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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Nowhere to Hang Her Stole

Our question this week is a bit unusual and many of our matriarchs freely admitted to having no experience with this issue. 

I'm in an unusual situation in that I have been ordained, but for various reasons am looking for a new overseeing body. My MDiv will be official in May... Does anyone have any advice for us nondenominational types? Are there progressive ordination groups that aren't patriarchal or so nondenominational as to be unidentifiable as Christian?

Or maybe I'm the only RevGal to have this question...

I'm a Rev but don't have a place to hang my stole...

The Vicar of Hogsmeade offers:

I don't know if you are the only one to have this question but I do know that I have no idea how to answer. However, I just found this website the other day through Rev. Nannette Sawyer's ( the BE 3 presenter) twitter feed: The Center for Progressive Christianity . Maybe that resource can help you on your journey.

Rev. Songbird writes:

The way the question is phrased is a bit off-putting. For me, progressive and patriarchal are antithetical. I'm not sure what is meant by "so non-denominational as to be unidentifiable as Christian." The progressive churches/judicatories are emphatically denominational. Those are the systems that have owned and promoted women's ordained leadership, and all of them are going to have standards for receiving a person ordained elsewhere that are rigorous and unique to the traditions of the denomination. 

It sounds like the questioner is looking for a new church home, in the global sense, a new field for ministry. In that case, she needs to start with her basic theological understandings and seek a denomination that is in the "neighborhood" of those understandings. How does she understand the nature of the sacraments? What is her understanding of the Trinity? Where does she fall on the interpretation of scripture? These are the questions a judicatory will want to ask, along with needing an explanation of the departure from the tradition/group that ordained the pastor. Further, no one will want to take on a pastor who doesn't fully embrace the body offering a new home. In other words, you can't just land somewhere and expect people to take you in just because it's what you want. There has to be a mutual understanding.

In my tradition, your ministerial standing requires local church membership. We do offer Privilege of Call to pastors from other denominations under certain specific circumstances, but that is based in the understanding that they are searching in our denomination and ready to leave theirs behind if a call is found. In other words, you have to be all in to come over to the UCC. That's a function of our local polity, and it's up to the local Church and Ministry committee to determine whether there is a mutual sense that a person's ministry could be compatible with ours. 

And that's just a thumbnail sketch of one denomination.
for the questioner, I would recommend taking the time to visit churches in your area that belong to denominations that ordain women, and see how the Spirit speaks to you.

And Sue adds:

Sorry, but this one has me quite stumped. In our denomination, once the MDiv and internship requirements are met, we are "settled" (as in placed) in our first charge, so there is no search for a call. That process may change in the next few years, but for now, that's how it works. We cannot be ordained without having been settled in a congregation. If no congregation is found, ordination is deferred.

In any case, your situation is really difficult. The closest I could come to an answer for you would be to head North and think about the United Church of Canada. We are uniquely Canadian and lean pretty far to the left theologically. The caveat is that the process for entry from another denomination is quite demanding and can take from three to five years, regardless of what other study you have already done.

The only other suggestion I might have would be the Unitarian churches, which often have a strong body of Christian believers in attendance. My experience is that Christians who attend Unitarian churches do so for the intellectual stimulation, not the spiritual or pastoral care. There's nothing wrong with that, but it may not be your style of ministry.

And Rev Abi said:
I feel like I need a few more details to clarify some things before I can answer your question, but here is my shot at it.
I changed from the denomination that originally ordained me to another.  It took me three years to decide on which denomination I felt I could best find a home in which to serve. I looked at most all of them, asked many questions, sought to understand the theology and practices.  And asked myself was this a place I could call home? Did I feel God was calling me there?  After deciding which one to go with, I followed what was required of me to change denominational ordination, which took another 5 years. But after 5 years of studying, being mentored, and practicing to then be fully ordained.  Would I do it over again? Yes, I would.  Would I go with another denomination? I might. Would I change now? Yes, if I felt God was leading me that way, but I don't.   You can email me if you want to ask questions or want to learn more.


Our matriarchs offered some thoughtful advice. What about the rest of you? Do any of you have experience with this issue? If so, please share in the comment section!


