Tag Archives: self-care

Thank You for Asking… A Response to Larissa Kwong Abazia

question-markLast week I wrote a guest post at Jan Edmiston’s blog. Today Jan shares her space again for a great post. Larissa Kwong Abazia writes about the sticky (and in some cases illegal) questions that search committees have asked her in interviews:

I’ve recently started interviewing for ministry positions and felt I was prepared for the onslaught of what I deem “inappropriate questions” from churches.  As a 30-something woman of color, I am familiar with comments that pose doubts about my age or experience, ability to minister to people older than me, slotting me right into youth ministry roles, assuming that hiring me will automatically grow the young adult population, or blatant misunderstandings surrounding race.  I’ve learned to take them as par for the course, as sad as it may seem in the life of the Church.  I was not ready, however, for questions surrounding my role as a mother.

Every single interview (Did you read that?  EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW) that I have had in the past several months has included some form of the question, “How do you feel about going back to work?” or “What will your son do once you start working?”

I started to comment on the post but it got long. I want to give Larissa’s post a hearty “Yes… and.”

Every person’s experience is different. I know many women who have experienced a level of sexism, paternalism, and intrusiveness that I simply have not. That said, I’ve been asked similar questions, though not in an interview setting. In almost every case, the person was asking out of curiosity, concern, and in good faith.

Curiosity: The idea of women serving as pastors is beyond a no-brainer for me, but it’s still new to many people. Many of them are not looking for a reason to weed you out, or a reason for you not to succeed. They are simply trying to picture how the life of the pastor works, what with night meetings and hospital emergencies. Our busiest times in ministry coincide with the school’s winter break and spring break. (Fairfax County schedules spring break during Holy Week every flippin’ year. Grrrr.) So… “how do you do that?” they want to know.

Concern: Many church people I meet are genuinely interested in the well-being of the pastor and her family. Many church folks get the stereotypes surrounding the minister’s family—how kids are put under the microscope and spouses are expected to be a de facto “second pastor”—and conscientious ones want to mitigate that through expressions of care and concern.

Yes, in some cases, “How do you feel about going back to work?” is a trap. But not necessarily. Remember, the church is a community, a place where people care about people. Many people sitting on search committees have felt ambivalence about going back to work—and joy at being there. The question is not necessarily a wall. It can be a bridge.

Good faith: Again, I know women who have been the victim of appalling examples of sexism. That has not been my story, for whatever reason. I wonder all the time why that is. It could be that I’m simply clueless, that there’s sexism going on and I’m not paying attention. Or I got lucky with the congregations I’ve served. Or I’ve decided to give people the benefit of the doubt, and when those potentially iffy questions and comments come my way I see it as someone trying to establish contact and relationship, albeit in a fumbling or even frustrating way. Probably it’s a combination of all three.

(This is an aside, but I was asked some time ago how I view my leadership style as a woman—how do I understand authority and assertiveness, especially with people who may not be keen on a woman pastor? My approach is twofold:

1. a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor

2. really knowing my… stuff.

Both are vital. The former is what disarms one’s detractors; the latter ensures that they can’t write you off.)  

Recently I highlighted a pair of articles that touched on issues of clergy health and clergy burnout. I suggested that the traditional understandings of authenticity, boundaries and pastor-parishioner friendship are changing as the demographics of pastors change. So how do questions like the ones Larissa writes about play into these changing boundaries?

Am I suggesting that religious communities should be allowed to ask illegal questions in interviews? Well, no. But I want search committees to care about work-life balance. And if I have children, their child-care arrangements are a part of that. That’s just a fact.

Larissa writes:

It seems as though the underlying concern in [intrusive] questions is a distrust that a woman can care for her congregation if she is also a mother (and therefore caring for her family).  Perhaps, then, congregations should consider if they are asking for too much time and energy from their leaders that won’t allow them to maintain healthy boundaries outside of the church.  We aren’t parents of, but partners in ministry with our congregations.  It’s long overdue that we begin thinking about the ways we support our clergy, male and female, in their calls in ways that allow them to be whole people both inside and outside of the church walls.

