We are all called into ministry by virtue of our baptisms, and some of us are called into professional ministry. SPM is now a card-carrying, sacrament-leading, all-rights-and-privileges Minister of the Word and Sacrament. I hope the congregation she’s serving has a flicker of understanding how blessed they are.
So, here’s the thing: young male clergy are a blessing, over-40 second career female clergy are a blessing, Gen X/Boomer clergypersons are a blessing. But being a clergywoman under the age of 40 still has it’s particular challenges. Double those challenges if the clergywoman is a Person of Color or an LGBTQ pastor.
Most large congregations with multiple pastors in the United States have a male Head of Staff/Senior Pastor and so calling a young female associate pastor is not particularly risky for traditional congregations. She adds balance. He can teach her some things. Maybe her voice won’t be too high. It could be inconvenient if she gives birth while serving. If she’s single – all the better. I have heard each of these comments from search committees seeking an associate pastor and open to calling a young clergywoman. Calling a young clergywoman because she is maleable or helpful in completing a staff demographically is problematic. Calling her for who she is – period – will make everybody happier.
Very small congregations are often open to calling a young woman to be their solo pastor, but it will be lonely. And exhausting. Even young male clergy tell me that “the church ladies” volunteered for them quite a bit in their first small-church call – from bulletin printing to tidying up the sanctuary. I was asked to bake brownies for the first Session meeting I moderated as a 28 year old new pastor.
Medium to large congregations tend not to call young women right out of seminary, although they might call a young man the same age – especially if he’s married.
There are exceptions to these generalities, of course, but young clergywomen will recognize some of my observations.
The Young Clergywomen’s Project was founded in 2007 by the Rev. Susan Olson with a grant from The Louisville Institute to offer support for the youngest clergywomen among us. Today the organization is called Young Clergy Women International. Members are ordained clergywomen under the age of 40 from a variety of Christian denominations.
I thank God for this group of colleagues who are a fountain of support. They remind each other that they are not alone, especially when they feel like they are doing “everything” all by themselves or when they haven’t had a date in years or when parishioners won’t stop talking about their hair. They have been a support to me (an older clergywoman) too.
If you are reading this and a young clergywoman is serving your congregation, please recognize that . . .
- Not only does she have a lot to learn from you but you have a lot to learn from her. (Read about Co-Mentoring here.)
- It’s not a good idea to touch her hair, face, or (if expecting a child) belly. Her body is her own.
- Commenting on her hair, shoes, legs (please don’t) diminishes her role as your spiritual leader. Ask her instead about what she’s reading or if she’s taking her Sabbath day off.
- She deserves a personal life as much as you do. If she’s single, it’s none of your business who she’s dating. If she’s married, encourage couple time. Don’t ask when she plans to have a(nother) baby.
- Remind her that she is gifted in pastoral care, preaching, teaching, and leadership. That’s why your congregation called her, right? Give her feedback beyond “nice sermon” or “I love your earrings.”
- Pay. Her. Fairly. Could you live off her salary?
I loved being a young clergywoman long ago. But it can be harder than it needs to be.
Image is from The Young Clergy Women’s Project. I dedicate this post to the newly ordained SPM who has always been my first cousin once removed and is now also my clergy sister. She preached the best sermon I’ve ever heard yesterday on the Mark 14:32-42 text.