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.