“Out of the Bathroom, Into the World”

The author (bottom left) and her youngest daughter (top right) pose with Board Members of Young Clergy Women International, 2017.

“You need to develop a pastoral identity. It comes with time. Don’t worry, it will come.”

One of my dearest seminary professors told us this over and over, and I believed him. It would come: I would be able to see myself as a pastor, the more time I spent learning, watching other pastors, performing pastoral tasks myself.

The problem was this: there were precious few pastors who looked like me. I went to the seminary of a denomination that was early in its process (lo, these many years ago, way back in 1999) of ordaining women to ecclesiastical office, a denomination that had resolved its differences for the time by allowing a provisional, regionally based version of women’s ordination. There were 55 students in my MDiv class. Only 5 were women. There was one woman on the faculty of my seminary, and she wasn’t ordained herself. By the time I finished seminary and was ordained, there were fewer than two dozen ordained women in my denomination, and precious few who had, like me, gone straight through college and seminary into ministry as their first career.

During those four years of seminary, the safest place to think about myself as a pastor was the women’s bathroom. The seminary building, designed mid-twentieth century with exclusively male seminarians in mind, had no women’s bathrooms in the area where the classrooms were located. But over by the administrative offices, there was a large women’s restroom with an attached women’s lounge, a holdover from a time when the only women in the building were secretaries. That was the safe place for the handful of us women who were students. I laughed and cried and hoped and dreamed with my classmates in that space. We were honest there, most honestly ourselves, but we had to put up a facade when we left the bathroom lounge.

And so the bathroom was really the only place at my seminary where I could work on my pastoral identity as a female.

I learned to be a woman pastor in that bathroom. But I still had a murky picture of my own identity, because I had precious few places to look for examples. Read more

Pastor in the Pew

When I let it slide into conversation that I am a pastor, the natural follow-up question is, “Where’s your congregation?” For me right now, that answer requires extra explanation. I am a “pastor in the pew,” a phrase I am not entirely sure I am, but may be, coining. My national church body’s term for my status is “on leave from call for family reasons,” but in plain language, I am staying home with the kids for awhile. I do not believe at all that everyone should (even if they can, financially) do this, but for me and my family many factors converged at once to make this option the right choice for now.

I’m not alone. Others become “pastors in the pew” by going into specialized ministries as chaplains or counselors, by serving camp ministries or non-profits, by going to graduate school, by becoming professors or synod/regional church staff, or by retiring. No matter the method, there we are: in the pews of congregations of which we are not the pastor.

There in the pew, we hold the specialized education of seminary and also gifts and insights into various kinds of ministries developed through experience. We carry the confidence and wounds of being deeply embedded in congregational life. All of those gifts can benefit the congregation if noticed and stewarded by the thoughtful pastoral leaders in whose flocks we bleat. My skills for ministry continue to be useful. But what of my identity as “pastor?”

My church body does not ordain pastors until they have received a call from a congregation (only rarely to specialized ministry first), and we imbue the “call process” with spiritual weight, believing that the call of the Church is the action of the Holy Spirit herself. As I sit in the pew, I am plagued by the notion that if I am not actively leading a congregation, my call as a pastor comes into question. I ask again and again: how might I best be a faithful pastor in the pew? Read more

All of the Fun, None of the Work?

“All of the fun, none of the work.”

It’s the phrase I frequently hear from clergy when I tell them that I’m an Associate Rector. It’s the “truth-in-jest” description of associate clergy. You don’t have the highest level of responsibility and the buck doesn’t stop with you, so you don’t have to deal with the majority of the “work” or “business” of the church: personnel, conflict, roof repairs, fund raising, etc. I used to make this joke myself and laugh along with it, as if to say, “I know how good I have it – my job is the easy one!” I played along with the jab that being an associate pastor is like riding a bike with training wheels, a learning position where one prepares oneself to be able to handle the real responsibility of the “grown-up world” of ministry.

