Young Clergywomen

Once upon a time . .  .

I was a twenty-something clergywomen.  The first time I did the benediction in the sanctuary of my first church, in that brief breath between the “amen” of the last hymn and the moment when the benediction is spoken, I heard someone say, “She can’t be a day over 13,”  I was a pastor but I was a very young person.

Tonight I asked the members of my clergywomen’s group, “How old were you when you were ordained, and all of us were in our twenties except for one who was a wise 30 year old.  Now we are in our 40s and 50s.  And we were not the first generation of ordained clergywomen.  But we were close to being The First.  Most of us were The First Clergywomen that our parishioners had ever seen.

An amazing thing happened today:  a seminarian who happened upon a member of our Preaching Roundtable in a parking lot had just received a phone call offering her a call.  Her first call.   She had happened upon our group, and we gathered around her and laid hands upon her and toasted her.

She is our new sister in professional ministry.

So, here’s my question:  What can 40/50/60-something clergywomen who are among the first ordained women in their churches offer to those who will be ordained in the next year?  My hope is that we mentor each other.

A question to women:  who is mentoring you these days?  Please share.

8 responses to “Young Clergywomen

  1. This is lovely, Jan!


  2. I hope we offer prayers, support, mentoring, encouragement, open ears to listen and learn with and from them (this one’s big, I think. I learn a lot from those who are newly ordained. Some things haven’t changed since I was ordained–when dinosaurs roamed the earth– but many things have changed.) So, in a sense, I think there’s some mutual mentoring going on…


  3. PS: Happy birthday to you.


  4. Pingback: What is a Mentor? « The Blue Room

  5. I was almost 40 before I was ordained, but had been in ministry for a long while before. I have always enjoyed the opportunity to sit at the feet of the people who have been through it all before. We stand on the shoulders, and all that.
    I was just able to participate in the ordination of a young woman on Saturday, and look forward to all she has to teach me.

    But in my experience, some women have not wanted to be mentors. A few women I have worked with seem to be from the “scarcity” model of ministry–in other words, if they shared with me what they had learned, then it would benefit me and diminish them–so I’ve always tried to tread gently around them because I do not know (but can imagine) how difficult their journey was. I suspect there must have been great pain and suffering to be in the first generation of ordained women. Perhaps it is too painful for them to see how easy (relatively) the journey has been for me.


    • Marci – Thanks for this wisdom. You are right. Some older clergywomen are threatened by the younger clergywomen. But I’ve also found that some younger clergywomen have no interest in being mentored by the older clergywomen because 1) the church is different now (true), 2) the experience of someone who went through the process relatively easily is different from those for whom it was harder (maybe true), and 3) people don’t like to be told what to do – of any age.

      I like the idea of mentoring each other. More about that on my Wednesday post.


  6. I think that mentoring is such an important part of the journey and often goes to the wayside when we are trying to accomplish the tasks of daily ministry. I would hope that female pastors could offer a sense of support and collegiality to those coming into ministry, uncovering that challenging balance from helping us along but also seeing that we have something to contribute equally to the table. Thank you for the thoughtful post about sustaining one another’s ministries (because I am guessing that there are ways that younger pastors can also reignite, educate, “mentor” those who went before us as well)!


  7. I was ordained in my mid thirties, thank God. I can’t imagine me, in my 20s, ordained and in charge of anyone’s spiritual anything. The thought is frightening.

    My diocese is very intentional about mentoring new clergy. But my current mentor is male, and my future mentor (I’ve just taken a new job) is also male. I actually prefer that. But before seminary I was a software engineer and one of only 3 women in a 40 person company. I’d rather work in an office full of men than women any day of the week. (My new office is all women, just the rector is a man, I’m not really looking forward to that aspect.)

    Not to say I don’t learn a lot from the more experienced women clergy (and friends) in the diocese and beyond. But I don’t learn MORE from the women than the men. In many ways its just the opposite. I’m old enough to be quite comfortable in my skin as a woman, I don’t really need mentoring in that. What my male mentors tend to give me are all those bits that I’m not so automatically good at (and that many of the women clergy around me are also rotten at): standing up for myself in negotiations, setting firm and strict boundaries, saying no, leaving the work at work, etc.

    For all those more experience clergy, just teach us to be better priests. Model good priestly ministry for us. Answer our questions without judgement, admit when you just don’t know. Let us make mistakes, let us work through them with you while feeling safe. And it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, we need the same things from you.

    One that that isn’t helpful (but I’ve gotten from women clergy) is a laundry list of all the things SHE endured in her early ministry, or dire warnings about being a woman in ministry. The first implies that nothing WE experience could ever be as bad, the second sends us into situations ready for a fight and that isn’t helpful either. Each of us will have our own unique experience, and every place and time will be different as well.

    (And for every time I’ve had a parishioner tell me how pretty I am I’ve noticed our same age male rector gets told how handsome he is, or what a nice voice he has. It’s just part of the life.)


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