  1. I guess I didn't offer enough specifics and I wasn't trying to insult denominations. And what I meant by "so progressive as to be unidentifiable as Christian" is that I had been interviewed by one church who wanted me, only to find out that they (a) don't believe in Christ as the resurrected Savior (b) add in other books from other world religions to their "Scriptures" BUT were affirming of women in the pastorate and for humanity to be about the business of redemption interpersonally, economically, and ecologically. Another church really wanted me, but said I would have to affiliate with their denomination and "go wherever they send me." Due to family needs, I can't relocate and so when I was ready to affiliate with one group (Methodist) I had to stop said affiliation in the interests of family and self care.

    And, for the record, my personal beliefs and theology are very strong. That's what has complicated this.


    The situation is this:
    - when God called me to the pastorate, it was a second career calling (the last professional training and career was interrupted by childrearing)

    - at the time, we were attending a Southern Baptist Church (which as a denomination will no longer ordain women) so it seemed crazy to stay there

    - we became active members in a nondenominational, independent church and I went to seminary to an independent, nondenominational seminary (an ATS accredited school)

    - said nondenominational church ordained me but has no job for me.

    - And -- interestingly, my research into statistics at the Pew Foundation shows that there is a large increase in those in the "nondenominational" category in seminary. I'm really not that big an anomaly.

    Thanks for the link, Vicar, I will look into it.

    Shalom -

  2. My recommendation to examine those basic theological questions had nothing to do with thinking your theology was not strong, but to give you a sense of where you might be looking for connections. What are your deal-breakers, for instance? For instance, I would never affiliate with a denomination that didn't welcome LGBT people into all forms of ministry, ordained included, but your mileage may vary. I'm not all that liturgical, so I have a hard time imagining myself as an Episcopalian or a Lutheran, much as I admire their traditions and love my friends who are in them. We all process differently and I hope in the answers above and any comments to come there will be something that is helpful to you.

  3. OH it is VERY helpful, please know I appreciate being able to dialog about this! P

    art of my personal theology is that it is not healthy to be in ministry without some kind of affiliation and accountability. It's one of the reasons why I was uncomfortable at Church A (mentioned above) because they were a law unto themselves. It's important that I can serve and be held accountable, and that the church itself has defined values and passions. One of my concerns with the nondenominational churches being planted everywhere is that there is no oversight.

    We have slated some places to visit over the summer and I'm doing a little pulpit supply to serve, listen and learn.

    I do appreciate the love and questions offered to this nube. :)

  4. Hi Anonymous. I didn't realize you came out of the SBC tradition originally - I did too (was actually ordained by a church that was aligned with both SBC and ABC; my first church was one that left the SBC and my current church is ABC). I really know nothing about nondenominational bodies, but I wonder if you might want to give a look at the Alliance of Baptists . They are a progressive group of Baptists founded by a group of people who departed the SBC in the late 80s.

    They would not "oversee" you per se - because, of course, they are Baptist, which is a congregational non-hierarchical system. But they do oversee ordinations and credentialing, and they might offer some help with placement.

    Most churches that are affiliated with the Alliance are also affiliated with either the ABC, the CBF (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship), or, in a few cases, the SBC.

  5. I should be clear, and perhaps this should be added to my response: I don't think the UCCan is the ONLY answer to your dilemma, just one you may not have considered up to now.

    As others have mentioned, it is important to find your spiritual home - both practically and spiritually - and that may take some inner detective work over time.

  6. oh, this info helps me! I was quite stumped, although I admit that Songbird's questions helped me to sort out what you might mean.

    Right before reading Earthchick's response, I was going to say try American Baptist, because I know they are more progressive, not liturgical, and ordain women.

    All comments here I hope have been more helpful.

  7. Dear Anonymous -- just so show how complicated this is, in my tradition there is no way you can be "ordained" if you don't have a call to an actual parish. That is, you can complete your degree, and graduate, but you can't call yourself a "pastor" and be ordained unless a church somewhere has called you. That is part of the theology and policy of my denomination.

    That sort of thing is what you need to find out as you are seeking a church or denominational "home."

  8. As someone who has faced a similar dilemma you are in my heart and prayer, dear sister. I will offer the Eucharist, if I may, for you and your call and your discernment. Would be happy to connect in person and be a sounding board if that would be helpful. You can email me at sophiasprayersATgmailDOTcom if interested.

  9. You might check out the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We are fairly diverse, theologically, but pretty consistently low-church and open to women in ministry. You do not have to have a call to be ordained or get standing. You would have to be a member of a Disciples congregation.

    I think there may also be organizations that connect "community" churches, but I have no idea if they provide oversight of any kind.


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