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“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.

green tennis ball bouncing off of a red clay court with the shadow of the net across the court

The Need for Spiritual Agility

green tennis ball bouncing off of a red clay court with the shadow of the net across the court

Spiritual agility is a cluster of grit, emotional intelligence, and practice that allows us to respond to our changing realities with strength, speed, and stability.

My middle school tennis coach used to arrange the balls in a small pile at the center of each half-court on occasion. As soon as we approached the courts, we knew the occasion was agility drill day.

As fast as possible, our little, awkward, middle-school legs would go from corner to center, grab a ball, turn quickly, and place the ball in the corner from whence we came. We tripped a few times, as clumsy middle schoolers are sometimes known for doing, but we concentrated on developing our agility: moving with strength, speed, and stability.

My tennis-playing days are pretty much over, but I pastor a church in the 21st century. Last week I was invited by a Bible Study in my congregation to discuss what it is like to be a woman in ordained ministry. They were concluding a study on Romans and startled to discover that, of the 25 saints Paul calls by name in his most famous epistle, ten were women.

“So, what is it like?” the study leader asked.

Well, here we go. I talked about the “stained glass ceiling” and the “glass cliff.” I referenced studies that about the female clergy pay gap and how women make up more than half of all MDiv graduates yet repeatedly serve in positions in which we piece together part-time work, parenting, domestic responsibilities, and/or are relegated to subordinate roles because the church is used to seeing a young, white man when they picture a minister.

AND… when you see us scramble from zumba class to bible study to committee meeting, and when we scrape a sermon together in the gaps before our kids’ parent-teacher conference and a pastoral care visit, you are seeing a miracle at lightning speed. In the 21st century, it’s not realistic for followers of Jesus to simply walk one way down a winding shepherd’s path. Although we may feel clumsy at times, we are participants in the miracle of true 21st century discipleship, traversing a path that is challenging and rarely predictable. We embody the ability to adjust to changing realities and demands with speed, stability, and strength.

As I blurted out all these thoughts and statistics and stared at this group of disciples around the table, I realized the gift of what it means to be a woman in ministry today. I am glad that the church is entrusting the church to young women again. And I am glad that we sisters in Young Clergy Women International and beyond are giving the church, and the world, the gift of spiritual agility. 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

Bringing Up the Rear

ocean water crashing on rocks

Trouble the waters.

I Corinthians 15:1-11

  1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy,that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)

3-9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.

10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives. (I Corinthians 15:1-11 MSG) 

A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

There is that troublesome God who plucks us from the simple linear life that we created for ourselves and calls us into ministry.

There are those troublesome insecurities, that voice that rings in our heads “who am I to stand in front of people and speak. I am nobody.”

There is that troublesome glass ceiling that women have been hurling stones at for generations but that pesky glass is strong and hard to crack.

There are those troublesome stereotypes. The covert and overt messages that say “if you are going to be a woman preacher you have to look a certain way. Talk a certain way. Stand a certain way. Be a certain way.”

And then. And then. And then:

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