Permission to see God in You: A post on the new book, Embodied, by LeeAnn M. Pomrenke
Maybe you've heard the one about the Pastor who gets pulled over for speeding, and as soon as the officer sees his clergy collar, he says, "OK, Father, no problem."
The opportunity to potentially avoid a moving vehicle ticket is one of the few documented perks of serving in the clergy, a calling more than a job, known more for its intense hours and high expectations than for its corporate benefits.
That's probably the way it should be, for those of us seeking to serve God and the church as a way of life, more so than making a living.
Still, I'm a Pastor. I got pulled over yesterday, about 15 miles or so away from my church. The state trooper saw me using the map function on my phone (guilty as charged), and even though he did know some of my church members, I got a ticket nonetheless.
I don't think that instance necessarily had anything to do with the fact that I wasn't wearing a collar, and I don't look like your traditional version of a church pastor. Instead, I'm a young(ish?) mom of 35, and I was wearing a dressy white tank top with linen pants.
Deserving ticket or not, though, this episode does illustrate the truism that everything is just a little bit more complex when you're not the typical (fill-in-the-blank) career person. I'm sure my son's second grade teacher, who is a man, experiences some similar stereotypes, as do female fire fighters and police officers and male nurses and female doctors.
For female clergy, laden with expectations and an ever-changing church world, those changes offer both challenges and opportunities for a life of ministry. When you're also a mom and a clergywoman, again, challenges and opportunities abound.
Among the challenges: your child's school assumes you, as the mother, are the principal parent. You must be available at all times for child care and activity needs. At the same time, your church also needs you as its principal caregiver and pastor. You must also be available at all times for pastoral care needs.
American theologian Stanley Hauerwas said that pastors are too often nothing more than a "quivering mass of availability," and I think for women and female pastors and mothers that tendency to be perhaps overly reliant on others' opinion of us, as well as overly available and lacking boundaries, is intensified by a societal tendency to assume that women, and especially mothers, are always there for you and should always be there for you.
You can ask my own mother about this; I've certainly placed that expectation on her.
The American Church was not designed for pastors who are also women and mothers. It just wasn't. Many American churches were built on and rely upon the unpaid labor, time and talents of pastors' wives and women in the congregation. I have attended several Evangelical conferences that had entire tracks at the conference for pastors' wives, who were expected to attend along with their husbands. I have never seen an analogous course for pastors' husbands, nor has my pastor husband ever attended a conference with me, because he is working 9-to-5 himself in an office job.
That's not to say that all women pastors and mothers share my situation, with a spouse working office hours in a secular field. Many female pastors are married to men (and women) who are pastors, which brings its own challenges of being both colleagues and spouses, or figuring out what to do with the children on Sunday mornings, for example.
And yet, women continue to join the ministry at accelerating rates, particularly in historic mainline denominations such as Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians, among others. In my own denomination, recent seminary classes have been made up of more than 50 percent women. Women have made up the majority of recently elected bishops. Our presiding bishop is also a woman.
Still, the church is often slow to recognize the unique opportunities, gifts, and challenges presented by women and mothers who serve as pastors, as well as their spouses, especially when those spouses work outside the church.
I have been blessed to serve in four congregations who have all addressed my needs and gifts as a wife and mom in different and often helpful ways, such as throwing me baby showers when I was pregnant with my two boys, or inviting me to share a special relationship with the church preschool, where my oldest son attended.
Too rarely, though, have American churches and American Christians talked about the theological gifts and visions that can be enhanced by women pastors and pastor moms. That's why I'm so grateful for the new book, Embodied, by Minneapolis mom and pastor LeeAnn M. Pomrenke.
LeeAnn is clear that if we only see God as Father, and not as Mother, we are missing the breadth and depth and power of the Mothering God depicted in the Bible. Her book is full of Bible references, enhanced by personal and anecdotal storytelling, as well as helpful questions for reflection.
She also unpacks the helpful and unhelpful parts of the saying that "church is like a family," and explores ways in which pastor moms can navigate their role as Pastor, when serving as a mother figure to the church won't always be helpful.
I am most grateful for the ways in which LeeAnn's book is doggedly grounded in the Bible, in theology, and in "real life." As a Pastor and a mom myself, I found myself nodding, underlining, and also being challenged to think more critically about the unique ways in which I am called to serve as Pastor and mom in distinct ways.
But I don't think LeeAnn's book is just for those of us who are pastors and moms ourselves. Instead, I think it helpfully addresses many larger issues for the American Church and American Christians in general. Expanding our view of who ministers out of an outdated 1950s model will help the church grow and shift with the times. Expanding our view of who God is will help us to be grace-filled to ourselves and to others, and will enable us to see the largeness of a God who we too often make to be too small.
This post is part of the book launch blog tour for Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God. Embodied includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter, to instigate conversations that lead to support and new perspectives. The book is available this September from Bookshop.org, Amazon, or Cokesbury.