But you know what? This joke represents a highly problematic and diseased vision of church leadership, and I both resent and reject it. The claim that being an associate is “all of the fun, none of the work,” implies that a senior clergyperson does all of the work (and, perhaps, has none of the fun). It is “work” that one is supposed to aspire to do as one grows into positions of greater responsibility and scope  – and this “work” is generally non-pastoral. That is to say, it has little to do with the spiritual formation, nurture, and empowerment of the flock of Christians in one’s care. It’s all the stuff you “didn’t learn in seminary”- hiring and firing personnel, budgetary decisions, fund raising, reviewing proposals for roof repairs, approving the layout of the annual giving brochure. In contrast, associate clergy tend to have responsibilities that lean toward pastoral care, worship, outreach, advocacy, and Christian education – in other words, areas clergy are trained for in seminary. The unfortunate and unspoken belief this reveals begs a disturbing question: Does that mean that, deep down, churches (and the clergy who lead them) don’t view pastoral work as real work?

Many would immediately argue that “all of the fun, none of the work” simply means that associate clergy don’t bear the burden of the responsibility that falls on senior clergy, and this is mostly due to the hierarchical nature of the senior/associate clergy relationship. Indeed, many associate clergy would report that the majority of weddings, funerals, baptisms, and preaching falls on the senior clergy. Yet most associate clergy would probably also report being responsible for many areas that senior clergy don’t touch at all: youth ministry, Christian education, family ministry, outreach and advocacy.

This brings to light two major problems:

1)  Education, youth, advocacy, outreach, and pastoral care are often treated as too unimportant for the senior clergyperson to handle. Whenever “all of the fun, none of the work” means ministry to youth, families, the sick and homebound, the bereft, and those on the margins, it speaks volumes about how little the church values those people.

2) It falsely links specific skill sets with levels of importance in church leadership and administration. Overseeing Sunday School and Christian Education? The associate clergy, or a layperson with some sort of seminary or religious training, can do that. Clerical matters, like sacramental and pastoral ministry (weddings, funerals, baptisms, hospital visits, etc.)? Associates can do some of that. But when it comes to the real heavy lifting? Balancing budgets, hiring personnel, and running the business – well, that’s for the grown-ups. That’s for the senior clergy. Read more

Marmot tent lit up at night

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Traveling Pastor Edition

Marmot tent lit up at nightDear Askie,

Our pastor is part of your Young Clergy Women Project organization. She’s going to your conference this summer, which I think is great. The problem is that I just heard that she’s also planning on taking two weeks of vacation this summer, and I think she also took a week of vacation in the winter. I guess I’m confused. Doesn’t that make four weeks of vacation, and don’t people normally just get two? She also seems to take a lot of time off of work – often when I call the church she isn’t there, and I don’t think she’s ever been in on any Monday I’ve called. Askie, can you help me understand what’s going on? I thought pastors are supposed to work a lot, so what gives?

Confused Congregant

Read more

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Solo-to-Senior Edition

Dear Askie,
Help! After serving for years as a solo pastor, I’ve been called to a senior pastorate, at a church with an associate pastor (she is, as it happens, a somewhat-younger-than-me clergy woman). Yay! I’m excited about the possibilities this new call holds, but a bit concerned about working with an associate pastor for the first time. I’ve supervised staff in my previous churches, but never had a colleague in pastoral ministry. And I’ve heard so many stories about terrible senior pastors who make the associate pastor’s life miserable, I don’t want to mess this up! What do I do?
Rookie HOS

