When I entered ordained ministry over 3 years ago, there were days when I felt rather alone. As a single woman, I was living alone in a manse built for a family. Four bedrooms left me plenty of space to spread out and get creative (home office space to house my book addiction – sure! guest room so family and friends can come visit – of course! catch all room for dancing and being creative – cool!). All the space was a blessing, but there were also days when I rattled around in my own home.
I bounced around in my presbytery for a little bit too as I tried to find my footing and my niche. As I got to know the local Presbyterian pastors, I found great colleagues. I also discovered how drastically I changed the room just by walking into it. For example, the monthly pastors’ lunch gathering was formerly all ordained males over the age of 50. Enter a 20-something newly ordained female.
All of a sudden, they were everywhere I looked. There was the young woman just out of college we hired to work with our children and youth, the one who decided to go on to seminary after just a year with us. Then there was the female seminarian who came to spend a year getting some in-the-trenches experience of congregational ministry. Or the college student who grew up in our congregation who stopped me after church one Sunday to tell me she’d decided to go to seminary.
All these young women, sorting out their life choices and starting to think that ministry just might be the life for them.
Here at Fidelia’s Sisters, we’ve always celebrated young women in ministry. It’s our purpose for being: to support one another in our calling and to share the trials and tribulations of life in the church, or the academy, or the mission field, or the hospital room – wherever it is God has called us. For the most part, we’ve featured writers who are ordained clergy, and young (which we define as under forty and ordained before the age of 35).
But what about those women who aren’t here yet?
I love this photo. Exemplified in this photo is where my life as a mom and as a pastor intersect. This is the day that my daughter was baptized. I love how my son is looking up and probably wondering what is going on. My husband who is also a pastor had the joy of baptizing my son. So on this day, I had the unique pleasure of baptizing my daughter. There is something special as a pastor/mother to be able to say the words to your daughter as you pour water on her head, "You are special. You are created in God's image. God chose you and loves you before you are able to do anything to deserve it." I often look at this photo as a reminder of the blessings I have in being a pastor/mother, especially on those days when the blessings are not so obvious.
My kids mostly go to church with me every Sunday because my congregation is very kid-friendly. My church makes it possible for me to be both pastor and mother. Recently, I asked my son what he thought I did for a living. He said, "I don't know." I reminded him that I was a pastor. He replied, "I thought John (my head of staff) was the pastor." "What do you think I am doing every Sunday alongside John?" "I never thought about it. Just being mom, I guess."
This past Christmas was my first in a new congregation. I inherited the early worship service on Christmas Eve. This service is intended to be family focused, and comes with the long standing tradition of having ALL children in attendance dress up and participate in the service in some way, usually in an adaptation of a pageant.
I was torn. More than once, I have learned the important lesson of honoring tradition in a congregation. However, I also had no idea of what this particular tradition looked like, nor did I know what to expect on Christmas Eve. How many kids would be there? How many would be the children I knew from Sunday morning worship and how many would be new to our congregation? With so many unknowns, how would I coordinate the children’s participation in our worship service in a way that was meaningful for everyone in attendance? I was incredibly tempted to abandon the whole thing but was not particularly interested in learning that lesson again.
by Angie Mabry-Nauta
Editor's Note: This article is one in an occasional series called "All About the Benjamins," running this fall on Fidelia's Sisters. As many congregations and organizations are running stewardship campaigns and lining up budgets for 2012, we'll be taking a look at the sometimes-taboo topic of money, and the role it plays in our ministries. This is the third in a series of articles by this author, reflecting on how she and her husband have navigated the variety of financial situations they have encountered during her ministry. The previous articles, "For Better or For Worse" and "In Sickness and In Health," can be found in the October and November editions of "The Ones We Love," respectively.
Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) calls it the “dark night of the soul.” It is the journey of the soul towards God for the purpose of union with its Creator. And in said union the soul finds its true identity and raison d’être. In his famous poem bearing the same name, St. John speaks as the soul itself. The entire journey towards union with God is through utter darkness, which for John (and by extension the reader) is richly polyvalent. Psychologically and emotionally darkness symbolizes the uncertainty, fear, hardship, pain and suffering the pilgrim experiences. Indeed, psychologist Darryl Pokea confirms the truth of this allusion, for within this “lonely, painful process” the ego is unraveling as the True Self is being born (Darryl Pokea, “The Dark Night of the Soul is the Gift of Illumination in Higher Consciousness”).
An online engagement announcement. In one second I was thrown from a bored moment at the computer, idly Facebooking between tasks, to crushing doubt, self-criticism, and questioning every decision I had made in the last four years. The last thirty five years, really.
The last guy I had been in a serious relationship with was engaged. Statistically, I knew it was bound to happen at some point after our parting four years earlier. He wasn't a bad person, and our relationship had ended as ideally as a relationship can end. So I was shocked that when I read the announcement of his engagement my first reaction wasn’t joy for him and his future wife, but a sinking in my chest and a surprising swell of self-pity. Quickly followed by guilt- I should be happy for him that he found a life partner, not feeling like a failure because I was still alone. I briefly wondered if this was a sign of full-blown narcissism. It certainly didn’t seem like the sort of reaction a clergyperson should have to news of a wedding. Nevertheless, there I was, sitting in my office, crushed by someone else’s good news.
And it wasn’t the first time.
I miss my kids.
No, I don’t have any children of my own, adopted, biological or otherwise. Instead, I had a church’s children to call my own—a whole bunch of them. From the babies to the high school students, they were mine.
I was in seminary and Lawrenceville First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was looking for a staff person for their children’s programming; I later took on youth programming as well. It worked out well for all of us.
It was in that church and among those kids that I heard and answered a call to ordained ministry. It doesn’t take much to get me to tell the entire wonderful, holy, absurd story-one that includes my general distaste for children.
I had no choice but to join the conspiracy. In the summer of 2009, I started my first call post-seminary and ordination as a pastoral resident at a growing, mid-sized, suburban, mainline protestant congregation in the Deep South. During a planning retreat in August with my senior pastor, I was introduced to the Advent Conspiracy (AC), which the church had already joined. It was an amazing, spiritual, and challenging experience for them, during which a congregation of 140 in worship raised around $5000 to build 3 wells in the Chaco Region of South America. They decided to continue it during the two Advent Seasons that I served with them; projects in those years raised funds to dig a well and help build an orphanage in Kenya.
Simply put, the Advent Conspiracy (AC) is a program theme for Advent. The four weekly themes are "Worship Fully," "Spend Less," "Give More," and "Love All." AC started in 2006 through the work of five pastors. They head churches that are non-denominational, larger congregations, which clearly state their theological positions on their websites. Most of the leadership roles are filled by men; however one congregation (Windsor Crossing), after two years of discernment, now states that women can have full leadership in the church including the role of pastor.
Life behind the pulpit has not gone as expected. I know God does the unexpected, but I cannot think God wanted my first call to erode my self-esteem and damage my desire to live into my call to the point that I wonder if I will ever have the nerve to get behind the pulpit again.
That first call appeared to be a great fit, and I was excited to accept it. The job description matched the congregation's needs to my gifts and skills. I was the Associate Pastor of a mid-sized congregation in the Southern United States. Giving up his good job near my seminary, my husband and I relocated so that I could take my first call. We purchased our first home and began to settle down, appreciating the chance to put down some roots. It was a welcome respite considering I’d had eleven different addresses in the twelve years since beginning college. I was ready for a taste of stability.