Today's question gives us all opportunity to consider how much, if any, of our personal health concerns need to be communicated to the people with whom we serve.
Hi my sisters and fellow servants in Christ! I'm working through something for which I thought your group might be able to provide insight. I am a pastor in medium size church. Ordained women are a relatively new concept and practice in our denomination. In a few months I have to have surgery - specifically a hysterectomy - which will necessitate my taking at least 6 weeks off. My concern is how do I inform the "board" as well as the congregation? I'm having a hard time with the idea that people will know what I'm having done. I know it's kind of foolish in this day and age, but I'm a product of a generation that only whispered about such things and then only among women. I'm frankly, embarrassed to have to tell people about such a personal issue.
Because of the newness of women in ministry in our "tribe" I don't have anyone else to talk to. I have great male pastor friends, but the next closest female is in another state. I'd welcome input.
First of all, we offer our prayers for your health and renewed well-being!
Sue, who blogs at innerdorothy was the first to weigh in...
I understand your concern, especially given that women's ministry is fairly new to your denomination. I spent six months on medical leave last year, so I hear what you're saying about how much or how little the congregation needs to know about your absence. In our denomination, we are fortunate to have a Restorative Care Plan - part of which specifically states that the minister does NOT have to reveal the reason for any medical absence. Any questions about the medical leave are to be directed to the individual's Restorative Care worker. Those questions are met with the following "Your minister is on medical leave and needs some time away. The reason for her/his absence is confidential, but she/he appreciates your concern." End of statement. No one needs to know the type of surgery, or even that you're having surgery at all. All they need is a note from your doctor or surgeon saying that the time is medically necessary. If people ask you directly, you might say, "Thank you for your concern, but I would prefer not to discuss it." My guess is that they won't push any further. Rumours will no doubt spread like wildfire. If people don't have information, they usually fill in the blanks with whatever they imagine might be going on. Let the rumours fly as they may, don't concern yourself with them. Rather, use the six weeks to heal and rest your body and soul from what is major surgery. Your body will need that time to heal itself - let other people's questions and curiosity be their problem, not yours. That's the best advice I've got, and it comes from my own experience. It may not fit your situation, but there you go.... I hope it is helpful in some way.
I'm having a hysterectomy next month as well. What helped me was remembering a time fifteen years ago when the Senior Pastor at the church where I was an Associate had to have prostate surgery--probably an equally "embarrassing" male equivalent. He was very straightforward about it--didn't mince words, but didn't give unnecessary detail either. I've just sent out a letter to the congregation explaining what kind of surgery I am having and how long I will be out of the office. (I did this after clearing the medical leave with our Personnel Committee and with Session.) Since the letter went out ten days ago I've gotten nothing but supportive feedback--including over 20 women who have assured me that they've "been there, done that" and that I will feel SO MUCH better afterwards.
And finally, mompriest who blogs at seekingauthenticvoice speaks from some very recent experience...
This is a timely question for me, as one who has literally just gone through this. I too felt very vulnerable, embarrassed, and had no desire to share with others what I was about to go through. Very personal. What I discovered is that it is so common that nearly every woman had had one, and almost every man had helped his wife through one.
Some critical decisions: do you know for a fact that you will be off for 6 weeks? Will the surgery be abdominal or vaginal/laparoscopic? Abdominal means 6 weeks off work! Vaginal means any where from 2-6 weeks off - plus a BIG difference in how one feels and what one can do and the amount of pain. I was one of the lucky ones, needing only two weeks off.
This is what I did: I scheduled vacation time (three weeks), and figured I would return to work as able, and in a limited capacity following that time off. I exercised and got myself into excellent shape so I'd have stamina for the surgery. (Exercising may not be an option, given the cause of your symptoms). I told a few key people of the pending surgery (my parish administrator and some of the staff). I arranged for an email to be sent to the parish the day before the surgery (I wrote it, the Parish Admin sent it) informing the parish of my surgery. A follow up email was sent the day after I returned home from surgery letting the parish know how I was doing. Most of the communication to the male leadership was done via email. I did speak to a few of the women. Many of the women said to me, "You are having the surgery EVERY woman wants at some point in her life." That may not be true, especially if one is young and wanted children, then it could be a heart break. BUT for a middle aged woman who was tired of the annoying symptoms from this failing organ, it was absolutely true. In other words, it is common, and there will be a lot of understanding from women who have had it and men who have helped the women in their lives recover from it.
And in case no one has offered this, go here for more info and support: hystersisters
Prayers for you. You will feel better when it is all over!
Do you have any insights or advice to add? You can do so by using the comment function.
And remember, your questions about life and ministry are always welcome! Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org