Today's guest post comes to us from Megan at Steeples and Stilettos. Megan is the Discipleship Pastor at a multi-site congregation in Arizona. She is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA). I asked her to write about some of her experiences as a woman called to be a pastor, and here is what she had to say. ______________
I have this rule: no crying in the pulpit.
It came about while I was in college. I knew that after college I would be going to seminary and I paid close attention to how different pastors preached and taught and lead. I was collecting role models for my own ministry.
One Sunday morning at our campus church service, the preacher was sharing that enough donations had come through to fund a mission trip that was happening later that fall. As she shared this story, she cried. She was so overwhelmed by emotion that she had to stop to compose herself a few times. As I watched her, I found myself not really wanting to listen to the rest of her message. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why but I decided then and there that I would never cry in the pulpit.
So here I am, a new pastor, in a new congregation, working hard to prove that I belong there. I am the first ordained woman on pastoral staff and everyone besides my husband (also a pastor on staff) is 65 or older. In fact, the congregation is made up of mostly retired folks. I didn’t know how hard it would be to find my place.
There’s a long list of things that, perhaps naively, I never expected to encounter in my ministry. I introduce myself as Pastor Megan but I’ve been called young lady and little girl more than I can count. I once was referred to as “Mrs. Eric” by one of the volunteer secretaries as I was holding office hours. I get comments all the time about my hair, my earrings, my shoes and anything else related to my appearance. Folks with hearing aids (that sit in the far back pew) often tell me that they can’t hear me when I preach because I have such a high voice. (My speaking voice is pretty low. A soprano I am not.) The list could keep going, but I digress
One afternoon, another pastor on staff came into my office to share some advice with me. He had heard about a meeting where I had shared my call story. One of the folks at that meeting had come to him concerned that when I shared my call story, it wasn’t personal enough. They wanted more emotion I suppose instead of the facts of the story. He proceeded to tell me his call story and suggested that instead of whatever I had planned to preach on that week, that I tell my call story instead, injecting a little more emotion into it.
And while we were on the subject of preaching, I really needed to add more of my personal struggles and issues into my sermons. Didn’t I know that he and my husband were the favorite preachers around this place? They were the favorites because they shared such personal stories and as they told these stories they often would get so caught up in them that they became emotional to the point of tears. Why don’t I try that?
Why don’t I try that? Because I have a rule, no crying in the pulpit.
I don’t cry in the pulpit because I’ve come to learn that if I cry in the pulpit I am giving away my authority. Showing emotion, especially crying, is a stereotypically female behavior and is also stereotypically seen as weak. If I were to cry while preaching, I would reaffirm these notions. I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a leader or a preacher. What my colleague didn’t realize is that his biological status as a male gave him the privilege to let down his guard and show this weakness. He didn’t realize that the world of ordained leadership is still very much a man’s world. The reality is, most young, clergy women will leave the ministry within the first five years of being ordained. Why? Because everyday is a battle to prove that we belong in this profession too. Because people pay attention to our hair and our shoes more than the words coming out of our mouths. Because we constantly have to defend our calling to ministry.
I am a pastor because I am called.
I am called to do this work for all the women throughout history who felt called but were denied because their gender disqualified them from ministry.
I am called to do this work for the girls and young women who need a strong, female role model.
I am called to do this work to give voice to the others on the margins who have been silenced
I am called to do this work to help tear down the boundaries and dismantle the stereotypes so that we all might have the privilege of living into the fullness of who we were created to be.
I may not cry in the pulpit, but I will certainly cry with you when everything seems to be falling apart. I will also sing with you, laugh with you, eat with you, and pray with you as we walk together through this life of faith.