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I am what I am

Recently this post on the Harvard Business Review page caught my eye.  http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/02/how_female_leaders_should_handle_double_standards.html

The article discusses the double standards that are often applied to women in leadership roles many of which stem from out dated gender stereotypes.  Men are judged based on skills and women are often judged on the basis of appearance.  Men are expected to be strong leaders capable of an appropriate degree of aggression in business settings.  A woman who displays similar skills may be accused of having “sharp elbows”.  

And that got me thinking about the role of women in the church.  I’d like to believe that my parishioners, students and colleagues judge me on the basis of my skills and abilities.  But, there’s a small inner voice that wonders if sometimes my lack of attention to style, makeup, shoes; all of those small details that my mother said were important, may in fact be a part of the way in which I’m assessed?  I don’t want to think it’s true.  I want to believe that if I am direct and straightforward in a conversation I’m viewed as decisive and not as having “sharp elbows”.  But as I said, the small voice is still there.  And if the voice is there in my own head is it also playing in the heads of others?

I met recently with a young woman who is considering a call to ministry.  In our conversation I heard echoes of my own doubts of a decade ago but also the whispers of that small voice.  Can I really do this and do it as well as my male colleagues?

The writer of the Harvard Business Review article, Herminia Ibarra, suggests the following strategies for dealing with double standards:

  • Understand how you are perceived and what role gender stereotypes play in those perceptions. Get informed about the research; don’t be naive.
  • Have clarity of purpose. Know why you are doing what you are doing, and how it will advance the collective good.
  • Be yourself. “Dare the difference,” as Lagarde advises. But do so skillfully. Don’t just let it all hang out; and never confuse “being authentic” with “fatal flaws” such as treating people poorly.

Her words are helpful in framing my own role in ministry.  Be aware of potential stereotypes and biases. I’d rephrase that as being willing to speak truth to power but also to speak the truth in love to those who are still in bondage to bias.  Know who you are and why you do what you do.  In my world we call that a sense of calling.  When the voice in my head gets loud I remind myself that God called me to “live a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called.” As long as I’m living into my calling, to the best of my ability, then the naysayers have little power to influence me.  And finally, Be yourself!  Got it.  In other words my lack of attention to the latest style, or the newest shoes is simply a part of who I am. I’m much more excited about a new book than a new sweater.  As Popeye said “I am what I am.”  And that is enough for me, for God, for me to follow and to lead.  



I’ve been thinking about change today.  (Not the kind that always finds the couch cushions and rolls around on the floor in the back seat of the car)  My second grandchild arrived on Saturday, born to daughter number 1 and her husband, and as I watched her with this tiny little person I realized that their life was about to become a new adventure.  At the same time my husband is working in a new job which requires more travel time but is far more satisfying for him.  Another new adventure.  The church I’m serving as interim is moving into the more active phase of their search and in that area of life there will soon be change as well.  In the summer and fall semesters by course assignments at the seminary will also change.  Ch-ch-ch-changes!  And in the midst of all of these changes, I’m feeling calm and more convinced that ever that God is at work.  It’s as if the more things change the more I can feel both a deep movement and transformation in my inner self and a calm assurance that God is in the midst of the changes.

It makes me wonder about change in general.  How do you cope with change?  Does it make you stressed, anxious, excited, curious?  

Is the senior pastor in…

The phone rings in the church office.  I answer.  “St Peter’s UCC. Pastor Kathryn speaking.”  The voice on the other end is usually young and male.  “Is the senior pastor in?”  I pause before answering.  “I’m sorry the senior pastor is not available.  Can I take a message?”  (And just in case you’re wondering this is technically true since senior pastor implies a staff, associate pastors, and to be entirely accurate I’m The  Interim Pastor, no senior.)  “Is there a time when he would be available to take my call?”  And now I know that the caller is not someone familiar with the church.  Usually they continue on with a sales spiel designed to convince me that it is imperative that they speak with the senior pastor because only HE can decide the importance of their product.  Occasionally I interrupt, “Actually, I am the pastor.  We don’t use the term senior.  Would you like to tell me about your product?”  This usually results in one of two reactions, good-natured chuckling and some recognition of the error, “Oh, I’m sorry Pastor.  What did you say your name was?”  But equally often there’s an awkward pause.  And then “So you’re the pastor?  But…” and the unspoken “You’re a woman!”  Sometimes they can’t get off the phone fast enough and I wonder if they think gender is contagious.  One young man, obviously very discomforted by my response said “Well, I’ll call back some other time when you have a senior pastor.”  As I hang up I think to myself “I wonder if Junia had this problem.”

