It doesn't take a doctor to confirm that males and females have different needs. What is true in nature is also true in ministry.
Ministers, whether clergy or lay, need ministerial network groups, as discussed in my previous post. Female ministers, I say based on personal experience, particularly need to be in contact with other sisters of the cloth and call.
Yes, we have much in common with our brothers, but ours is a unique ministerial experience. How does one negotiate maternity leave and prepare her church for her absence in the pulpit while she heals from labor and delivery and nurses her new baby? How best is a female minister to handle herself when the church treasurer is faithful about paying all the church bills but too often negligent with her salary and benefits? How does she discern whether latent sexism or patriarchy is at work in a conflict with a congregant or staff member? Will she be supported in determining this? In a congregation that allows women to serve only in certain roles, what is a sister to do when she feels called to a role typically "reserved" for men?
While I served in congregational ministry, I met at least monthly with sisters in ministry. Sometimes it was only one other female pastor and me, while other times a group of us gathered. Our time together may not have been worthy to print on the front cover of a newspaper. But it was a balm to our souls when they were weary, an affirmation to our hearts when church life was going well, and a hallelujah chorus when we were reminded that God is worthy to be praised, which was often. We loved each other, we needed each other, we understood each other and our vocations, and we expressed this to one another regularly.
Even online communities of female ministers can serve a world of good. My denomination has a secret Facebook page for female clergy. A sister posts about a challenge, and we rally around her. Another asks a question about how to proceed with something, and those who know answer quickly and thoroughly. Yet another announces her long-awaited ordination service, and the line of congratulations and welcomes to the sisterhood grows by the minute. We are spread across the country, but not a day goes by on that page when at least one woman doesn't express gratitude for her sisters in ministry.
For newly ordained minister Rev. Susan Hetrick of Scottsdale, Arizona, her network of female clergy is like an oasis in the desert. "I love connecting with my sisters…reading and praying about their ministries, offering advice when I can, and sympathizing when I can't," she says. "Sometimes we just need to know that someone else knows what we're dealing with. And somehow, the guys don't get it. Not that there is anything wrong with male clergy—they just don't see what the big deal is if a parishioner makes a sexist comment or you're trying to juggle a sick child, sermon preparation, and cooking dinner—all at the same time. There are some things only a fellow female pastor can relate to."
Indeed, there is nothing like a sisterhood of ministers. My soul has proclaimed, "Yes! Finally!" many times when a sister and I have connected. I find rest in understanding and being understood. Simply knowing I am not alone—that there is another creature out there like me who is called to do what I am doing, anointed by the Holy Spirit to share words from the Lord, purposed by God for holy work within the church and community—is buoyancy enough for sailing the smooth and rough waters that ministry brings.
I pray the same for every woman in ministry. If you have yet to, this year gift yourself, your ministry, and even your congregation: Get thee a ministerial sisterhood.
It's not about solidarity in numbers or the battle of the sexes. It's about integrity, friendship, and as the Na'vi people in the movie Avatar understand, about being "seen" for who you really are.
Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). She served in congregational ministry for six years. A member of the Redbud Writer's Guild, Angie blogs at "Woman, in Progress…" and on the Church Herald Blog of the RCA. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.