Here’s the story
Of a lovely lady
Who was working at Yale Divinity School.
She had hair of gold,
But that’s not the point of this song,
Her story won’t go untold.
Here’s the story
Of a bunch of clergy (women)
Who were out in the world,
making it on their own.
They were young and hip,
They were Bible-equipped,
So why did they feel so alone?
Well then one day, the lady emailed these clergy
And they knew they’d be together on the net,
That this group would readeachother’sblogswriteanezinegotoconferencesprayforeachotherchatonlineformcovenantgroupstalkaboutcuteshoesandchurchesandkidsandstuff…
That’s the way we all became The Young Clergy Women Project
The Young Clergy Women Project,
The Young Clergy Women Project,
That’s the way we became The Young Clergy Women Project.
Well, there was slightly more to it, but it did all start with Susan Olson, the Director of Career Services and a Teaching Fellow in Homiletics at Yale Divinity School. Susan had been ordained when she was 29, and she saw the young women she worked with heading into the world of ordained ministry and suddenly losing the support network of seminary friends they’d had for the last three years. The Young Clergy Women Project (TYCWP) began humbly with a password-protected interactive blog and about 11 young clergy women. I was one of those women. I got an email from Susan, explaining that she’d started this blog online and asking if I wanted to log in and share experiences with other young clergy women. The blog began with questions about perceptions of young women clergy, the challenges and joys of being a mom in ministry, or a single clergy woman, working in rural vs. urban ministry, being an associate to an older male colleague, and, of course, cute shoes in the pulpit. So many of these issues resonated with the women who were involved that the comments soared. Conversations went back and forth. Members’ blogs were listed on the page. A prayer request thread was started, and the young clergy women started praying for each other—for new babies, for difficult parish situations, for family struggles, for great new jobs.
This community, even though it didn’t meet in person, became a rich source of support and sistership for its members. While some of us were working in places where we were the only clergy woman around, or the only young clergy person around, most of us were the only young clergy woman in our area. (For the Project’s purposes, a “young” clergywoman is defined as a person under 40 and ordained before 35. There are also members of TYCWP who are serving in full-time ministry but belong to denominations that don’t ordain women or out lesbians.)
In August 2007, with help from a grant from the Louisville Institute, TYCWP community met for the first time “for real.” Although not everyone could make it, about 43 young clergy women and mentors gathered at the College of Preachers in Washington D.C. for a week-long preaching conference, taught by Anna Carter Florence. At this first conference, I think a lot of us felt like we’d come home. We had come from complex places: burying friends, losing family members, feeling pulled back to families at home, and we came to a place where we felt known in a deep and personal way.
At the end of the conference week, the newly-formed board of TYCWP met for the first time. What came out of their two-day meeting was Fidelia’s Sisters, this online publication by, for, and about young clergy women. Fidelia’s Sisters went live on October 1, 2007 and in its first year has published the work of over 100 contributors, giving young clergy women a way to communicate, with each other and with a general readership, the unique experiences of young clergy women today.
Now, nearly two years since the first 11 women were invited to comment on the blog, The Young Clergy Women Project functions with the help of a dual board: the Fidelia’s Sisters board, and the community board. The Project has sponsored two preaching conferences for young women preachers at the College of Preachers (Ruthanna Hooke taught the 2008 conference), and is in the planning stages of a third conference. It has maintained the password-protected blog with new discussions starting regularly. It has created a network on a social networking site where members comment on each other’s pages, arrange regional meet-ups, post on discussion fora, join affinity groups, and post photos, sermons, and music. TYCWP hosts several online chats for members every month. Tuesdays find young clergy women diving into the coming Sunday’s lectionary texts and sharing sermon and worship ideas together online. Other times young clergy women log in to chat with no particular agenda and end up talking about politics in the pulpit, pastoral situations in their parishes, or their kids’ first day of kindergarten. The Project facilitates online covenant groups between young clergy women from all corners of the globe. Now, two months before the Project’s second anniversary, it claims over 320 members in the States, England, Australia, Sweden, and Trinidad and Tobago, and represents more than 21 denominations.
Is there a young clergy woman in your life who isn’t part of TYCWP yet? Send her to http://myworshiptimes31.com/tycwp/ where she can download an application. Do you know a young woman who is on her way to becoming a young clergy woman? Send her to http://youngclergywomen.typepad.com/tycwp/ where she can apply to join the Future Young Clergy Women network.