD).

My Dad went to a wedding in the 1970s. The officiating pastor was elderly, and it was a hot August day, and there was no air-conditioning in the church. Who knows whether it was the heat, the pastor’s age, or some other factor, but the pastor was not with it. During the vows, the pastor said, “Do you, Larry…” and the matron-of-honor (who was the bride’s sister) whispered loudly to him, “Earl!  His name is Earl!” The pastor then said, “Do you, Larry Earl, take this woman, Edna…?” The bride’s name was Linda. No one corrected him this time, and everyone joked afterwards about whether the couple were actually married since the pastor never got their names right.

When my Grandpa Art turned 80 years old, his children and grandchildren gave him as a present a new suit. He wore it to church the following Sunday, and we all sat in the pew with him as the pastor said during the announcement time, “We’re so happy to see Art this morning in his birthday suit.” The pastor caught his mistake immediately, and he blushed deeply. The laughter that followed was not directed at him, however, but rather with him; the laughter was—as grace is—warm and generous. Grace abounds.

Because grace is abundant and laughter does us good, I invite you to share your own stories in the comments section below. What are some examples of verbal bloopers in your pastoral context?

“By the time you’re 35…” Young Clergy Women Edition

If you’re anywhere around age 35, you’ve probably heard by now that you should have twice your annual salary saved for retirement. You’ve likely also enjoyed the many responses to that sage advice, including the despair shared by a generation facing widespread financial uncertainty and a rapidly changing employment landscape. Young clergy women came up with our own list. Enjoy!

– By the time you’re 35, you should have had at least ten well-meaning people stop you and say something derogatory about your age. “I’m not calling you ‘mother,’ I have granddaughters your age.” “Thank you for your little talk [sermon] this morning!”

– By the time you’re 35, you should have at least 50 years of church experience.

– By the time you’re 35, you will have accrued more ordained experience than most male cardinal rectors, to your shock.

– By the time you’re 35, don’t worry. You’ll still be “a young person” for another 15 years.

– By the time you’re 35, you’ll still be told you “look like a teenager,” and are “too young to be a pastor,” but also hear “why you didn’t ever get married and/or have kids?” because obviously, you are too ancient to do that now.

– By the time you’re 35, you will have lived more years on this earth than Jesus Christ. Congratulations!

– By the time you’re 35, you should have published at least one book.

– By the time you’re 35, still no one will care what you say because you’re still a woman.

– By the time you’re 35, you should know at least five local male colleagues your age with your same level of experience who have larger, better-paying, or more prestigious calls than you…or are going to get another degree … who all are married, with three kids under the age of 6…. and who are writing a book.

– By the time you’re 35, you’ll see just how many of those male colleagues, especially ones who consider themselves to be feminists or allies with clergy women, don’t see a problem with the discrepancies between their careers and those of their female colleagues, or don’t think that the patriarchy benefitted has them in their careers.

– By the time you’re 35 you will have been ordained, had three pastoral positions, earned your PhD & written a book and people will still have problems with addressing you as ‘Rev’ and ‘Dr.’

– By the time you’re 35, you will not yet be old enough for congregation members to take you seriously, yet you will also be too old for denominational authorities to count you as one of those elusive and highly desired “young people.”

– By the time you’re 35 you should have moved eight times in your adult life.

– By the time you’re 35, you’ll have more books than nearly any non-clergy person you know.

– By the time you’re 35, you’ll have given up on the church/ministry at least three times and, yet, somehow, still love it.

– By the time you’re 35, you’ll know just how critical and unique Young Clergy Women International is for your own support and sustainability in this sometimes maddening, and yet rich and beautiful, calling.

Young Clergy Women Tell All: The Real Reasons We Became Pastors

“As the good book says… ‘let justice roll down like beeswax’”

There are lots of reasons to go into ministry: a feeling or experience of divine call, for instance. Or a deep desire to preach the gospel, equip the saints for the work of ministry, feed Jesus’ lambs and tend his sheep. An affinity for planning worship. A love of pastoral care.

