The other day in conversation, Corey pointed out to me that I have been in ministry of some form or another for almost 15 years. 15 years! I started out as a youth ministry intern/staff for St. Luke’s UMC while I was in college. I also interned as a chaplain for Wishard Hospital during that time. I was 19-20 years old. I then served as a student pastor in seminary, followed by more chaplain work. And after seminary, I started serving churches as a pastor full-time. Now, almost 34, I look back at how far I have come, and also how much more ministry I have ahead of me. I have TONS of sermons, Bible studies, pastoral care visits, weddings, funerals, mission projects, and I’m sure LOTS of church meals awaiting me in the years to come. I look forward to continuing to live out my calling.
I am now about to enter into my third full-time appointment as an ordained elder. And here’s what I wonder as a young clergy woman: when, instead of leaving a congregation that says, “We’ve seen you grow so much while you’ve been here and we feel like we’ve helped get you to the next phase,” will I hear these words instead: “We’ve done good ministry together and you have led us well. Blessings on the journey.” In my past 2 appointments, I have left feeling as if people see me as “leaving the nest.” I also know good and well that people believe that good ministry and discipleship has taken place, and I do not discredit that at all. But I do, however, feel an overwhelming sense that I am still seen as a little bird who is still waiting to take flight, and that’s not how I see myself living out my ministry calling at this point. I have a lot of years ahead of me, but I also have a lot of years behind me. I hope one day for people to see beyond the “leaving the nest syndrome” when they consider my ministry and leadership.
Yes, I still have a lot to learn and a lot of growth ahead of me. But I look forward to the day that I am not seen as the young clergy woman who is “earning her wings” and “is leaving the nest.” I am genuinely curious if this is a gender thing, an age thing, or something else. Does anyone else experience this, and in other vocations, too? Maybe I should take it as a compliment, and be glad that evidence of my growth is authentic and real. But I am also taking it as a statement that perhaps younger clergy are still seen in a certain light that is difficult to escape.
Am I alone in this? What do you think? Has it happened to you?