medium_6726325417Dear Rookie,
Simply asking this question is a great first step! I’d be willing to bet that the terrible heads of staff you’ve heard stories about approach their supervisory roles with much less circumspection.
Have you worked with any heads of staff you held in high esteem? Maybe you had a wonderful supervisor in a seminary internship? Or was there a wise senior pastor colleague in a local ministerial association at a previous position? Askie can offer some general rules and guidelines, but the senior-associate relationship is very much a matter of individual personalities and styles, so do try to have some conversations with trusted advisors who know you and your leadership style as you continue to step into this new role.
Also, have you had much of a chance to get to know the associate pastor yet? I hope that your new congregation made sure that the two of you spent time with each other during the interview process (lay leaders, take note). If not, you’ve got a phone call to make! As the two of you get to know each other, make sure to have some conversations about your respective personalities, gifts, growing edges, work habits, and conflict styles. If she’s been there much longer than you, she has key information about your new congregation and its culture, so use her as a resource.
A lot of specifics depend on your respective roles, and on your congregation and its polity – is the associate pastor a generalist, or does she specialize in certain areas? Are you supposed to be her supervisor, or do you both report to a personnel committee or judicatory body? Regardless, here are a few guidelines that hold true in a wide variety of settings:
Treat her as a pastor and a colleague, and make sure your congregation sees her that way too! Great senior pastors empower their associate pastors to do ministry. Make sure that she is seen presiding at the communion table and the baptismal font, at weddings and at funerals. Give her opportunities to preach, and not just on Labor Day and “low Sunday,” when the church is empty anyway. Leave her truly in charge on your vacation and your day off. Speak affirmingly of her ministry, and refer to her as “one of the pastors,” not as “my associate” or (heaven forfend) “my assistant.”
Give credit where credit is due. As the senior pastor, you have the challenge and blessing of crafting a vision for your congregation. When things go poorly, you will be blamed; when they go well, you will hopefully be lauded. When something goes well that was actually the associate pastor’s doing, remember to give her credit! (Extra bonus HOS points if, when she messes up, you can help her to save face.)
Don’t micromanage, but do stay connected. Give her space to take ownership of her areas of ministry, but don’t let the fear of micromanaging keep you from checking in and asking questions. Each of your ministries will be stronger if you’re in regular communication. Ideally, you’ll be able to build a mutually supportive, collaborative relationship, but regardless, you each need to have a general sense of what the other one is up to. Set up a standing weekly meeting, if possible, or drop by her office on a regular basis (but don’t expect her to be at your beck and call).
We’ve all heard horror stories of overbearing, authoritative, patronizing heads of staff, and none of us wants to repeat their mistakes. Remember, though, that we young clergy women tend to be more likely to err on the side of being too easy-going, too non-confrontational, too meek. You’ve been called to lead, sister, so don’t be afraid to claim your authority when necessary – to graciously and compassionately hold people accountable, offer vision and direction, and give feedback, in your relationship with the associate pastor and elsewhere. It’s your role, your job, and your calling, so claim it with humility, but without apology.
Blessings to you, your new congregation, and the associate pastor as you begin your ministry together!

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Toxic Church Edition

Dear Askie,

I am currently serving in a church that is best described as toxic. The staff is dysfunctional, the personnel committee seems to be disinterested in creating a work environment that is nurturing, anytime I bring up any concern I’m automatically shut down, and I am fed up. I have been searching for jobs for many months now but am having a difficult time. I am starting to realize I may be stuck here for a while. What can I do in the meantime to survive my toxic work environment? Or should I just run for the hills?


Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

toxicYou are not the only one. Unfortunately, all too many young clergy women are trying to serve Christ and his church in the midst of dysfunctional work environments. While we shouldn’t regard such situations as normal or acceptable, Askie fears that toxic congregations will probably be part of the lives of some pastors until kingdom come.

You’re wise to search for a new call, and Askie urges any YCW in a toxic setting to keep an updated resumé, Ministerial Profile, PIF, or whatever your denominational equivalent might be. Even if you feel called to stick it out (or are compelled to do so by your familial or financial circumstances), toxic churches have been known to turn unexpectedly on their pastors. So even if you’re not ready to pack your bags just yet, be prepared.
All that said, here are a few strategies for surviving until you’re able to move on:

  • Build (and use) a strong support network: This is important for all of us, but especially so in an environment like yours, where you can’t expect support from colleagues and lay leadership. You may want to work with a spiritual director, a therapist, a life coach, a mentor, or all of the above! Be intentional about nurturing friendships both with clergy colleagues in other settings and with non-clergy friends. Online community (like the TYCWP Facebook group) can be a great source of support as well, although it shouldn’t replace the personal, incarnational support we all need.
  • Be attentive to your spiritual life: When God is your job and your job is awful, your spiritual life sometimes takes a hit. Don’t let them do that to you, sister. Make sure to intentionally care for your soul in this season of your ministry. Could you find an evening or weekday worship service that you can attend from time to time? Carve out more time for prayer? Read books that nourish your soul?
  • Do your homework: If you haven’t studied family systems theory, now would be the time to start! Understanding how systems work can help you figure out how to survive in yours. You might gain some insight about how the system is working, a strategy about how to change the system and your role in it (hint: probably non-anxious presence), or a reminder that interactions that feel very hurtful often have little or nothing to do with you personally. Friedman’s Generation to Generation is a classic starting point, but there are plenty of great resources out there. You may want to look for a course or conference to help you dig deeper, as well.
  • Feed the function: Thankfully, even the most dysfunctional church usually has a few bright spots. See if you can identify the parts of your church that are healthy and put lots of your energy there. Affirming and supporting the healthiest areas of your church’s life helps them to grow… and not only is it good ministry, it’s also life-giving for you!
  • Put on your own oxygen mask first: There are people whom you will never be able to make happy, even if you work twenty-four hours a day and cater to their every whim. So do what it takes to keep yourself healthy physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Get outdoors, take a yoga class, enjoy good chocolate or coffee or wine. Binge-watch some fluffy television from time to time. Spend time with family or friends. Take all of your vacation, and your days off. Sabbath is a commandment, not a suggestion, so don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about it!
  • Find some distance: When Askie is at the absolute end of her rope with some bit of petty church drama, she imagines what a great chapter it will make in her memoir someday. That’s my trick, but you’re welcome to use it, or find one that works for you… something that helps you to step back, to disengage emotionally a bit, and to remember that in a few months or years, this will all be over. When it is, I hope you will find yourself with some hard-won new skills, some outrageous stories, and your integrity. Keep the faith, sister.

