Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rev. Mom

I'm wondering how long it will take the mainline church to have a paradigm shift regarding its pastors. Even after 50 years (in my denomination anyway) of women being pastors, we still don't seem to know what to do with pastors who are also mothers. Now, that may be due to the fact that most of the first women pastors were older, second career pastors. Children were grown and gone for the most part.
But now, now there are young women both single and married in parishes, and lots of us are moms. Well, you might say, lots of the males were/are dads, what's the difference? Uh, just go back under your rock now, please.
The differences are several, in fact. Traditionally, dads, pastors or not, are not the primary care givers. That is changing more and more, but not until the last 10-15 years or so even. That meant that, traditionally, pastor dads could expect to leave the kids with mom and go to evening meetings, take week long trips to conferences, do evening visits, and even drop everything for an emergency because more often than not, mom is not working! Though it is rare, my spouse does travel for work, if I were to have a middle of the night emergency call while he was out of town, I'd be in a pickle. But churches don't really think about that, they just want you there when they are in crisis.
Which also brings up the two-income family matter. This applies to moms or dads being pastor, actually, and may be the heart of the matter one way or the other. Churches are not used to having their pastor say, "I can't make that women's group meeting, I can't get a babysitter." My experience is that the paradigm of the at-home partner (read: "pastor's wife") is well and truly entrenched in the parishioners minds and the idea that the pastor can't just leave the kids at home with the spouse is completely alien--still!
I actually had a confrontation with a parishioner once when I tried to explain that finding a babysitter was not always an affordable option. She snapped back that she knew what I made, implying that it should not be a problem. Well, it is. Do I have a decent income? yes. In fact, so does my spouse. However, we still have grad school debt, debt from medical bills, a mortgage, car payments, bills, bills and more bills, and the normal costs associated with raising two beautiful little girls. The woman is, of course, of the generation where women were always at home with the children while daddy worked. I did not inform her of our financial situation, but I gently reminded her that with both my husband and I working full time, our situation was not the same as the one she experienced as a mother.
It's interesting how the paradigm of "pastor" just won't go away. I've been stretching the boundaries though, since I've been in this congregation. I restrict my office hours to the hours my oldest is in school (9-3). I do the rest of my work on my laptop while she does homework. I encourage people to call ahead and set a time to come by, not just drop in (though now that we have an admin, it's not such a problem. At least the door isn't locked.) If I absolutely have to, my daughter comes with me to the office armed with videos and puzzles, etc., and hangs out in the church library.
I know several of my colleagues who deal with this. One of my closest friends is going through a separation--her spouse is also clergy. They have a son a little younger than my older girl. I know that singlehood will make childcare even harder--I wish we lived closer. Will her church be more understanding? Will they resent the demands of parenting that take away from her time at church? I will be interested to see, and pray for the best outcome.
At the end of all this, I have to say that most of the members of my church have actually been as helpful as they can be, offering to watch the children when I was in a bind or whatever else was needed for the situation. But one last observation is that it has been very generational, with the most elderly seeming to be the least forgiving of motherhood vs. occupational demands. My theories as to why, I will save for another post...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sorry, Wrong Number

The texts for this week (Epiphany 2B) are all about call. As someone who professes to be 'called' to her profession, I find these texts both wonderful and difficult to deal with. I was recently helping a sister church through their long-range visioning process so that they could come up with a new vision statement. But it turns out that the leaders of that church had a problem seeing beyond the "now". The vision statement they churned out was a description of the way they are now, not what they hope to be in the future (or at least I assume they don't hope to be stagnant and unchanged in the next ten or fifteen year) especially in light of the fact that their pastor of 33 years is retiring in a few months. So as much as I pushed them to consider "What is God calling us to be and do?" it still seemed like their own agenda (that is, "we like us now and don't try to change us") ended up as the vision. But of course, that's only my take on it. So how DO we know what is God's call and what is our agenda? My denomination has a long process for those who want to enter the ministry. We have a committee that helps to guide candidates, and we expect their home churches to help as well. As the newly appointed chair of my presbytery's Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM), I feel particularly drawn to that question right now. How do we help these candidates know what is God's call and what is, say, their mother's dream pushed onto them? Well, for one, that is why we do this sort of thing in groups. We pray, we discern, we pray some more and we work through this process because, well, it does work. I have seen people who eventually discerned that their 'call' was really something that someone else had dreamed for them, not God. Then again, I've seen plenty of people do the exact opposite. "No, no, that's not God, that's coincidence," they'll say. Who says God can't work through coincidences? It was the same for Samuel; he needed Eli to guide him through the call process. "If you hear God's voice again, Samuel, this is what you need to say," goes the instruction. And so with that guidance, Samuel becomes a prophet for the people of Israel. What might God be calling us to be and do, that we could discern with just a little guidance from colleagues, friends, an intentional prayer group, etc.? Who is your Eli?