Wednesday, November 04, 2009
In the company of women
When I arrived in Chatham over seven years ago, there were three clergy women in town - the Reconstructionist Rabbi, the Presbyterian, and me.
Now, there are three Methodists, one Presbyterian, one Lutheran, one Reconstructionist Rabbi (well, she's actually now in the next town over, but we still claim her) and me.
Our numbers have more than doubled in seven years. Seven women and five men (two Presbyterians, one Methodist, one UCC and one Roman Catholic).
Women Clergy are finally in the majority - for however long it lasts, whatever that's worth or for what ever that really means.
More importantly, we have a critical mass - enough to be able to really support each other as we discuss issues of importance to our particular perspective and style of ministry as women.
We met yesterday as a group of clergy women. Well, not all of us were actually able to meet. No matter. The conversation was rich and full.
We shared parts of our faith story, but the more urgent subject of our conversation was our role as women with pastoral, spiritual and institutional authority, and how we claim or compromise that authority (or how it is withheld or compromised by others, men and women) in the various and complex situations of parochial ministry - most especially here, in the affluent suburbs of Chatham.
Oh, it started with the more newly ordained's questions to her (Ahem!) "more senior sisters", but it became clear that there is wisdom to be shared no matter our respective ages.
I left our meeting with these two very different reflections:
First: Good Lord, has it really been that long? Twenty-three years? Wasn't it yesterday - or, last week, at the latest - when I first started to walk the path of ordained ministry?
In many ways, I'm still doing battle with some of the same demons of insecurity and imposterization which I felt 23 years ago. It's so very easy for these demons to lead me to and push me off the edge of the High Cliffs of People Pleasing - which always leads me to the bottom of the Canyon of Spiritual Emptiness.
I recognized the demons immediately when I saw them in my sister clergy. They don't come as often and they are not as difficult to fight off, but they still rise to the surface from time to time and continue to try to torment and taunt.
Will it ever be thus? I suspect so.
As Linda Ellerbee once said, "How is it that so often . . . I get the feeling I've worked hard to learn something I already know, or knew, once."
I have made friends with my demons - worthy opponents, they - because I have learned so much about myself from them. I don't think my pastoral skills and abilities would be what they are today without them.
And, I am deeply, deeply grateful.
I was also deeply grateful for the candid, honest, transparency of our conversation yesterday. In the two plus decades of ordained service, I've never had a conversation with a male clergy person about vocational insecurities and the occasional waves of imposterization one feels in the role of Servant Leader. Never. Ever.
I don't think guys have these conversations - at least, not with women clergy. Okay, not with me.
Second and last: I felt joy and delight that "the church militant here on earth" is in the hands of such amazing, competent women.
You know, it occurs to me that the only people - more specifically, women - I don't trust are the ones who seem to have it "all together". The ones who seem so confident and secure that there is nothing they couldn't take on with one hand tied behind their back, standing on their head in a middle of a wind storm. And, finish up in time to have supper on the table.
You know the type? They are the same ones, however, who, if you look behind the satisfied smiles, you will find that they actually enjoy provoking a sense of insecurity in others.
That's because, as long as they are making YOU feel insecure, they feel more in control. They aren't. But, it pleases them to think so. Even at someone else's expense.
Illusion is often the best fashion accessory for a career on the success-track.
I'm back to one of my s/heroes, Linda Ellerbee who once said, "Never trust a woman who hasn't been fired at least once."
There's great wisdom in that, I think.
I came away with this thought: I think the best postures for faithful Servant Leadership are in the shape of either a question mark or exclamation point.
See what I mean? I don't have time for another group, but I gotta tell ya, I wouldn't miss next month's meeting for the world.