Wishing you deep peace and a speedy exit,

Shards of Hope

Permission March 2014“Do you think that somehow God doesn’t already know? That you’ve pulled a fast one over on God? I don’t know a lot about you, but I know this: our God, who created you, who somehow manages to be three persons and also one at the same time, sees you, knows you, loves you, and highly regards you. As you are.”  

Pastor Ray (Name Changed)

Those may have been the most grace-filled words ever spoken to me. Could it be possible that exactly as I am, broken as I feel, I am made in the image of God? Could it be possible that God doesn’t just know about my brokenness, but knows my multifaceted experience, and still loves and highly regards me?

Or should I say, us? That, after all, more accurately reflects my experience and my internal dialogue. What I call “me” is really a collection of many pieces of myself who live within me. These ‘others’ have their own memories, experiences, belief systems, and ways of making meaning. They even have their own names. Sometimes, we all get along. More often, our conflicting worldviews and belief systems collide within us, challenging us to find an integrated way of living. The official name for this is Dissociative Identity Disorder. (You can read more about that here.)

In spite of the multiplicity of voices that make up my experience, this oft feared, misunderstood mental health challenge leaves me feeling alone. I’m learning to feel comfortable talking about the peripheral issues: depression, anxiety, being an incest survivor, etc. Still, I fear talking about this one. I am afraid to tell anyone about my diagnosis. I am afraid to tell people how challenging it is to live and to minister this way. I am afraid of what people will think and say. Will my bishop decide it’s too risky for me to serve a congregation? Will my congregation react with fear or horror or morbid curiosity? Will my friends think I’m crazy? If they really know me, will they stop loving me?

Fear and silence shroud my whole life. The cloistered secrecy that pervaded my childhood made my disorder possible (and necessary). As an adult, I push back against these walls. I stretch to characterize my life with confidence, honesty, and integrity. And yet, still I am afraid. Still I have a secret. The deepest, most painful secret possible: who I really am.

Carrying this secret exhausts me, which is why I sought out Pastor Ray that day. Tired of feeling afraid for my job, tired of feeling alone in the world, tired of feeling overwhelmed and suicidal, I sought out someone I believed might bring me good news. I told my secret. I explained what I believe: God didn’t mean for my life to be this way. God didn’t create me with the intention that I would have ‘others’ inside of me. I am this way because of what happened to me. Fundamentally, I believe that I am different in my soul than God originally intended. Then, I explained what I fear: God couldn’t possibly know about these ‘others’ and love me. Their very existence must mean that we’re meant to be alone. Ultimately, I fear that because I am not who God created me to be, I should not even be alive.

I sat quietly trembling in Pastor Ray’s office, waiting for his response. He didn’t recoil, didn’t appear horrified, didn’t ask questions. He just said that. “Do you think that somehow God doesn’t already know?…” Something broke loose inside of me. I began to breathe again. Streams of colored light began to play deep within my soul, as though someone had turned on the light behind a stained glass window.

This should not have been surprising. After all, I don’t believe in a God who created a world where evil ‘got in’ and can never be redeemed. I believe that our creation & garden stories bear witness to a God who does not cause sin and brokenness, or ignore it, or punish it. Rather, I believe these stories speak of a God who constantly invites us to take part in God’s redemptive work. God gently holds our brokenness with an invitation to work together to create unfathomable beauty. Just as a stained glass window transforms broken shards of glass into a single beautiful piece of art, so God works with us and our brokenness to create ever more complex, beautiful artwork. Brokenness doesn’t ruin the art, it is the art.

