I just read through an appealing little book called Bless Her Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman (Chalice Press, 2011). It’s written by Ashley-Anne Masters and Stacy Smith, both of whom are ministers in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and active participants in the Young Clergy Women Project (which produces a delightful e-zine called Fidelia’s Sisters).
Obviously, I’m neither young, female, nor currently in a clergy position: but I am interested in doing what I can on the blessing end: I want to encourage, support, and bless women who believe God has called them into ministry.
Bless Her Heart is worth reading by a wider audience than young clergy women alone, because it reminds readers that women ministers, whatever their age, face all the challenges of ministry that men face, with a few extras thrown in. Do men have to worry about being criticized for wearing sparkly earrings or open-toed shoes with red toenail polish? I rest my case.
Masters and Smith devote chapters to issues related to pastoral identity in a man’s world, dating and romance in a very public position, personal appearance or even pregnancy in the pulpit, the extent to which one can be emotionally transparent, and the sometimes particular challenges of working with other women.
The authors polled a number of sisters in ministry, and as one might expect, each chapter contains anecdotes based on real parish experience. Masters and Smith then flesh out each of the various issues, explore them from a biblical perspective, and offer suggestions for learning.
The book provides non-whiny commiseration and supportive encouragement to young women ministers, and I’m glad for it. Kudos to the authors, and to Chalice Press.
The saddest thing about the book, from my perspective, is that its target audience is so small. In Baptist life, at least, there are many women who are called of God, prepared to serve, and anxious to take their places in church leadership despite the extra obstacles, but they are not given the chance, especially in pastoral roles.
We need to do more than bless their hearts as women ministers: we need to hire them.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.