Struggles of Young Clergy Women

girl preacher

As a young clergy woman, I have the opportunity to be in communities with other young clergy women.  We share our experiences, our fears, our big questions about church, life, marriage, parenting, friendships, loneliness, illnesses, etc.  It is a privilege and a blessing to know that I am not the only one out there who experiences all of these issues as a young clergy woman.  But what is it that makes our experiences more specific or unique as we are on the journey of ministry?

What do we struggle with?  Here is an honest look:

1) We struggle with people who don’t know what to do with women pastors, especially young ones.  We have been horrified by church members making inappropriate comments about our bodies, our hair, our shoes, or the way in which we dress.  We have been put in awkward situations where the way that we look has gotten in the way of doing real pastoral ministry that is taken seriously.  I’ve heard stories of church members grabbing butts (while robed!) or touching pregnant bellies beneath vestments without asking.  We share stories about people who have been born and raised to believe that only men should be pastors and will not give us a chance.  We share stories about people making comments that they were surprised that we could do as well or even better than our male colleagues.  We discern how to gracefully handle a situation in which a person will not work with a woman pastor.  We laugh about the times when a person was looking for the pastor and the look of shock we received when we were introduced as such.  We deal with men in authority positions in our own denominational structures who do not take us seriously.

2) We struggle with balancing our lives, our friendships, our marriages, and our families along with ministry.  Unfortunately, “social norms” still expect us as women to “do it all.”  So we struggle with balancing life at home, taking care of family or children, and keeping it all together in a sane way.  Of course, this is nearly impossible.

3) We struggle with gaining, sustaining, and maintaining friendships.  It is no secret that ministry can be isolating and lonely, whether married or single.  It is difficult enough in our late 20s and 30s to make new friends and maintain friendships.  Add in the challenge of moving to a new place every few years, and that makes life even more difficult when it comes to having friends, especially friends in the same age range with similar interests, and the time it takes to actually spend time with them, which ministry does not readily allow.

4) We worry about our congregations.  And we love them with our whole selves.  This especially includes the times when ministry is challenging and our people are struggling.  We also struggle and support one another when we are put into ministry situations that are abusive or unhealthy.  We pray for the church often, and we pray for what is broken to be fixed.  We fuss over and pray for patience over the petty issues that ministry and people of the church bring our way.  We worry about and pray for broken systems and relationships.  We pray for and work for grace.

5) We struggle with life choices: Do I get married?  Do I stay single?  Do I stay in this congregation?  Do I want to pursue more education?  Do we decide to have children?  Everyone struggles with these  issues of course.  BUT, as clergy women, we live in a fish bowl.  Everyone is waiting to see what we will choose and looking on, wondering if we will meet particular expectations, whether we know about them or not.

6) Last but certainly not least, we are concerned for the future of the church: We come from all denominations, places, and backgrounds.  Yet we all feel the call to serve the church, to care for others, and have promised to love the church, to love God, even in the midst of the ups and downs, the let downs, the challenges, and the uncertain future that opens up ahead of us.  We have much work to do.  We have much work to do as clergy women to educate people that yes, women are just as effective as men in ministry yes, we have much to offer, yes, we possess the gifts, talents, knowledge, and discernment to make a difference in the church and in the world.  We love the church.  We love the people of the church.  We love God.  We are here to serve.

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6 Responses to Struggles of Young Clergy Women

  1. Bev Murrill says:

    Fantastic post.

  2. Rev. Judy says:

    Exactly… and all the while forgiving, seeking to understand, and continuing to love those who persecute and hurt us, just because we’re woman ministers.

  3. gailwallace55 says:

    Thanks for paving the way for those who follow!

  4. In Half the Sky they talk about how women who are elected to be community leaders are regularly evaluated more negatively than their male counterparts, even when their community is doing better. However, this effect disappears after the second woman is elected. You are one of the brave souls, blazing a trail that you may never be fully appreciated for. But you are the giant whose shoulders another clergy woman will stand on. Thank you so much for doing the hard work of trailblazing, for being a pioneer so that my daughters can benefit from your sacrifice.

  5. Wonderful to hear from a fellow young clergy woman (though my ministry is in a hospital) and you spell out so well many of the challenges we face. Thank you!

  6. Well said!! Even after 25 years of ministry I still continue to deal with many of the same issues. Being part of a “clergy couple” can intensify some issues as well. Especially 2 & 3. Thanks for sharing.

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