What really surprised me that day was that the light shone from within me. Somehow, God’s light was already present behind my broken soul. Somehow, in spite of my fear, I had never really been alone. Somehow, pulling together the painful gashes that separate pieces of my soul, God could still create beauty from my brokenness. Somehow, God could still bring me hope.

I know that many people live with mental illness. Many people live exhausted from keeping secrets in fear. Many people believe that something about them makes them fundamentally unlovable, unknowable, and disdainful to God. So often, I feel that I must be the only person (or at least, the only clergyperson) in the world who struggles in these ways. I also know that isn’t actually true, even when I feel most abandoned and alone. Every person’s life experience is unique, and anyone can feel completely alone even if they’re not. That is, even though they’re not. So I know, even when I feel most alone, I am not. I cling to the hope that even God lives as three-in-one. And God’s light shines, even when I can’t see it.

I still don’t have the courage to share my story openly. I still wonder what would happen if my bishop or my congregation learned about my diagnosis. I still think carefully about which friends might be safe to tell and how they might respond. I even still wonder, sometimes, if God’s promises hold true for me. At the same time, I ask God to nurture the brightness within me. I seek places where it can be seen. And I let it shine through my broken pieces with hope.

Feeling isolated and alone comes easy in life. Society still teaches us to keep secrets, especially about mental health challenges. Yet God’s grace shines brightest in community. God’s grace comes when we know we are seen and known and loved and highly regarded. God’s grace remains present at all times. But so often, it takes someone who sees and knows us to shine light into our deepest secrets. It takes someone else to bring grace to our most broken places. It takes someone else to open us to hope.

Hope gives me permission to live. It gives me permission to be vulnerable. It gives me permission to play. It gives me permission to be me, and it gives me permission to be ‘others’ — Janie or Daniel or little one or Sara or Ana or 12 or anyone who needs time to be. It gives me permission to shine. After all, it isn’t me the light graces — it’s us. And after all, it isn’t my light that is shining — it’s God’s. Even in me. Even in us.

The author serves as a full-time solo pastor of a congregation somewhere in the world that gives her time to see her therapist on a regular basis. You may contact the editor of this article at theoneswelove (dot) ycw (at) gmail (dot) com.

Photo provided by the author.

Learning to be a Daughter, Mother, and a Pastor . . . with Hope

Mother & DaughterThe first month was the hardest.  The time spent wondering—wondering what the future would hold, the next hour, the next day, and hopefully even the next year.  The time spent waiting—waiting to hear what the next medical professional would have to say.  I was exhausted and emotional and trying to hold everything together.

And then she came home and we started a new journey, shaped by new realities—a new future that didn’t look like the one we had planned to embark upon.

It sounds very much like a birth story, doesn’t it?  It sounds like I welcomed a precious baby girl into my life.  I have, twice.  But not in this story.

This story is about learning to mother my mother, all while trying to mother my children and pastor a congregation.  This story is about learning to mother my mother, all while still being her daughter.

My life has been shaped by cancer.  My dad died of cancer when I was nine.  He died six months after his diagnosis.  I don’t remember many details from those six months, but I do know that they worked their way into my soul.  And I remember the many, many, moments of dealing with the realities of grief, loss, death—and even resurrection.  These are the moments that still take place as I continually face life without my dad’s physical presence.

So when one of the two surgeons came out to talk with me in the waiting room this past March, I was calm and self-assured as I asked questions and waited for answers.  And yet, I heard the word “cancer” and the words “much more extensive than we anticipated”.    The inner nine year old me fell apart; the thirty-five year old me held it together.  The last time I heard a parent had cancer resulted in my world collapsing.  I wasn’t ready to face that again.  As a daughter, I cried.  As a daughter, I questioned God.  As a daughter, I struggled.

As a pastor, I continued to plan midweek Lenten services.  As a pastor, I continued to shape Holy Week and Easter worship services.  As a pastor, I prepared to celebrate death and resurrection.

And I did things that needed to be done.  I visited my mom nearly daily for the weeks of hospitalizations and the weeks of rehab.  I stopped by her apartment regularly for months after.  I did her laundry and dishes for four months.  I am going on six months of grocery shopping.  I am her transportation to doctor’s appointments, CT scans, and chemo.  I am the one who drops everything to take her to the ER when something is not right.  I am the one who listens along with her to what the doctor has to say about her prognosis.  I ask questions and write down answers.  I log into her medical records to make sure I understand.