There has to be a better word…

There has to be a better word to describe myself than “feminist” but if such a word exists I’m having difficulty locating it. You see I resist the use of the word “feminist” because many of the women I’ve met who self describe using this term have a quality of person that I don’t relate to.  Many of them seem angry and I’m not.  At least not about my place in the world and the role of my gender in the world.  (There are other things that make me angry and a few that tempt me to move from my pacifist position but my gender isn’t one of them.)  It’s not a new question but one that rears it’s head fairly frequently.  Usually it rears its head because someone is trying to understand how I engage my gender in the world of ministry.  Sometimes it’s a student asking because they are expecting my theology to be feminist in tone.  Sometimes it’s a parishioner trying to sort out how to address me or talk about me.  Sometimes it’s someone who assumes that to be a woman in ministry means one must be a feminist.

I like being a woman.  While it does occasionally complicate my life in ministry it’s also a source of great joy to me. I suspect that as a woman in ministry I relate to parishioners in a slightly different way than my male colleagues.  I find that I spend a great deal of time re-parenting and giving guidance much like that I would give my own children.  I wonder sometimes if instead of “Pastor”, my parishioners should just call me “Mom”.

I also find that in the seminary setting my gender creates interesting moments, but I don’t find these to be stressful as much as I find them interesting.  The moments in which my conversation with students about original sin includes a conversation about the virginity of Mary are quite delightful.  I admit a certain joy in watching a few students wince when I’m quite frank in my language regarding the conception of Jesus.  Apparently the words ‘sperm’ and ‘ova’ can still make some grown men blush.

So am I a feminist?  I’m a woman who believes in the unique dignity of each human life regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, orientation and age.  I don’t measure people on the basis of these things and don’t expect to be measured solely by these things in my own life.  I believe that women contribute to our societies in unique and valuable ways.  I believe that I can be the equal of any person, regardless of gender, if my gifts and graces allow.  (I’ll never be the equal of my mechanically competent husband due to my lack of spatial sense and physical strength.)  Do these things make me a feminist?

I’d use the word ‘humanist’ but of course that has baggage that I don’t care to lug around.  Womanist, equally connected to agendas that are not mine.  Perhaps I need an adjective such as gracious, gracious feminist?  So you see, it’s an ongoing challenge.  Any thoughts dear reader?

This is Father…

I’m at the hospital.  And given that the person I’m visiting is not a parishioner but  the de-churched friend of a parishioner who grew up in a more formal and liturgical tradition I’m wearing the collar.  I tap on the hospital room door and ask if I can come in.  The patient is sleeping but his brother is sitting at the bedside.  I introduce myself.  We chat for a minute or two.  Another family member enters the room and the brother introduces me.  “This is Father…I mean…Mother…no that can’t be right either.  What do we call you?”  I introduce myself, “Pastor Kathryn or just Kathryn is fine.”  “Yes of course Father.  I mean Mother…”

Why I need a wife…

I came to a realization this week.  It was prompted by a back log of laundry, the quantity of dog hair lurking in the carpet and the lack of anything resembling a nutritious meal in the fridge.  I need a wife.  Or maybe a personal assistant.  Clearly I am not juggling all of the tasks on the home front as well as I should be.

I have two part-time ministry calls.  One is to a small church as their part-time interim pastor and the other is as a part-time instructor in theology and ethics at a nearby seminary.  Note that both of these employment settings use the word part-time.  But if you’ve spent any time in the real world of ministry you will know that part-time is rarely part-time.  When the work load at the seminary is at its normal level and we’re not in a season of special liturgical significance in the church the work load is quite manageable.  But when both settings require just a little more than part-time chaos begins to set in and the place that it settles is home.

I have to confess that I envy my colleagues in both ministry settings who have “stay at home” spouses.  They can depend on someone else to buy food and make meals, wash, fold and put away laundry, and stay on top of the dog hair.  I usually try to cram those tasks into the spaces between ministry appointments, meetings, study time, sermon prep and grading papers.

Which leads me to this week’s epiphany.  I’m perfectly content with my husband of 27 years and have no desire to trade him in.  But he works equally as many hours a week as I do, sometimes including weekends.  He is willing to tackle some of the aforementioned tasks but his time is as limited as mine.  What I need, what we need, is a wife.  Or a house-husband.  Preferably someone who works for free inexpensively and doesn’t mind a position with an chaotic irregular work schedule.  I wonder if I should post an ad on Craig’s list?

On Collars and Pants

Recently I participated in a community Thanksgiving Eve service.  Clergy from a number of different liturgical traditions were present and participated.  The dress code for the evening had been established as “clergy semi-formal”- no robes, collars optional.  I had been asked to preach and so adopted my usual Sunday morning garb, suit jacket, collared shirt, pants, which allows freedom of movement, comfort and of considerable importance, a place to anchor the microphone pack.

Now my male clergy friends may be reading this with some confusion but the simple facts are that for women in ministry who preach using a wireless microphone the placement of the mic pack is a cause for stress.  You see the waistbands on skirts are not always stiff enough to guarantee that the pack will stay where it should.  Of equal concern is the possibility that a heavy pack will drag the waistband down, perhaps resulting in an unforeseen wardrobe malfunction.  Dresses tend to lack an appropriate location to fasten the microphone pack.  One can always add a belt over top of the dress in a purely utilitarian solution but this inevitably results in comments from parishioners regarding the lack of fashion sense this demonstrates.  There is the other solution of embedding the microphone pack under the dress, anchored in the waistband of nylons and underwear but this creates logistical complications that require time and privacy to remedy.  The robe atop the street clothes may offer a partial solution if it has an existing microphone pocket, or a belt around the waist but in situations where less formality in dress is preferred this does not resolve the issue.  So pants become the default clothing choice, making a pocket available for the essential pack to occupy.

