Visit our new site at

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Authority Edition

Good Morning!

As women in ministry, many of us have or will face persons who will not respect the authority with which our God has invested us. And when it is the colleagues with whom we work closely, it can be particularly vexing, as is the case with the sister who has submitted today's question...

I am in my first call serving a small church in a rural area - and the only female pastor in the area. There is a local ministerial group which meets monthly. Over the past 16 months it continues to be evident that I, as a woman pastor, have no credibility or authority with this group of male pastors when it comes to offering suggestions or opening the meeting with prayer. I am "good enough" to be secretary of the group which came about when all of the leadership was transitioning last year.

Today at our monthly meeting election of officers came up. One of the new pastors (but not new to ministry) recommended that the current officers bring a slate to the May meeting. The President said, "Curly and I" will meet before the next meeting.

All I could do was shake my head as I did not trust myself to say, "what the hell" at that point. I was elected to the office of secretary a year ago.

I am not sure this attitude of the group is "open". You can tell by the sermons preached at ecumenical events, by the prayers offered, and by their treatment of me...a female.

I would like to not be a part of this group however in "Fishbowl USA" I am not sure that would be a wise move either.

My gut instinct is they will ask me to be secretary again...because it is women's work in their eyes.

For the past three summers this group has sponsored a local weekend mission gathering for youth which is a wonderful idea. However, theologically it is very, very far from what my denomination (PCUSA) believes. Last year I was on vacation and missed the event. Our church has provided meals in the past. If I participate in the entire that endorsing the theological standpoint presented?

I do plan to tell my Personnel committee about my struggle with this group, both theologically and from a female pastor's point of view.

I would graciously welcome any thoughts and reflections!

Muthah+ , who blogs at was the first to respond.

Dear Girlfriend+,

I do understand your situation. I have been in that place many times. And now that I have retired to a place that has not had women clergy before, I am having to do it again.

Please do share this with your committee. You do need their support because it is groups like this that can try your soul more than if it were members of your parish. Stay close to your women clergy friends who will remind you that you are not crazy to feel the discrimination and stay close to your revgalpals. That's what we are here for.

But for all the %^$$, hang in there and stay in there. Your congregation needs you to be there for their sakes. And the other pastors need you to become aware of what women bring to the ministry. If there is one guy in the group that you think might be favorable to you and the theologies you hold, take him out to lunch and have a 'come to Jesus meeting' about Christianity is about equality too. Get him to nominate you for the position that you want. And join with him to discuss the theologies that the old guard present. Also, call Curly and ask him when they are going to meet because you are an officer too. Remember that they may be of denominations that oppose women clergy and are really uncomfortable with you. Most likely they see you as a threat because you probably have more moxy than all of them put together. But do not demand anything from them. Do what you can but do not expect collegiality until they can see the Christ in you. And the more you can have ecumenical services, the more you will be known.

Also, in small towns authority is recognized generally by tenure rather than talent. The longer that you are there serving the whole community you will be recognized as a person that folks can trust. My first parish was in a small rural town and after I had been there some years, I was seen as trustworthy not just by my parish but by most in the community. Volunteer to do some of the jobs they don't want to do and do them exceptionally well. It will be seen. Of course there always are some guys who won't get it but those 'you will always have with you.'

But most of all stay collected within in yourself and know yourself as doing what God has called you to do. You do not need their approbation to do that. And if they continue to block your participation it WILL be noticed without your saying anything. If your congregation gets wind that they are 'dissing' their pastor, THEY will take care of it. Most of all, stay true to who you are without getting into arguments, because their unjust ways will be seen.

And from Jennifer, who blogs at An Orinentation of Heart :

It’s really hard to be the lone female in a bastion of male clergy, especially if you sense there are great theological differences.

Any of us who’ve served in communities where we’ve been the only clergywoman understand how you’re feeling.

Nothing says you have to accept another year as secretary. You’re free to respond to an invitation to serve again however you would like.

You might use the chance to say, “Been there, done that.No thanks, I would prefer not to serve as secretary. Is there another way in which I might serve?” (if you’re willing…)

You might say, “Thanks, but my best gifts are in leadership. I’d be willing to serve in this way (and name your preference.)

It’s hard to tell if your group has had an open conversation about leadership in the local ministerial group. Could you ask some questions, now that you’ve been there almost a year and a half? Could you reflect with them (or with the pastor who suggested that a slate of officers be brought to the next meeting) about your perceptions and feelings? Whenever possible, I think it’s wise to try to model the kind of conversation you’d like to be a part of. It’s worth a try…and the Spirit might surprise you.

I think it’s very sensible of you to share with your Personnel committee your mixed feelings about the group and sponsorship of events. Ask them (or even your Session) how they feel about the youth events. Quite apart from how you feel about things, how do they feel about being aligned with the ministerial group’s events? After all, you’re participating as a representative of the church to which you’ve been called. Those might be very worthwhile conversations to have.

And from the Vicar of Hogsmeade....