Sometimes I feel like now I have to be the mother.  I was relieved when my sister who lives across the country came to visit for two weeks.  For two weeks, I didn’t have to be my mom’s mother.   Mostly, though, it’s new territory we are navigating.  As she gets stronger and looks to an end date for chemo with a very good prognosis, I have to mother her less and less.  I will still care for her, in many of the ways in which she cared for me over the years.  I know the day will come when I’ll have to mother her some more, but I’ll be ready because she taught me to be a mother.

And because I’m a pastor who journeyed a very personal Lenten journey this past Lent, God opened me up to experience a very Easter message.  When my mom dies, be it from this cancer—though that doesn’t look likely—or somewhere down the road, I will be okay.  Resurrection is real; that will get me through.

In the meantime though, I’ll keep learning—how to be…a mother, a daughter, and a pastor.


A daughter for 36 years, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 10 years, a mother for 5, Jodi continues to learn how to be all three (at once) thanks to the lovely people of Shepherd of the Cross Lutheran Church in Muscatine, Iowa and two precious little girls (Alexa, 5 and Mackenzie, 2).

Photo by Colin Cook,, October 14, 2013, Used by Permission of the Photographer, All Rights Reserved.  For more of Colin’s photos, check out his Flikr Page at:

Generation to Generation

I come from a long line of strong women. While our last names and family trees follow the men in our lives; there is a deep current that runs through the women in my family.

I am the great-granddaughter of Marie, who was born in 1892, and went on to raise 3 daughters and 6 sons. She died before I was born, but I’ve come to know her through the stories that have been passed down to me, and in what I witness in the lives of her adult children. In them, I see women who were raised to believe they are valuable and love. They could expect equality in marriage and be women who work, marry, and raise children. The men they marry should be faithful men of God, strong, loving and good. And that being in good relationship with God, and serving Christ was of utmost importance – and that treating others with love, value and respect is one way that we live faithful Christian lives.

I am the granddaughter of Elizabeth, who was born in 1921, and went on to raise 3 daughters and 5 sons; teaching them to be people of integrity. She taught them to be leaders in their work and in the church, and modeled it by being a lay leader within the church at a time before women were ordained. She taught them to take a stand for equality and that all people are children of God. She modeled this through advocating for her adopted Korean daughters during a time when race relations in rural America were divisive. Significantly, she also modeled the importance of community, of worshiping and serving Christ together, even as we disagree in our beliefs, in how we vote, in what we drink at dinner, or in how we raise our children. That Sunday morning needn’t be, as Martin Luther King Jr called it, the “most segregated hour in America”; but that Sunday morning could be the time where we are united in Christ, hoping that one day this unity would remain long after the benediction.

I am the daughter of Elaine, who was born in 1958, and went on to raise 2 daughters and 1 son. She taught us to be confident, opinionated, and empathetic. She taught us that faith and discipleship is lived out in the world: wiping the tears of a grieving spouse, stopping to provide aid to the stranded car on the road, picking up the check for dinner for the family who’s crops didn’t make it, or telling and retelling stories to loved ones in the memory care unit.

I am Amelia, the next generation in this great line, born in 1984. Early in my life, long before I’d ever seen a woman preach or preside over the sacraments, I knew that God was calling me to be a pastor. I played pastor the way that most young girls school or house: my Barbies were congregation members, my blanket became my first stole. In so many ways, I believed I was not only following God’s call to enter ministry; but was also fully living into the lineage of women in my life. Equipped with all of the lessons I’d inherited from the women in my family, I’d teach people to love God and serve their neighbor; I’d encourage people to be caring, to stand for equality, to expect all people to be treated with respect and love. And I’d do so not only because of my call, but because of the women who prepared me for it. I am proud to be part of a denomination that shares my belief that all people have been created in the image and likeness of God – and  whether male or female, old or young, whether gay or straight – all are loved, valued, and part of God’s good creation. And I am hopeful that one day, I will live in a state, a country, and a world that recognizes and embraces this as well.

And here is the painful truth of the long line of strong women I am part of: not all the women in my life agree with me. Not every generation of women in my life believes in marriage equality; instead upholding a “love the sinner, not the sin” theology. The respectful, conflict-averse, Scandinavian part of me focused on living in community with my family, silently holding my beliefs while “respecting my elders”.

