I’m at a women’s banquet at our seminary. It’s an alumni thing, and I’m sitting around the table with some amazing pastors. The Interim Seminary President (not current) gets up to speak.
ISP’s past retirement age and always very eloquent. He talks about what an amazing impact that women have on the ministry. He says that one of the main things that has occurred is that the Associate Pastor position used to be a bit of a boy’s training ground (think fraternity hazing or military boot camp) where the man would be abused until he stepped off of that stone and got his own church. Then he would perpetuate the abuse by doing the same thing to the next guy coming up.
When women entered the scene, two things happened: First, we wouldn’t allow the abuse. Women wouldn’t put up with it. We struggled to make the position one of dignity and respect.
I nodded thoughtfully and wondered if it was true. Was this the case? Is that how the position was seen? We were in the South–was it true as well in other parts of the country?
If so, and if this idea is still lingering in our church family systems, it would explain some of the really strange dynamics that some APs have to endure. I always promised myself I’d never be one, because I heard so many horror stories. (Happily, I was wrong. I’m an AP now, in a healthy situation.)
Then he gets to number two: Second, there came the establishment of the career associate. Women want to be associates for their entire time in ministry.
I’m pretty sure that the woman next to me is choking on her chicken, but I can’t tell for sure because I’m doubled over in pain.
The horror echoes through the church courtyard, as we all turn to each other asking, “Did he really just say what I think he said? Did I misunderstand him?”
There was no mistaking it. He said it.
I knew that it wasn’t the case for me. At that point, I was thirty. I had been a Solo Pastor for a few years, and I was very content, but I knew that it wasn’t the job I wanted for the next thirty-seven years. And I was quite sure that I wasn’t cut out for a career Associate position either. I wanted to be a Head of Staff. Not right away, of course. I was willing to put in the time and work to get there, but in due time that’s what I expected.
I was horrified that people would look at the brilliant, talented women in that church fellowship hall and assume, “Aahh…now they all want to be career Associates. What a gift for the church.” And with ten years in the pastorate, I’m beginning to watch male colleagues excel far beyond the females. I see men with less experience get jobs that more qualified women apply for.
But here’s my conundrum: In the ensuing years, I’ve also become more aware of the particularities of different situations. Clergy women often marry up, so their jobs are tied to their husbands’ and they can’t engage in a national search. I also had an email exchange with a group of women clergy. One of them said, in effect, that she’s not in it for a big steeple, and she seemed offended that someone would assume that she was. Another woman, a mom, could see the value of her associate pastor position, as she took care of her small children. Another woman maintained a part-time pastoral position so that she could pursue other vocational passions in her life. They were looking at their careers with their whole lives in view. I fully respect each decision.
Yet, I’m often asked for names of women for major church positions, and after asking around, I embarrassingly come up empty-handed. Honestly, it happened three times last year, and I was told, “If you can’t come up with any names, then you need to quit complaining about the lack of women and people under forty not being in these HOS positions” (if you’re PCUSA and want me to give out your name, please email me your PIF).
And so I’m gulping hard, and with great fear and trepidation, I’m typing this. Is the stained glass ceiling there because of us? Was the ISP correct? Please tell me it isn’t so….
Of course, in an ideal world, men and women would have every opportunity open to them, and it would be up to the pastor to choose. It’s just that we’re going to have to have some women available to crack that stained glass ceiling.
So, what do you think? I certainly don’t want to blame any victims in this. And men, I didn’t mean to scare you away. I invite your comments too. Is there an assumption that men are in it for the big steeple and women want to be career associates? Why?