 

I completely agree with the second part (we are partners in ministry), but am not at all sold on the first part (the questions show distrust). Of course, it depends. But if we are partners in ministry, don’t we have to hold one another accountable? Aren’t questions about self-care part of accountability?

I guess I’m arguing for more questions, not fewer. They need to be good ones, of course, Generative ones. But ask. Ask everyone. Congregations should be similarly concerned about male pastors, with or without children. They should care about single parents, and single folks without children.

I want churches to care about, and ask about, the self-care of their leaders.

Clergy Burnout, Clergy Health

Yeah right.

Yeah right.

A couple of articles are making the rounds among my friends right now. The first article is by Craig Barnes (the new president of Princeton Seminary) and provides his reflections on why pastors cannot (or should not) be friends with parishioners. Of course there can be close and intimate relationships, and pastor and flock are friendly to one another. But Barnes argues that the clergy role is such that true mutual friendship is impossible, or at least inadvisable.

The second article is about a pastor of a large church in Charlotte who’s on a leave of absence at a treatment center after struggling with depression and alcohol abuse.

Lots I could say about these articles. To the question of friendship, I give it a big “it depends.” It depends on the church and it depends on the pastor. I think small churches ask for more transparent relationships than larger churches do. It also depends on what we mean by friendship. Human beings have a lot of different kinds of friends. Hopefully we have deep soul friends who know all there is to know about us. We also have friends with whom we can relax and be ourselves but who don’t necessarily know where all the bodies are buried. We have friends who help us remember to have fun. We have friends who are friends for a season of our lives. Pastor-parishioner friendships, to the extent that they exist and can be healthy, may be in that category.

As for the second article, I wish Pastor Shoemaker and the congregation well, and I commend the vulnerability and authenticity required to be up front about what he needs at this time.

But two quotes stuck out to me. First, Craig Barnes:

The professional literature supports this call to maintain a distinction between relationships of mutuality and those of service as a pastor. I get that. But there’s a math problem—there isn’t enough time left over after serving the church to have healthy friendships. Or at least that’s what pastors tell themselves.

It sounds like that’s what he tells himself… since he goes on to say:

I suppose I could have pulled back from the church and tried to meet more people through the PTA, the Little League, a political party or the volunteer fire department. I could even have convinced myself that this is part of my local mission as a Christian. But I love being a pastor, and I love the churches I’ve served. And they are demanding lovers.

The other quote is in the second article and is from Jody Seymour, pastor of Davidson United Methodist Church and someone who works with clergy who are struggling with burnout:

If you’re a good pastor, you’re never ‘off.’ If you’re on vacation and somebody dies, you have to come back.

Really? Because even Jesus took his time getting back after somebody died.

Look. Are pastoral boundaries important? Absolutely. And different kinds of friendships have their boundaries too.

And have I responded to a pastoral crisis while on vacation? Yes.

But generally speaking, both of these comments (and perhaps the articles in general) reveal a model of ministry that is, frankly, passing away as the guild becomes younger and less male-dominated. Younger people want a leader they can relate to more than one who holds up a lofty ideal; they seek identification more than inspiration. And women, well, we have a different way of negotiating boundaries than do men. Again, I’m speaking generally.

Also, as churches get smaller and more and more pastors become part-time, the dynamics will change even more.

What do you think?

I Kinda Wish I Was Fat

Several months ago I wrote a post wondering whether we could reclaim the word “fat.” I’m still not sure it’s something the culture can or will ever get on board with. But if nothing else, it’s worth pondering as a mental exercise: can we redeem words that have been used to shame?

That question has spiritual implications, by the way.

Anyway, if you were still trying to get your mind around my argument, check out this video (3 minutes) of a woman responding to YouTube commenters calling her fat. (Once again let me remind you that Internet comments are the best proof for total depravity that we have. Score 1 for the Calvinists.)

I almost wish I were still [overweight, fat, BMI 29, insert descriptor here] just to stand with this sassy gal.

