Good afternoon CURE readers! We’re back, on an unusually warm and sunny day in February. Now that you’ve gotten sick from all your valentine’s candy, and I’ve bought all the leftovers at half off, it’s time to get down to business. I read a book.
Yes, a real book. I know, we read so many of them for classes, but I don’t consider those as books, per se, more like appendages to my classes that not only give me headaches but paper cuts as well. Ouch! So, over January, I picked up a few books to read through before the ultimate in Presbyterian bonding happened (J-term Polity), and one of them was quite good. In fact, I’d say I learned a bit from it. So here it is, the good, the ugly, and the weepy of being a woman in ministry…
On New Years Day, I found myself relaxing and enjoying one of my only days of freedom as I finish my senior year of seminary. Between being a CPE extern at a large hospital downtown, taking a full load of classes, working 2 part-time jobs, finishing ordination exams, applying for residencies, visiting family for the holidays, and attempting to have a social/dating life, I spent my New Years day reading a book while watching the snow fall on and off in what has been an incredibly warm Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. I can only imagine what February and March have in store for us (future seminarians, get ready, because this WILL become your life too).
Now, as a seminarian, reading a book is no easy or surprising task. We read all the time. We read books on theology, pastoral care, evil and suffering, exegesis, children’s ministry, interfaith dialogue, and so on. But this book was a little different. There are lots of books out there for seminarians and clergy alike that are meant to help us out. Rarely do we actually get to finish them with our busy schedules; so, this time, I decided to read one of these books instead of consuming the traditional collard greens and black-eyed peas that most opt for on New Years Day. I am, after all, from the South. So it’s already a staple part of my regular diet. I think I am okay in skipping one day.
Bless Her Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman is a book written by Rev. Ashley-Anne Masters and Rev. Stacy Smith. Both ordained ministers in the Presbyterian Church (USA), they sat down with the Young Clergy Women Project and put this book together. It’s a collection of stories from women in ministry, from all different denominations and places, and at some point, if you’re a woman in ministry, you can resonate with atleast one of these stories. If you’re like me, you can resonate with pretty much every one in some way or another. It’s not just stories, but it’s also Scripture (I mean, you gotta have Scripture, right?). It’s melding together the realities of being young, female, and working in the ministry: a male-dominated field.
Now, this is not a male-bashing book. Let’s get that out of the way right about… now. Got it? Good.
It’s about sharing stories about women working together. Women working as new mothers. Women working in large and small congregations. Women working in first and second calls. Women dating. Women working in ministry.
Personally, I resonated with chapter 1 the most, “Pedicures for the Pastor.” Once I was told that my hairstyle was not acceptable for preaching because I had bangs and shorter hair. My bangs were taking away from seeing my forehead and my short haircut was making it so you could see my studded earrings. Apparently, no one could hear my beautifully exegeted and delivered sermon because of these things. Really?! Yep, it happens. But then chapters 3 and 4, as a young and single woman, were the two I found most enjoyable.
Chapter 3, “Romancing the Reverend: Singleness, Sex, Divorce, and Dating,” was where I literally laughed out loud. Why did I laugh, you ask? Well, because in the section entitled “The Chaplain of Match.com” was all too familiar. Yes, my dear readers, I took, like so many other seminarians and clergy women, are on online dating sites (well, thanks to those sites, no longer…). Why, well exactly what it says in the book. What man or woman grows up thinking, “Hey, I want to date a female pastor one day and be a pastor’s husband/wife?”
None. And if they do, you might want to think about who you’re sitting across from at the table on that first date. (I went on one of those; run for the hills ladies, run fast when you meet them and do not look back.)
Chapter 4 was just as promising, “Hemlines and Homiletics: Hair, Makeup, Clothing, and Other Body Issues.” We all can look at numerous magazines and television shows and websites and realize with some form of clarity that women are sexed up in lots of ways. You have to be thin and toned like Sandra Bullock, or you can’t be like Beyonce if you go out with anything but makeup and high heels on, or you have to have hair like Sacrlett Johansen’s; it’s all over the place folks! Bet you didn’t think that was in the pulpit too. But it is. Women are scrutinized by other women (and yes, men) all the time. A pastor should look a very specific way and if it doesn’t conform to the image that a person has in their head, then you must be doing it wrong.
The chapters after this and before the ending are completely worth reading as well. Now, I can’t relate to being a working mom or as someone who even wants children, but lots of you can. So read.
The last chapter, “Struggling for Sabbath: Time Management and Finding Balance” was a good note to end on. Looking at how we balance being good enough pastors and also good enough individuals is really important. But it’s so easy to focus only on being the best pastor for our flocks that we forget that we’re our own person and we have to take care of ourselves. There’s no one set way to do it, but there are different ways and it’s our own responsibility to find it for ourselves and get some control going in an ever uncontrolled world.
So there you have it. My New Years read. Was it worth the $15 bucks? Yes. Every penny of it. Grab a few tissues (cause some parts will make you cry for various reasons), grab a cup or two of coffee, and find your favorite college sweats and a comfy place to sit and read. You won’t feel bad that you did, but you’ll feel bad that you didn’t before hand.
Once you’re finished reading, you’ll be compelled to tell your own story, and guess what? Ashley-Anne and Stacy even thought of that too. Check out their website here to share your own story. You won’t regret it.
Until next time our faithful readers!
Peace~ Shelley D.