I think talking with your laity is a good idea. They may not be aware of the subtle ways your ministry is not being recognized or valued by other religious leaders in the community. But it may also be that when you talk to your laity, you may discover that they have experienced similar feelings of being "less than" Christians as viewed by the Christians in the other faith communities.

Whatever you discover when you talk with them, you will have an opportunity to talk about the ways in which you can participate in community faith events while offering another Christian understanding. You also have the opportunity to talk about the places and times when you may choose to do something different.

Regardless of the choice for participation, your laity will understand more clearly the effort it takes for you. Then they will be in a better position to be supportive of you.

Thoughtfully considering the ways to be faithful in your context is a conversation well worth having.

All of that being the case, it is very hard work being the "only" in a group. Be sure to listen to yourself so you will know if you need to step away from the group in order not to become too worn out.

There is such good insight and wisdom in these responses, and more, I am sure that can come from you. Please use the "Post a Comment" function of this post to share your own thoughts.

We have two questions left in the queue, and would welcome more...send them to us at

May you live in God's amazing grace+



  1. I want to follow up on the youth conference and urge you to participate and be as visible as possible there. Wear the clergy "badge" (literally - at our area VBS the pastors have a special color badge. I thought it was silly, but I wear it, you can bet! I don't know what the identifier is there, but there probably is one) and quietly keep your integrity as you lead prayers, or whatever the clergy do there. Use inclusive language for God and God's people. Recognize the other women who are serving - however they are doing it.
    Take your turn leading Bible study, or suggest that turns be taken.
    Young people, especially young women, need to see you modeling a more progressive form of Christianity. They will, sooner or later, be questioning the pat answers they've been given, and just by your presence, you will help them in that process.

  2. Muthah and others you've got it right about hanging in there and serving the community. On internship here in WV, I see how previous female interns prepared the way for those who followed, like myself. There is a general appreciation of one's care and involvement in the church and community that transcends gender. It helps too that the many UMC churches have/have had female pastors as well as the various Pentecostal denominations. Hang in there!

  3. Yeah, I've been there too. It is frustrating.

    I second the reminder to keep close to other women clergy -- even if you have to Skype them! -- because there is nothing like the encouragement of like-minded women! I appreciate the dedication of my male colleagues, but their perspectives and priorities are often vastly different from mine.

    Personally, I wouldn't take another year as secretary. I'd offer to do outreach or coordinate an area function (something that I'm passionate about). I would "let someone else have that privilege" for the next year.

    You will not change their minds by argument, that you know. Count on the slights and "unintentional" oversights and stay gracious. If they plan something and forget to tell you, call them out on it, publicly and graciously at the next meeting. You represent your churches, and your congregation deserves to be represented.

    P.S. A friend texted me a bumper sticker she saw from the Women's Ordination Conference:
    "Women: If you won't ordain them, don't baptize them" :)

  4. oh Deb, I like it.
    Conversation in class at seminary (RC, but ecumenical) on the sacraments:
    "How many are there?"
    [from the back row] "IF YOU'RE MALE -- if you're a woman, there are SIX".
    Nobody could think of a comeback to that one.

  5. Hi, I am also in a similar position. After spending most of my life in places that worked well together ecumenically, I am in my first placement in an area where I am the only female minister, and theologically quite different to my [male] colleagues. And yes I go to meetings, I take my turn in offering to host and lead. We only meet a few times a year. And at times I feel like they would prefer I wasn’t present.
    Interestingly there are some ecumenical activities that work well; these do not involve clergy in planning. These are ‘women’ led – lay women. One of these women called me yesterday to ask about a note that was sent home from one of the local schools, that says a new ministry is endorsed by particular churches, including the one I serve. I haven’t seen the note. She is not from the denomination I serve, but I have met her at the ‘women’ events. Don’t underestimate how visible you are to women from other denominations, especially the ones which don’t ordain women – and that for many of them just seeing you is a positive.
    When I attend public ecumenical events, I wear a clergy blouse, it can be easy to be invisible, so wear something that identifies you as clergy.

  6. Oh, ouch. I have been in exactly that place. I was asked to pray at a Memorial Day event and then un-asked at the event when the male Legion chaplain said he wouldn't participate in an event where a woman was allowed to lead men in worship. A male member of my new congregation who was a leader in the community stood up and said he wouldn't be part of an event where women weren't allowed to participate fully. He motioned me to go ahead and very visibly bowed his head in prayer, and his courage bolstered mine.

    My capture is Pitra. Is that a Spirit thing or what!

    As hard as it is, I do think it's important to show up, wear the identifying badge/collar/vestments, walk the walk, speak the truth in love if that's your calling (and it's not everyone's). If you can surround yourself by people who support what you're doing and understand what you're up against, so much the better. Explain to your Session why it's important and ask them to join in your witness to what we say we believe.

    We do it for God, we do it for our sisters, we do it for our children who need to inherit a world that values women. And, I confess, I do it because I hate to let those guys win.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.