Being a woman in the ministry is something that I didn't worry too much about when I came here, even though I was the first woman that this congregation had ever had. I was more concerned about my age--more specifically, my age compared to the average age of this congregation (and the denomination as a whole).
Over at RGBP this past week, there was a post on what to look out for being the first woman pastor of a congregation. It got me thinking of the challenges that I have faced over the past two and a half years. Honestly, most of them aren't due to my gender. Some folks have been a little less confortable than others. I don't think we lost anyone over it, at least not that I'm aware of. But as pointed out in one of the comments to the post, I am tangling a bit now with some of the matriarch/patriarch 'dynasties' in the church. This is unraveling in several ways. Mostly it is coming about with knit-picky snipping at me for what they see me not doing to their particular liking or standards. "We've come to expect better (fill in the blank) from our pastors here," is a frequent relay.
Thankfully, I know I also have some staunch supporters who are excited about my ministry with this church and know that I care for the congregation (knit-pickers and all!) and that change is always a painful experience, especially for smaller congregations.
Probably harder than anything else is being a mom and a minister. I'm still the primary care-giver. I am thankful that my vocation allows me some flexibility to my schedule. Who says I have to sit in my office to write a sermon? I have a laptop. Starbucks, anyone? Some members believe that ministry ought to be a career like any other. 9-5, fire at will, that they as the members are my 'boss,' that sort of thing. But I have some wise lay people who reminded me that my 'contract' is actually called a 'covenant.' That is, in the sense of a marriage. I don't actually work for the church, I work for Christ--he's the boss! I was called to lead and minister to this church in the name of Christ, as his disciple. I am blessed to have wonderful colleagues and lay people to help me sort all this out and help me to realize what is actually beneath some of the knit-picking. Once I know the root, it's far more easily addressed and the lay leaders who are not part of the entrenched dynasties are wonderful at taking the leadership mantle and addressing the rest of the congregation when those sorts of critical comments would be better received that way than from me.
I am also blessed to have many wonderful female colleagues in the area. Even though I am the only woman pastor in my town, the rest of the men that I have encountered of other denominations have been very open and we have good collegial relationships. But I also know that I couldn't make it without my minister girl-friends! We are all in similar situations and it is so helpful to know that small churches are fairly predictable and I'm not going through this alone.
Still, I have been very well received by the majority of folks here in my congregation. My pillars are very good to me and help remind me why my work here is still very relevant. I know that the Spirit is moving and shaking here and we have to lead, follow, or get out of the way! TBTG!