Discernment

Thursday’s Child

Pure Luck left the house on Monday, excited to set up camp in that neighboring state and spend yesterday hiking. He came home pretty glum. He was in a Wednesday’s Child state of mind.

You know…full of woe…

My children were all born on cute days. #1 Son is Friday’s child, loving and giving. Snowman arrived on a Tuesday, and he is full of grace, although it’s exhibition is limited to the occasional contra dance these days.The Princess is Monday’s child, fair of face indeed.

I never liked that little poem, because it accused me of having "far to go." I used to think that meant I was nowhere yet, that I would struggle and never get anywhere. Later, at difficult times in my adult life, I would remember it and think, Oh, Lord, how much farther?

After reading the piece in the New York Times the other day about clergywomen, one might be tempted to say I was right. It begins with the story of Rev. Elaine Puckett, who was ordained at about the same age I was and has been in ministry 18 years. Here’s a snippet:

When she left divinity school, Ms. Puckett, a United Methodist, thought
that some day she might lead a large congregation in her hometown,
Atlanta. Instead, she has shuttled between jobs as an associate pastor
on someone else’s staff or as the leader of a small congregation
fighting to survive. In contrast, the men she was ordained with, for
the most part, have moved on to run bigger churches.

And I wonder, is it not our immobility that makes it harder for us to "get ahead?" That’s not to say that standing in the tallest pulpit is the be all and end all. But until women have a better chance at doing so, we will always be considered second-string players, as we would in any career.

When I finished seminary, my then-Conference Minister said it was too bad I couldn’t move. There weren’t many jobs in my area, but with my experience in Christian Education (many years as a Sunday School teacher and some youth experience, too), if I could move I would "be able to write (my) own ticket!"

That sounded vaguely exciting yet illusory. Because moving, in my case, means taking my children not only away from their hometown, but also away from their father, to whom I am no longer married. And although that has proven to be the better way for all of us, there is nothing to indicate that leaving his general vicinity would be any good for them.

I was fortunate. There were five openings, and I had five interviews, and I was, I think, seriously considered by at least one church in addition to Small Church, which proved to be a great fit. It’s a ten minute drive from home.

I don’t live with the Methodist system that Elaine Puckett describes. I live with a Search and Call system, in which pastors declare themselves available and read the profiles of searching churches. It’s sort of like MinistryMatch.com. As the clergyperson, you can decide how far and wide to cast your net.

I wonder how many women clergy in my age bracket, the ones who have children and/or  husbands, can really look everywhere?  Does God have a special category for us, a sort of Mommy Track of calling? It’s one of the questions that had me out of seminary for a while, fearful that I would never have a private life again, worried that the only way to do it was to put the work first and the children second and myself last. When I put myself out there four years ago, looking for my first call, I feared anything that was "good" for me might be bad for them.

On his hike yesterday, Pure Luck took on more than he could handle under the circumstances of weather and supply problems. He came home drained (and a bit odd, but he seems himself today!). The goal he set was just too far to go in one day, for this very experienced hiker on this particularly challenging trail. There were five mountains in the section he did–five!!–and yet he considers the choice to cut back through the circle as a "turn of shame." Now, seriously. The train back to the place he left his big pack was another 7 miles all by itself. And that was after the five mountains.

What is our standard?

I’m not sure I would want to be the Senior Pastor of a tall steeple church with a gigantic staff. But I also don’t want to fall victim to the kind of limited thinking I had as a child, convinced that "far to go" means something negative. I’d like to think it means the possibilities are endless. And I’d like to be brave enough to find out what they are.

18 thoughts on “Thursday’s Child”

  1. ‘The Ring’ as I am want to call it would be a total of 28.7 miles. What I did yesterday was 23.8 miles. Next time I will bring two of those tiny keychain type flashlights, my filter bottle, less clothes and hopefully get a day that isn’t quite as humid. Clearly I have very little room for error. A good night’s sleep wouldn’t hurt either.