BTW, rarely have I heard the words “f*** you” delivered with such joie de vivre. It’s bleeped out, but still. If that offends you, don’t watch.

(h/t: Keith)

Generation Gap among Pastors: Some Anecdata

the generation gap

Recently I was with a group of pastors and we were talking about activities we found spiritually nourishing and restorative. We generated a long list, both stuff we did and stuff we wanted to do but found it hard to make a priority (sadly).

All of these pastors are talented, dedicated people. All are folks you’d probably enjoy being around. I know I do. Here’s what I noticed: when it came to the list of spiritual practices we cherished, the Boomer-aged pastors listed things like daily scripture reading, mission trips, and group Bible studies—churchy activities, all—and the younger pastors (Gen X and younger) listed those things, but added stuff like attending plays, connecting with friends (in person and [gasp!] on Facebook), and doing art.

There are a number of different ways to take this. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

1. It was a small, non-representative group and there is no broader trend.
2. Older pastors, who’ve been in “the system” longer, don’t feel as much permission to be expansive in their view of spiritual practices. (Is it a surprise that the younger pastors are the ones who brought up S-E-X as a way of nurturing one’s spirit?)
3. A related possibility: the further along you move in your career and the further “up” you go, the less time you have for stuff that’s considered superfluous. (Let’s face it, scripture reading does have a personal benefit, but it also has direct utility for your congregation.)
4. Young pastors have a particular gift for connecting a broad set of creative and cultural activities to the life of the Spirit.

If it’s #4, I am encouraged about the future of the church’s ministry and mission.

Discuss.

On the Eve of the Trip

Robert and I leave Thursday for a true dream trip, our “P2″ trip to Paris and Prague. We’ll be in Paris on our own and in Prague with family.

We are grateful beyond words to The Grandmothers, who will be holding down the fort with the three amigos. We’re also thankful for our village of teachers, carpoolers, Brownie leaders, bus drivers, childcare providers, and surrogate grandparents who will care for them faithfully in our absence.

It feels very indulgent, even selfish, to be gone from them for a trip like this.

Then again… this wild and precious life is the only one we get.

I don’t intend to blog while I’m there, but I have pre-set some posts to go live while I’m gone, and I was thinking I might post a photo or two while over there. We’ll see.

I’ve written here about my work with The Happiness Project. Rubin is big on monthly resolutions, which I call intentions because it sounds a little more gracious and less rigid. I have a couple of intentions for the trip:

1. To have a “splendidly imperfect” trip. The term comes from the writer/artist SARK. In this context, it reminds me that snafus happen and that it’s OK and can be the beginning of an adventure. It also reminds me to live more fully in this experience, even if it means risking a faux pas. (I am nervous that we don’t know the language, and I can already predict that I will mistakenly lapse into Spanish in my effort to communicate.)

2. To experience the trip “Sabbathly,” that is, to be more about soaking things up rather than checking them off.

3. To spend quality time with Robert.

Robert and I have been amused to find our roles reversed for this trip. He is a P on the Myers-Briggs; I am a J. And yet this time around, he has been the primary driver on making plans, and I have felt very reluctant to do any planning at all, preferring to let our intuition and mood guide us. Part of that is because preparing our household for 10 days of smooth functioning is about all I can handle logistically.

Part of it is also the demon of perfectionism. I’m the procrastinating sort of perfectionist, which means I get stuck in my head, where everything can still be theoretically perfect. (Can I get an Amen?) There is no way we will be able to “do Paris well” in five days, so why even try? Heck, the Louvre alone is said to take 9 months!

This becomes a self-defeating attitude. Without at least a smidgen of planning, we will miss some cool stuff. So we have some general ideas of things we want to do, but will see how the weather and our energy levels guide us each day. I think we have met in the middle as we almost always do—it’s just funny that we started on opposite sides of the organizational divide this time.

Are you a planner while on vacation? Do you set goals or intentions?

And is there an adventure (far-flung or close to home) that your wild and precious life is calling you to?