Tuesday, April 20, 2010

There Goes the Neighborhood

The other day my husband ran into acquaintances of his at a Congregational Event. They live not far from our neighborhood and attend a church that we are well acquainted with. In passing, they mentioned that they like his congregation, and if it were a little closer, they might consider going there. Then they mentioned that they are currently looking around for a new church.

It surprised me to hear this; they've been pretty involved throughout the years. They've been without a pastor and in interim lately as well.

Then it occurred to me.

I remembered that their congregation just called a new senior pastor: a woman.

I read the church newsletter relating the credentials of their new pastor, and was very impressed. She is definitely what you might call "Above Average."

Now I don't know for sure that this is the reason this family is "church-shopping." But it seemed like odd timing to me. It also got me thinking about the gifts that women clergy bring to congregations and the pitfalls and the prejudices they face.

One prejudice: a clergy (male) friend said to me once: "Most churches still want a man."

I think there is a stereotype of a "successful", growing congregation, and part of the stereotype is that this kind of congregation will have a particular kind of leader at the helm. That leader will be strong, visionary, attractive and male. I suspect that there are a few people out there who think that having a woman as lead pastor would be a sure sign of decline. "There goes the neighborhood." "They're moving in and taking over." "We'll never be the same."

It reminds me of what someone said after I arrived at my first congregation: they realized that the pastor before me was probably their "last normal pastor" (married man with children).

We've been really looking at, and talking about, and working on the racism in our churches and in our communities. But I don't want us to think that sexism is gone, conquered, all fixed. It's not.

There goes the neighborhood.


rev maria said...

At least my congregation couldn't say the same when I arrived - the pastor before me was a gay man and the one before him was a woman.

But I keep running into people in the grocery store and other local places who are amazed and a bit taken aback to meet a woman minister. Many of the folks who come to the office door mistake me for the church secretary. Some even accuse us of being un-Christian for allowing a woman to preach. We may have come a long way but we sure haven't quite gotten there yet.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Our (woman) pastor made a remark a few years ago about how few women pastors there are in the general area. Yet several years before she came, I was actually amazed to realize how many pastors in the area were women, at that time. I'm sure that after awhile, people will realize that women pastors come with different strengths and weaknesses, just as male pastors do.

Mrs. M said...

I definitely think this is true. I was talking to an acquaintance a couple of weeks ago who is very upset about the pastors her Methodist church has received. It's rural, but in an area with a VERY high cost of living, and the church can only offer part-time pay-- but everyone's upset that there's not a young-ish man with little kids "to put the rectory to good use."

Good grief.

Terri (AKA Mompriest) said...

I know this all too well....the pitfalls of being a woman priest...it's really hard to point at sexism - people think that just because there are "a lot" of women clergy that there is no longer sexism...but there is. And in my case it was sexism, ageism, racism (our new president) and alcoholism (not me, the parish)....

Thanks, Diane for reminding us all that this issue has not gone away.

Pastor David said...

Its not just female clergy -- the "ideal" is male, young, married, with kids (or at least, the potential for kids in the near future). Any deviations from that seem to change the congregation's opinion of the individual's ability.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I was elected to the last two call committees at our small (tiny) town church, so that would be about 5.5 and 16.5 years ago. I can assure you that we never discussed any expectations that you have mentioned, such as age or family or gender, etc. The first time, the applicants that we interviewed were all "experienced." That was fine with us. However we noted the one man who was trying too hard to act younger than his age. His age didn't lose him the job, but his dictatorial attitude did. The one we chose was middle aged, but I don't remember any comments about the wife and family making a difference.

The second time, we were given the names of all rookies. I don't recall any comments about age being either an asset or detriment, nor did we judge the spouse. In fact, we said to each other, "remember, we are not judging this potential pastor on the spouse. If this person comes here, we will then make an effort to network for the spouse for job seeking."

We have seen a major upswing in the number of young families attending church. It is partly due to having a young pastor, but even more so to having a youth and family ministry person who has an aptitude for getting these young adults involved. Our big demographic gap in in middle aged people.

Diane said...

now PS., that's worth exploring, the demographic gap in middle-aged people. We have one too.