Post Author: Pastor Jeniffer Tillman
This piece is inspired by a recent popular post in our Young Clergywomen Facebook Group.
When does a pastor have the “period” talk with her parishioners? Second Timothy 1:7 proclaims, “God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” But I’ve still been wrestling with this question as a novice pastor serving a small town, rural community along the East Coast. My congregation, which according to their own profile, is “old, white, and conservative,” has never called a woman under the age of 35 to serve as their pastor, let alone one who is ambiguously nestled within the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community. They chose “unanimously” to become a Reconciling in Christ Community. But many of my parishioners have become disturbed by my sudden erratic mood swings and general snarkiness during certain weeks over others.
You see, I am a pastor, and I bleed. My menstrual cycle has always been unpredictable; however, it became downright fickle when I became an ordained pastor. During the Lockdown of 2020, my period completely stopped: sometimes, bodies cease menstruating to prevent childbearing during crisis. I didn’t actually mind this year-and-a-half reprieve from bleeding, as I had more than enough on my mind during 2020 up until the middle of 2021. However, during the winter of 2021, I was given the opportunity to visit with my family and friends after two years! Something about being with women my own age in addition to being with people I did not need to be pastoral towards triggered something from within. I had life burning in me again, and so I began to preach with fire. My parishioners, most of whom are 60 and older, thought that I had gone crazy making such bold proclamations during worship. Under the guise of caring for my well-being, they contacted my manager, the Bishop and Synod Office, to correct my unwanted behavior as opposed to speaking to me directly about their concerns.
During the lockdown, when I wasn’t bleeding, I was able to provide the bright and scintillating persona that they have come to expect in their pastors, all of whom have been white, male, and much older. I have discovered that in addition to my sheer “otherness,” there is a level of terse ennui found among the older folks in my congregation about how to deal with someone old enough to be their granddaughter.
There is a wide array of curiosities among many of my parishioners about my more feminine idiosyncrasies. Many of them demand in the privacy of their homes over tea, “What is to be done about this most irreverent Reverend?” Yes, collar yanking does come with the call to some degree, but we are living in the twenty-first century, are we not? No one has the right to gatekeep anyone else’s body or personhood, not even our parishioners, well-meaning and intended as they may think they are being to us poor little lost lambs who have the audacity to become Shepherdesses in “their churches.” The kingdom of God is open to us all, which includes those of us with the “Red Tide” also known as “Aunt Flo.” It seems that everyone is divided on what should be best practices concerning this internal time marker that our Creator so humorously placed inside of those in possession of a functioning womb.
Regardless of what is a Christ-centered, incarnational call to God, there are corporate realities that make communities of faith very uncomfortable. No one taught me how to handle such conversations in seminary. Naturally feeling disempowered and embarrassed, I took to YCWI for further counsel. As our Scripture writes, “I look to you for help, O Lord God. You are my refuge. Don’t let them slay me” (Psalm 141:8). Naturally, the psalmist didn’t have “Les Anglais ont debarqué” in mind when this wisdom was passed down.
Menstruation may forever be a taboo subject, even though it is the most natural thing to happen to those of us currently in possession of it. I am proud to be a Called and Ordained Minister in the Church of Jesus Christ. My “period” comes with my call, and one day, so will menopause, which is a natural process of aging for our sisters who have been blessed with the gift of time. I am not ashamed of being a woman who has been called for such a time as this when I can serve the God who created me in Their Divine Image along with each and every person who was and is and is to be born.
I suppose that a better question to ask right now is a practical one. If our “period” is indeed both a blessing and a curse, then why shouldn’t we as clergywomen be talking about it with the people who claim that “All Are Welcome”?
Resources to Educate Yourselves and Support:
Days for Girls Challenge: https://www.daysforgirls.org/
Endometriosis Support: https://www.endocenter.org/
The Reverend Jeniffer Tillman is a Pastor, Poet, Proprietrix, and Patron of the Paraclete. She is a Learner for Life, and Mission Development runs through her veins. She is a Lutheran from the cradle, and a Child of God to a grave that cannot hold me down.
Image by: Turning Red
Used with permission