But you know what? You’ve got our number. You figured us out. Here are the real reasons we became pastors, confessed by young clergy women, of many denominations and regions, speaking on condition of anonymity:

  • I became a pastor to head off controversies about whether or not corn tortillas are appropriate for communion.
  • I became a pastor so someone reliable could drive the church van.
  • I became a pastor so I could have tea with old ladies who like to endlessly ask me about my reproductive plans.
  • I became a pastor in order to run out and buy stamps and paper when we don’t have any in the office. I also became a pastor to fix toilets and shovel snow. And, I definitely became a pastor to recruit children (or if there aren’t any around, to create them out of nothingness) in order to fulfill 70-something-year-olds’ ideas of what Sunday School should be like.
  • I became a pastor so I could help my parishioners return things to Walmart without their receipt.
  • I became a pastor to ruin people’s church by singing “new” songs, including ones written in 1902.
  • I became a pastor so I could proofread everyone else’s work because apparently no one else cares about details or grammar.
  • I became a pastor so that I could coordinate vacatio- I mean, mission trips for the youth that absolutely MUST include a trip to an amusement park.
  • I became a pastor to annoy and distract people with my voice, bangs, clothes, lipstick, and children.
  • Three words: Boiler. Repair. Discussions.
  • One word: Casseroles.
  • I became a pastor so I could debate which one God loves more: beeswax or stearine candles. The debate is over which sort of solid candle to get: 51% stearine vs. 100% beeswax. Apparently God hates anything that isn’t pure beeswax. As the good book says, ”I hate, I despise your solemn assemblies when you burn stearine on the altar… let justice roll down like beeswax.”
  • I became a pastor so people would tell me how nice my hair looks.
  • I became a pastor because I needed the constant confusing affirmation that my bangs look much better THIS week.
  • I became a pastor because I cannot be trusted to make decisions about my hair, makeup, clothing or family all by myself. I obviously need six hundred opinions on all these topics. All the time.
  • I became a pastor so I could google things for people who “don’t do” the internet.
  • I became a pastor so old clergymen could steal my good hangers from the vesting room every time there is an ecclesiastical event.
  • I became a pastor so I could write a newsletter article every month that almost nobody will actually read, even though everyone reads the newsletter.
  • Speaking of which, I became a pastor so I could spend lots of time preaching sermons to people who won’t apply what I’m trying to impart. Futility is my jam.
  • I became a pastor because I secretly harbored a desire to do half of our office administrator’s job each week.
  • I became a pastor because I wanted to always have the final say in heated arguments about Christmas wreaths and tablecloth colors. Also, so I could teach people deep spiritual truths every day. And by deep spiritual truths, I mean how to use the copier.
  • I became a pastor so I could disappoint people by the fact that I am not Jesus.
  • I became a pastor to try creative things in worship, inspire people to Christ, and to preach theologically-sound sermons that I’ve exegeted thoroughly. Just kidding! I became a pastor so someone would live in the manse next door and provide access to a plunger when the church needed one.
  • I became a pastor to cancel events when nobody signs up.
  • I became a pastor because I was worried I’d become too confident in my own competence.
  • I became a pastor in order to micromanage the placement and removal of renters’ furniture.
  • I became a pastor to make sure nobody uses our tables and chairs, coffee pots and roasters. Because what kind of Christians would we be if we shared or resources with our community?

Okay, let’s get real. Here’s the real reason I became a pastor: so I could have awkward conversations on airplanes for the rest of my life.

What I Really Want: Christmas Letters from Young Clergy Women

Humorous YCW Christmas letters bring comic relief during a time of stress.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my Young Clergy Women colleagues gave to me: laughter and solidarity.

A particular brand of stress befalls those of us who are working for Jesus as the world celebrates his birth. It’s a bit like working the roller coaster line at an amusement park. The folks who climb into the cars and buckle up get to scream and raise their hands as they enjoy the thrill of the ride. But for the person who checks to make sure the safety bars are locked in place (an important job—but a monotonous one), the roller coaster loses some of its luster.

And so it is that for many young clergy women, Advent and Christmas are filled with…wonder? No. Joy? Not exactly. Peace? Not even close. Try: to-do lists. Long to-do lists and longer hours at work fill our ever-shortening days, not to mention the calendar-crowding holiday parties and social events we’re expected to attend in our “official” capacity as clergy. In the midst of the holiday hustle, we struggle to find quality time with our own families even as we are setting the stage for other families to worship together. We yearn to behold the baby in the manger—to rest and reflect and contemplate the one who called us into this life of service—and yet, his coming means that there are liturgies to plan, tinsel angel wings to repair, homilies to write, candles with plastic wax catchers to order.

Most of us wouldn’t trade this holy work. We wouldn’t trade visiting families who are experiencing grief and tragedy that are somehow magnified by the sparkling lights of Christmas. We wouldn’t trade thoughtfully preparing worship services that offer a space for the people in the pews to sing with angels and kneel beside shepherds and wise men.

But while we would not have Advent and Christmas any other way, we need humor to keep going. So for these seasons that come bearing both good tidings and great stress, er, I mean, joy, The Young Clergy Women Project offers a fun (and educational!) list—What I Really Want for Christmas: Christmas Letters from Young Clergy Women. (Names and minor details have been omitted or changed to protect the innocent.) Read more