"The Reverend Doctor"

I might be one of the first among my young clergywomen peers to become a doctor. Why did I do it?

  • My competitive nature.  I am the youngest of five children and three of my siblings are doctors (two medical and one academic).  The one without his doctorate is the smartest of all, but he didn’t finish college (though we all thought he had) and he just quit his job at Wal-Mart. My mom loves saying that four of her five children are doctors.
  • Why not organize all those continuing education credits (time and money that goes with said credits) so that they count towards something more tangible and goal oriented?
  • I sincerely love learning.  The readings, the writings, the seminar classroom conversations with peers and professors. . . I am a school whore.  My mother always said that no one can take your education away from you.
  • At my ordination I made a little promise to God that I would do everything within my power to be prepared for ministry.  The thesis project took me to a new level in ministry by forcing me to focus for a sustained amount of time, observing and examining the details of a particular ministry project.
  • Because I could. My partner, family and church were all supportive, for the most part. There was that one old guy, God bless him, on council who said when I proposed the idea, “The previous pastor [a man] couldn’t do it. He started it and didn’t finish.  Don’t you want to have kids?”
  • I needed to get away.  The town I live in has ten times more shuffle board courts and hearing aid stores than coffee shops and book stores combined. A quarterly trip to Chicago was my crack.  The seminary guest housing is practically across the street from Obama’s favorite local coffee shop. It was so cool to be staying in Obama’s neighborhood during the exciting and historic run for President.
  • Because after my second DMin class (and with three more years to go) when I found out I was pregnant, I made my mother promise me she would help me finish the program.  I wasn’t going to let that old man on council win or let a baby stop me. 

For two years my mother met me and my baby at the Chicago airport, then we headed on to the seminary dorms in January, and May, and August, and September, and January again for two weeks of residency, and February, and May, and...  I dragged them to every class because we all were committed to breastfeeding this child (he’s still nursing at 25 months). The first time my mother held him just outside the classroom door so I could hear his cries for milk. That was a little distracting getting up every 30 minutes. Yet thank God my colleagues and professors were all on board this baby train.

It got easier each time as we adjusted to the routine. And it became a hallowed time for mother and daughter to bond with baby and each other. Looking back, I think the real reason I got my doctorate was so that for those week-long interludes I could be in the same room with my mom, who otherwise lived on the other side of the country, as I was becoming a mother myself. 

Oh, and I loved the brain food the doctoral program fed me.  Challenging my mind helped to balance the extremes my body experienced from pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing.  The seed for my thesis project came from one of the professors who heard my original idea and said, “Sarah. You just had a baby. Pick something that you can do from home with a baby.”

My original idea was to interview lay people and pastors from 99 churches all across the state of Florida, including traveling for site visits. Can you imagine? That would be exhausting, chasing down pastors with endless phone calls and unanswered emails.  Her wisdom hit home.  We had just been talking about Facebook. That’s it.  My thesis, “Ministry and Social Media: The Challenges to Building a Beloved Community on Facebook,” turned out to be interesting, challenging, and fun.  But most of all it was doable.

Now that I’ve got those fancy (and expensive) little letters before my name and after the “Rev,” the one question people keep asking me is, “So when are you leaving?” Members of my church are scared. They are afraid I’m going to take my new diploma and run to some bigger, richer, and better church. Sisters, the truth is, even with a doctorate, I’m still a young clergywoman and in this world, that’s just not as good as a man. Big steeple churches love them some man. But it doesn’t take a doctorate to figure that out.

In truth, I hope I’ll have enough integrity to stick to my calling and that being a doctor of ministry simply means I’ve learned how to serve my small church a little more faithfully.

 

Are you an ordained woman under the age of 40? Email youngclergywomen (at) gmail (dot) com to become a member of the Young Clergy Women Project! Members receive access to a password protected online community, monthly e-newsletters, and advance notice of upcoming conferences and events.

Comments

Congratualations, Doctor! From one D.Min. (2009) to another, I join you in rejoicing. A word of caution ... the post-doctoral blues can be as real and as bad as the post-partum ones. Be careful, and be sure to continue doing something that will stimulate your intellect. Lifelong learners are gifts most congregations don't recognize they've got. Keep up the great work!

I thought my mother was the only one who flew across the country to watch my baby while I studied! She did it twice a month for nine months, flying in and out of Midway each time. She learned to ride the El and would get herself right to my door, just in time for me to head out to class. I too treasure those times - though I am also glad they are over, as we all grew weary of the schedule in time. I'm not done yet, but reached ABD status and just 150 pages or so of writing standing between me and the PhD. Someday.

First: Congratulations! Second: Thank you! You have given me hope! I'm currently working on my Master of Sacred Theology, and once that's done, will hopefully move on to a doctoral degree. (Of course this will only happen if I stop procrastinating on here and go back to writing my paper that's due today...) I too dream of having a family in the near future, and while I don't know if my mom would fly across the country to help me in this project - it sincerely helps to know that it can be done. I felt like I was alone.

I have not started toward further studies (I keep saying our family can only handle one doctoral program at a time) but I too have been blessed with a mom who wants to see me succeed and is willing to put a lot of childcare into the endeavor. Thanks for the reflection.

The comments to this entry are closed.