Until one day, during a discussion on the marriage amendment that will be on our state’s ballot in November, Grandma asked: “Do you believe two men should be allowed to marry?” And I was faced with a decision: to remain silent and avoid the question, or to speak truth in love. Bravely, I chose the latter: “Yes, Grandma, I do. I believe that God created us to live in community with one another and rejoices with us when we find someone to share our life with, male or female.” My honesty caused her to gasp; giving me a sense of relief and fear. But the response I heard, coming from the woman I hoped to one day name my daughter after, was a bullet to the heart. “Well I am glad I do not attend your church. And I don’t think, if you truly believe that is what God intends, that you should be a pastor.”

I held back tears, anger and hurt; knowing that I had hurt her just as much as Grandma’s words hurt me. I swallowed the lump in the my throat, and spoke three words: “I love you.” It’s the only thing I could muster, needing to both remember and declare these words. Those painful words came from one woman, with one voice; but what I felt was a sudden disconnect in the family line. That suddenly all of the things that  generations of  women taught me were the same things that suddenly separated me from them.

This was the moment I learned the dangers of being a recipient of such strength. Because it meant that I had been taught and empowered to speak my mind, to love all people, and to work for equality; even in times and in places where the very women who modeled these values for me didn’t approve. And it reminded me of the danger of responding to God’s call. Because when I responded to God’s call on my life, I chose to live a life that honors God and all of God’s creation; dedicating my life to sharing Christ’s love with all people. No exceptions.

I’ve realized that despite the painful response I received, in word and in deed, in that very moment I was living into the long line of strong women in which I have been born. That my courage, convictions, and understanding of equality are precisely the values shown to me through the women in my life; and in speaking these hard truths, I am making my mark and fulfilling my role as the next generation.

I am Amelia, the next generation of a great line of women, born in 1984 – who will, I pray, one day raise a beautiful and wise daughter to carry on this heritage. I pray that when that day comes, I will teach her to be a faithful, daring, beloved child of God. And just as the women before her, to stand for equality, justice, and  love in the unique way the church and world needs. I pray that she will have the strength and courage to make a stand, even if her words cause her Mother, Grandmother, or Great-Grandmother to gasp; and in doing so – may she know, that she is not only responding to God’s call on her life, but that she too is fulfilling her role as the next generation of strong women.

Names have been changed and/or withheld at the author’s request.

Editor’s Note: Leading up to the election, Fidelia’s Sisters will publish articles written with a political flair. We will consider what it means to be political, to be clergy and to be young women.

Photo credit: scooteroo2002 via photopin cc

Pastor and Preacher as Artist

“Becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive”

-Art & Fear: Observations on The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland

To be an artist one must be true to the voice that God has given you. I came to learn this in my last year of seminary when I left the world of West Michigan where I grew up and journeyed to New York City for an internship at a church. The creativity of the city invaded my soul. The city was like one giant orchestra and each one of the 8.4 million citizens was trying to figure out which instrument was ours to play. It is in New York where I first understood my calling as a pastor was to a calling to first and foremost be an artist. The medium with which I make art is through being a pastor and preacher.

A painter walks up to her canvas full of ideas that she has collected that she desperately needs to convey to the world through the medium of paint. I am the painter and my sermon is the painting. My canvas is my approach to the text. How I choose to paint that text is the grueling creative process. The sermon is begging to come out of me but I have to do the hard work of trying on different inspirations that come to me the week before.

To be an artist one must be true to the voice that God has given you.

For inspiration I sit with the poets, the musicians, and the writers. Everyday I get a poem sent to me in my email from and I take the time to read each word and look at its construction. Music is one of the languages my soul speaks. I also peruse music blogs and websites voraciously to hear the current cultural trends coming out in instruments and voices. These people finesse words and have the courage to write Truth. Some are more honest than others but all trying to capture the currents of life and mystery. People like Mary Oliver, Adrienne Rich, The Civil Wars, Dinah Washington and so many others have become my friends.

Inspiration is not just in writing but it is everywhere for an artist. Whether I am listening to a new song, marveling at the eccentric fashion style on Broadway, or walking in the park I always wonder what these encounters have to teach me. What truth are these everyday artists telling me? One thing about art – really good art – is that it is honest. No matter how terrifying, angry, colorful, confusing, inspiring it is, good art tells the truth. Good art helps us become better truth-tellers. Read more