  2. good writing.
    I think it’s all trade-offs. Single, childless folks are geographically free, but often then end up hours and hours from another living soul who would care if they died in their sleep. You get some things and you give some up.
    I guess in the perfect world, every pastor has a trailing spouse (and I know several men that are the trailers) and they can go where the gettin’s good and not go it alone. But few people live in that ideal world. And though my experience includes several trailing men, my guess is that my experience is a little odd.

  3. I was raised Methodist and am now UCC. I think the UCC pastor-placement it better not only from a “MinistryMatch.Com” standpoint but also from the congregation’s standpoint just in general.
    While a UMC congregation can request a new pastor of their bishop, it doesn’t mean they’ll get one. A UMC congregation cannot hold on permanently to a pastor that is a good fit. And somewhat like the current problems the Catholic church has with bad priests being shuffled rather than defrocked, a UMC congregation may find that their new pastor is one that a previous congregation strongly urged the bishop to transfer… A SIL’s dad was an associate pastor at a UMC church where this happened. They found out the previous problems about the head pastor after a couple of sexual harrassment charges were filed by their congregants.
    The UCC method makes sure that a congregation controls the hiring and dismissal of the persons whom they have invited to share the more intimate parts of their lives. The only advantage I see the UMC congregation having is that they are never without a pastor.

  4. CO, what has your experience been of interim times? I would be interested to hear.
    ppb, we have a situation where Pure Luck could move, since his work takes him on the road, anyway, but the ex would remain stationary. Obviously this all changes when there are no more children at home, which is seven years away. They are just very difficult, fascinating and sometimes exasperating questions.

  5. When I took the call to St. Stoic, and we committed to moving back to Snow Belt, I committed to living in this house for at least five years, until Wondergirl finishes high school. I am two years (and change) into this committment.
    So far I do not feel restless. I know I am where I’m called to be. This does not mean that I don’t have the occasional wondering about where I might go next. There might be a “big fluffy pulpit” out there for me, as reverendmother would say. I seem to have people in my life right now who are “grooming” me for other things. I just don’t know if these things are God’s plan for me or not.
    Right now I’m happily ignorant

  6. When I started seminary I knew it would mean leaving the area where I lived becasue the likelihood of a job there was practiacally nonexistant. And I have moved a lot as a kid and a as a parent so I sort of see that as the norm. Plus we don’t have the father to stay near, since he moved himself far far away. So I am in a whole ‘nother category: older woman, single mom with kid. The Episcopal system is like yours I think –ministrymatch.com describes it pretty well!
    I knew a number of women in seminary who did not feel like they could move their families (most of these women either were commuter students or only did one year full time at the end, or both). Most all of them have good positions, but for a few it took a while.
    Most of them live in urban areas, too, where there are more positions available.
    I wouldn’t say this on my own blog yet, but I am thinking/discerning about where I might be called to go next, and part of that discernment is whether I want to be a rector, in charge, and whether I feel ready for that. I am worried a bit that if I wait too long I will be perceived to be “too old” relative to my experience.
    I think it is more difficult for women going through all this, immobile or not. At least in the Episcopal church, there is still sexism and there is still discrimination –subtle at times but real.

  7. As a woman lawyer who graduated very high in my class in 1990, I have a different perspective on glass ceilings. I certainly don’t approve of them, but I am the age of women who have started (not finished, but started) breaking through them in the law business. You know what? A lot of us walked out instead of climbing up, and a lot more of us wish we had.
    The stained glass ceiling is alive and well in PCUSA. Is that wrong? Absolutely. Does everyone involved lose out? You bet.
    However. I wonder how many women who dream of a tall steeple church would like it if they got there? Big churches thrive on image and presence in the pulpit, because you can’t have a pastoral relationship with 2,500 parishioners.
    I watch the men who do it (some better than others), and I wonder if the pastors who chose small churches in smaller towns, a slower pace, and a more in-the-trenches life — didn’t make the better choice.
    Elaine
    Oklahoma