But the pants cause another series of issues.  An elderly female congregant approached me after the service and noted the following, “I’m glad they asked you to preach tonight but I wish you had worn your nice shoes instead of those.”  This said pointing downward at my comfortable, low heeled, dress boots, chosen specifically because they offered secure footing in an unfamiliar chancel area. ( I live in fear of tripping down steps in high heels.)  She continued, “It doesn’t bother me a whole lot any more when you wear pants but I wish you’d dress them up a little.  There’s a really nice shoe store at the mall that has nice heels.  And maybe a little makeup. You’re awfully pale tonight.”   I wasn’t sure how to respond except to say “Well, thanks for your feedback.  I’m usually more concerned with comfort than with how I look.”

Having escaped from congregant number one, I found my way to the coffee table and grabbed a cup hoping to hide from further well meaning critiques.  No such luck.  Congregant number two, mid sixties and opinionated, headed my way.  “Pastor.  Thanks for your sermon.  Real  nice.  And by the way, I’m glad you don’t have on one of those funny collars like that other  lady.”  The other lady was the Lutheran pastor who was rarely seen in public minus the roman collar.  I said, “Oh, I have one.  I just don’t wear it very often.”  He looked puzzled and then said “I guess I thought they only made those for men.”

In fact I own two collared shirts.  One, a pleasant burgundy color with a tab insert collar and the other a soft grey with collar permanently attached.  The first was clearly sized for someone other than a five foot one woman.  The tails hang down almost to my knees, the back tends to billow out of the waistband of my pants and the collar chafes because it’s just a little too tall.  In case you’re wondering, I purchased it from  distributor who claimed to have clergy shirts sized for women.  Fail.  Epic fail.  But the other is a delight.  It was hand-made out of a soft bamboo woven fabric that breathes in the summer and stays warm and light in the winter.  The collar fits nicely, the length is appropriate and the fit neither disguises the fact that I am a woman, nor advertises it inappropriately.  Thank God for http://www.stitchesofayr.com/.

The logistics of appropriate preaching attire are just one of the places where Junia and I have some trouble fitting into the existing structures of a church tradition that has been largely male.  There are other such minor inconveniences, pulpits too tall, clergy chairs too large and in need of footstools, office desks designed for large, male frames, all of which when taken together can sometimes cause frustration.  But on the whole, I’m grateful for my congregation who don’t seem too concerned with the formality of my dress, and willingly modify furniture as needed.  And occassionaly, someone notices the subtle differences the female clergy bring.

Just as I was heading out from the Thanksgiving Eve service, a little discouraged truth be told, another individual stopped me.  “Pastor, I just wanted to thank you for preaching tonight.”  She was young and her voice trembled with emotion.  “I come from a church where women don’t preach but lately I’ve been thinking that God is calling me.  So hearing you tonight gave me hope.”  And she hugged me and was gone before I could even respond.    And suddenly the question of where to put the microphone pack shrank in importance.  Junia and I are going to be alright.

Junia and I

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.  Romans 16:7 TNIV

Junia and I

Let’s get one thing straight at the beginning.  I am not a feminist.  That is to say that I am not someone actively involved in an organized movement to promote the rights of women.  This doesn’t stem from a lack of concern about the rights of women but rather a belief that the rights of all individuals should have equal value in any society or culture.  The word feminist carries some baggage that I’m not ready to embrace.  I’d call myself a humanist, someone concerned about the value of all humanity, but that word has also been appropriated.  See the note above regarding baggage.

But I am concerned.  As the mother of two adult daughters, and as a seminary professor, I wonder what kind of hope I can hold out to my daughters and to my students for a world in which gender in not the measure of competence and potential in ministry.  I hear from female colleagues who feel that they must accommodate themselves to a largely male world within the church; a patriarchy that tends to metaphorically pat women on the head and say “of course you want to do this, and you should”, while at the same time limiting the possibilities in which women can serve.  I watch as female students struggle to find ministry settings in which to serve, and listen to male students defend complimentarian positions without any sense that the other half of the room is hearing this as a personal rebuke.  And all this makes me believe that Junia and I need a voice in the world.

But what kind of voice?  Not a strident voice that demands.  Nor a submissive voice that is self-subjugating.  But rather an honest voice that recognizes the unique blessings and challenges of ministry for women and serves to encourage those living with the call.

And so, Junia and I begins.  An attempt to offer my own frank experiences as a woman in parish and educational ministry.  My observations about the worlds in which I function, and an invitation to others to consider their own relationship to Junia and I.


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