The opportunity to be part of the 2010 Young Clergy Women Project conference was such a joy.
I serve outside the local church setting; consequently, it’s easy for me to feel even more isolated in ministry then I did even as a younger single pastor serving my first pastorate at a small church in a rather rural setting. In my current appointment as a United Methodist clergy woman, I don't have consistent opportunities to be with my denominational clergy colleagues. Moreover, I've always loved ecumenical connections and conversations.
This is why The Young Clergy Women Project and its conference – one of many expressions of the Project – feel so essential. Frankly, last year’s experience nourished me in ways I didn't quite expect.
I've been to other conferences. This isn't the same.
Nearly five years ago, in the heat of Washington DC, a group of young clergy women gathered for the very first time to imagine what bonds a group of young clergy women could form.
We started with a conference. We practiced our preaching. We inspired each other, but the conversation continued after most suitcases were packed. A group of 10 young clergy women remained. As Katherine Willis Pershey recounts, most of these women came for the free airfare.
It was there among those women with small continuing education funds that Fidelia's Sisters began.
Every Sunday, on the drive to church, I ask my boys who will be their special grownup that day. The boys know they have a good list of grannies and grandpas to choose from—most of them actual grandparents—people who are happy to have an extra kid or two join them in the pew for the service. My 7-year old, I tell people, walks into a room and owns it. Completely comfortable around people, he has his eye out for the sucker who will listen to the stories of his broken arm or his school play, and maybe sneak him extra sweets at coffee hour. The 5-year old, though, is different. He’s more reserved, more sensitive. If he speaks to you at all, it’ll likely be in a soft or made-up voice. Liam, my older boy, has no trouble finding someone to sit with on Sundays. Graham usually chooses to sit by himself.
I always thought I would be an artist. When I dreamed of who I would be when I grew up, it was always with a set of paints. It was always in some smock and a beret. Yes, it really was that cliché.
And so, I painted. I drew. I sketched. I took every art class my high school offered until I reached the very last class in Advanced Placement Studio Art. In this year-long class, I was challenged for the very first time to make a statement. After all, artists are supposed to have something to say. Artists are the ones that muse about the world. They express those musings in bold color and shape. They say something for which the non-artists struggle to find words.
So it begins with a mentor in ministry. She begins with her hesitancy. I’m somewhat reluctant to share this story, she says, considering the recent attacks on Rev. Wren Miller after she shared her story and struggles with Marie Claire. After a brief pause, she clears her throat and continues. Most people will either applaud me or think I'm headed straight to hell. I’ve decided that’s okay. I think more women, and especially clergy women need to share their stories—how they love, hate, embrace, despise, relish their bodies and sexuality.
This is the story of a ten-year old friendship that really gelled when a mentor took the young soon-to-be clergy woman to purchase her first vibrator. It was not the first time they met. As the mentor recalls, We became true friends over Flor de Cana in Nicaragua on a mission trip. From there we journeyed together, me through a painful break up and her through a discernment process.
This is that story.
In the spring of 2009, the small congregation I was then serving as a solo pastor began to consider what it might mean for them to become a “reconciling church” -- open to all people, regardless of sexual identity. The church was located in a Chicago suburb, and most of active members were over 50, though we had some children and younger families. I had been at the church for three and a half years at that point and we all knew each other pretty well. Most were already fairly comfortable with the idea -- were not convinced that homosexuality was inherently sinful -- but we needed to know how to talk about these convictions in terms of Christian faith.
The sermon series I preached ran five weeks, beginning with Christ’s appearance to Thomas after Easter (“Body and Soul”) and running through Pentecost (“The Reconciling Church”). The other weeks I strayed from the lectionary, and preached on gender (Genesis, Psalm 139, Galatians 3), desire (Song of Solomon), and marriage (Ruth and 1 Corinthians). This sermon was the third in the series: “Love Songs.”
Before I started my current job as a high school chaplain, I had the chance to sit down with my predecessor, who is also my schoolmate and friend. We talked for an entire day, or, rather, she talked while I tried to absorb everything she was telling me and hold my then-five-month-old daughter at the same time. One of the many things she mentioned was that she helped teach the school's sex ed course. While she was talking, I got the impression that I wouldn't be included again, because the students had found having a clergy person in the room awkward. I understood what they were saying. However, the time for the class rolled around, and I was apparently up to bat, along with the counseling staff.
For a two-part series in February and March we interviewed single revs from across the country. They serve in various denominations and settings and their answers are varied and complex. February’s questions focused on “Life as the Single Rev” and March’s questions focus on “Sex and the Single Rev.”
1. Do you view yourself as a sexual being? How do you embrace that and perhaps redefine what sexuality means?
Single Rev #1: I definitely see myself as a sexual being. But even before I was clergy I struggled to find healthy ways to live out that reality. And unfortunately, adding the layer of being a pastor on top of that struggle makes things even more complicated.
“Sarah, do you think I had sex last night?… I mean, I can't remember… He's left me money for the pill, so I guess we may have… I didn't shave my legs…”
I had this conversation while I was discerning my calling to be a parish priest in the Church of England. At the time, I was an undergraduate working as one of the hall wardens, who offered pastoral support to the students who lived in the halls of residence. As I waited with the student in the pharmacy and then took her home afterwards, I realized that I didn't want priesthood to interfere with how I related to people, and especially how I related to women facing crisis situations in their relationships.
Editor's Note: This review contains spoilers. Not anything you wouldn't get from reading most reviews... but be forewarned. Also, there's profanity, in a direct quote from the movie. Though if you've been following the other, wonderful, articles in this month-long focus on sex and love in Fidelia's, you probably don't have the most delicate of sensibilities. It's hard to as clergy... but still, fair warning.