  8. I’m not promoting the tall steeply as the ideal, but it’s also true that if you’ve borrowed money to go to seminary, you probably can’t afford not to think in terms of the financial arc of your career. Today my Conference Minister described 2nd career pastors coming out of seminary with $30-50,000 in debt. How do you pay that back when you make $25,000 a year?
    I graduated without debt because my parents were gone and I had some resources to use for my education. But that is not commonplace. I’m still using some of those resources to supplement my income, which means, like a church spending down its endowment, I’m going to come to the end sooner than I would like. This would be different if I made twice as much money, as some of my large church colleagues do, and I feel fairly sure I work just as hard as any of them, just differently.
    Again, I’m not advocating that it’s somehow superior to have the better-paying jobs. I’m just making the point that I’m dubious about whether I would even have the option. I am the primary support of my children. We are not underwritten by my husband or their father. Each of them contributes a portion, but I am the bottom line. Yet I don’t feel the same freedom that the majority of my male colleagues would to move the family for the best opportunity. Far to go. Far to go.

  9. I agree 100% that it’s not all about climbing the ecclesiastical ladder and that there is great joy in small church ministry. HOWEVER, I don’t quite like this mythos we seem to be developing that women clergy don’t even WANT big, fluffy pulpits because large churches are all cold and corporate and we are pure, relationship- centered pastors who are above all that adminstrative and political/diplomatic crap. If we push that too far, we stop persevering in working on those changes that will open doors for women who have the gifts and calling for Head of Staff kind of ministry. Choosing small church ministry is great. Creating a myth of purity too make us feel better about the genuine biases and systemic roadblocks that are out there is not.

  10. Thanks for a timely discussion – you always keep me thinking.
    And I just made “the cake!” It’s cooling on a rack. Do I have to wait till the children are home to have a piece???

  11. Songbird–such a provocative post! Thank you for putting it out there, and clearly, many of us are thinking through these themes. As always, I appreciate your writing, and your comments to mine. Peace, Sister.

  12. Songbird, you have hit one of my pet peeves on the head — cost of seminary. Did you know Princeton is now $30,000 a year — for three years?
    I do not understand how we can expect idealistic people (of any age) to go to seminary and emerge to lead non-materialistic, God-centered, Biblically responsible lives — with $100,000 in student loans.
    Elaine
    Oklahoma

  13. Great post and interesting comments. Every three months I worry that I’ve done myself in by staying in place. Mr. C’s work funds all of us which works because he does not think of money as “his”. I’ve not gotten the big opps I am qualified for but I haven’t moved geographically and I am in a rotten place for women in ministry. When I wonder if I’ve goofed up my life I quiet myself by reminding myself that I am a community fixture and raising children. This helps. I sure hope things get better for other women. I hope LD doesn’t have to deal with these issues.

  14. This is a great conversation. One of the things I’ve been pondering lately is whether women can be in leadership positions without “acting like” men? I think women do relate differently, work differently. Can we break through the stained class ceiling and maintain that? I’m not sure.
    And the money thing is a big deal…not just for paying off debt (and mind is considerable,seeing as how I have debt both for grad school and seminary) but also for building a pension.

  15. I’m so glad you’re having this conversation. At 40, contemplating seminary, and already in debt, I wonder if God is smoking something. I know we have 2 years to pay off the debt we’re in, but I’m not wild about taking out student loans at my age!
    And, as an out, partnered lesbian, I’m wondering how the whole Episcopal computer dating service is going to work for me when I’m done. I KNOW I won’t be working in my home diocese, which is okay. The higher-ups are liberal, but most of our parishes small and rural and conservative in this red state.
    And I don’t know how K will do with moving who knows how far from her children and family. She’s never done that before and even though the kids will be grown…
    Heeehhh…thanks for raising the issues…

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