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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - What's It All About Edition

As a 25 year-old newly-ordained minister and only the second woman serving a full-time call in a metropolitan area of over 400,000 people, I remember feeling very alone at times. But even more daunting than the loneliness was the realization that I was encountering situations for which seminary had never prepared me. I was part of a pastoral colleague group whose mentor was wise and caring. I was blessed with a bishop and judicatory leadership that was strongly supportive too. But what I wouldn’t have given for the opportunity to check in with and run situations past another woman who had some significant experience in pastoral ministry, and was still passionate about it! And a group of women like that - well, that would have been the whipped cream and dark chocolate drizzled on the latte!

What do you do when you realize a few months into your tenure that the woman who has been the de facto lay leader of the congregation is deeply threatened by your presence?

How do you function as a leader in a setting where the life events that make one an adult – marriage and child-bearing – aren’t a part of your life’s story?

What do you do when you have the sneaking suspicion that something is terribly wrong with the congregation’s financial management?

What do you do when you begin to think you would be happier flipping hamburgers at the local fast-food establishment than pasturing your parish?

Does any woman make it beyond six or seven years of this work?

These are but a few of the questions I would have brought to “Ask the Matriarch” during my first 3 years of ministry. RevGalBlogPals hadn’t come into existence at that point. Friends – the internet hadn’t even been invented yet!

Today both the internet and RevGalBlogPals provide a means of community for ordained women and those who support them that reaches across denominational lines and around the globe. In August 2006, “Ask the Matriarch’ was proposed as a weekly event on the RevGals site with the specific objective of linking persons new to ordained ministry with questions and struggles with women who had at least 10 years of ordained ministry experience. Judging from the steady stream of questions and responses to them, this feature continues to provide a setting for support and conversation across a range of subjects in pastoral leadership.

I consider it a privilege to be able to be a part of the RevGals community and this feature. There are five matriarchs who join me in this endeavor, but we really would benefit from a few more women with significant ordained experience (10 years is our chosen benchmark) to help shoulder the work when life gets busy for any of us. If you are interested in joining our merry band of matriarchs, drop us a line at

And as always, we need your questions to make this feature work. You don't have to be new in ordained ministry...whatever your tenure or situation, your questions are respected and valued. You can forward them to us at

We’ll be back with ATM in its regular format next Thursday…hope to see you then.

May you live in God’s amazing grace+


(Photo courtesy of


  1. This is one of my favorite weekly readings.
    I have done my own posts and offered responses as well.
    The lonliness in my first call was unreal and I found a great support system in finding that I was not the "flawed piece of the puzzle." It was through the support of RGBPs and ATM that I develpoed basic survival skills in my first call.
    Thanks for always being there and for helping keep many of us in ministry instead of flipping burgers at McDs.

  2. I love AtM--y'all have guided me through negotiating my first call, handling transition, working with new staff members, and dealing with tricksy congregation members. And I love reading other people's questions and answers, too--it makes me feel much less alone in this crazy world.

    Thanks for being there with and for us!

  3. Despite being in full time ministry 15 years now, I have just recently come into a charge where the unofficial female lay leader, who happens to be church secretary (and wants to be my p.a.) is severely threatened by my presence - and she has her own band of supporters who also make life difficult. I'm doing my best to be squeaky clean and professional and not get caught up in the power games that are ongoing but I resent the energy it is sapping when there is a huge parish to be served. Any advice?

  4. Oh yes. AtM would have been so useful to me in my early days of ordination....what a great resource we have here!

  5. Thank you Rev Honey and everyone else who willingly gives of their wisdom each week.

    You are an incredible blessing.


  6. church near cowsMay 1, 2009 at 12:31 AM

    I am in the first year of my first call and at times I can feel both isolated (I'm a good hour drive to the nearest other first call person and as best I can tell the only female clergy in the county) and my congregation is well a little more shall we say quirky than I had bargained for. I definitely look forward to Thursdays when I can read Ask the Matriarch.

  7. Liz,
    If it is okay with you, we will address your question in the next week or two here in this column.

  8. RevHoney,
    thanks for that. And if I have any more issues I'll email as directed in the post. Wanted to highlight here though, how even when you're considered "experienced", things come up and hit you!

  9. Don't worry about the lack of questions, there's a whole crop of us graduating and moving out into the great unknown (hopefully sooner rather than later)

    I'm looking for my first call, then I'm sure I'll drop you a few questions!


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