Sunday, August 22, 2010

Challenges Ahead

Today I preached for the church here in Capital, and they held a congregational meeting to vote on whether to call me. Worship went very well, and the sermon was well received. In my first two calls, there was concern about the fact that I am a woman. Some weren't sure they wanted a woman pastor. I told myself that this time, the fact that I'm a woman wouldn't be an issue. Wrong.
Over 15% of the congregation did not vote for me. The majority of that 15% voted no, and there were a few who abstained. I was shocked when I heard the vote, as I had not anticipated that level of opposition. I considered whether or not I should accept the call. I asked the search committee to come to the office where I was waiting. I asked them how they read this. They were shocked, too. They had not heard rumblings. A couple of them had heard concerns about calling a woman because they had a bad experience with a woman who served as interim pastor many years ago.
We talked briefly, and then I thought about the impact turning down the call would have on the 85% who had voted yes and were so enthusiastic and welcoming. I decided to accept the call, and I went in and told the congregation that I recognized that they had done some hard work on with their previous pastor, and there was still work to do. I told them I had heard their concerns, and I hoped they would come talk to me about them and see if we could work things out.
We went downstairs for a reception. The congregation presented us with a huge gift basket, topped with a ribbon in the colors of the local state university. I asked if the ribbons had some significance. There is lots of information on the state and region (including a wonderful city map) and various state delicassies. A number of people came to offer affirmation and support. They told me they thought I was the right person for the position. They told me not to worry about the negative votes. The search committee has developed some theories about the source of those votes. They recently received several members from a much more conservative denomination that doesn't ordain women. There were people in worship this morning who don't normally attend. They also thought some non-members had voted, even though they were clearly instructed that only members could vote.
So there are going to be challenges ahead. This congregation, which has a long history of conflict and opposition, has not been cured. I know this is where God is calling me to serve. I look forward to the challenges ahead.


Miz Kizzle said...

I'm not surprised. My DH and I are elders in our church and that sort of thing is typical. Some people in mainline churches (which I'm assuming your is) are VERY conservative, especially the older ones. There is discrimination against women, against gays, against minorities, against single woman who adopt minority children, you name it.
I was hoping your honeymoon period with your new church would last a bit longer, and perhaps it will; perhaps this is to be expected. I don't recall who said it, but there is a famous quote that compares women preachers to talking dogs. The wonder is not that they do what they do well but that they do it at all.
I never fail to be astonished at the backbiting and nastiness that goes on among our congregation. A group of choir members literally drove a very nice, competent organist away because she was not of our faith. And she read books by authors of whom they didn't approve. And some other stupid stuff. I wouldn't be at al surprised if some of the people who voted against you were women themselves; we sometimes are our own worst enemies.
Try and think about the 85 percent who welcome you and don't worry about the 15 percent who opposed you. In time they may come around or they'll leave for a church more in line with their hidebound beliefs and more open-minded people will replace them.

Reverend Mom said...

I was surprised because the percentage against the call was much higher than my 2 previous calls. I knew coming in that this congregation had a history of conflict. They were very upfront about the challenges they face as a congregation with strong personalities. The 85% have been so affirming, it helps diminish the concern over the 15%

Cathy said...

It's strange, isn't it, that being a woman in leadership still presents such challenges. I was particularly bemused by the comment that some people might be cautious because they have had a bad experience with a woman pastor before. That just would not happen the other way round. There is no way a congregation would request a woman because they'd had a bad experience with a man.

It's not just the church though. I heard the other day that sometimes female stand up comedians get gigs cancelled because a venue has a bad gig with a different female comic. Bizarre!

I'm just so glad Jesus isn't prejudiced!

I am fortunate in not having experienced sexist prejudice. The church leadership in our area does feel quite male though. I am part of a local group of women in leadership in our area and that is lovely.

Good luck with it all! Praying you continue to enjoy the challenge!

Reverend Mom said...


Over 25 years ago when I started seminary, there was one woman on faculty. The story is told of the day the faculty was interviewing a candidate for a faculty position. He was asked about his feelings towards women in ministry, and it was pointed out that there were a growing number of women studying there. One of the faculty members said something about the superiority of the women who were students. The female faculty member went ballistic (she was famous for her eccentricities). She said his comments were patronizing, and it wouldn't be until women were allowed to fail in ministry without being a reflection on all other women that we would have truly been accepted. So here it is, more than 25 years later, and we're still waiting for that day.