Editor’s note: With gratitude for those who have gone before and hope for the future, the ELCA gives thanks to God for the ministry of women. In 2019 and 2020, we celebrate 50 years of Lutheran women being ordained in the United States, 40 years of women of color being ordained, and 10 years of LGBTQIA+ individuals being able to serve freely. (From the ELCA’s website We are Called: 50 years of ordained women)
“You did that good deed of adopting a child, and now God is rewarding you with one of your own!”
I blinked at the church lady. There were so many things to address, I did not know where to start. I went for human agency, with a gritted-teeth smile. “This pregnancy was not a surprise. We chose to adopt first, then to try making her a sibling.”
I also could have dived into theology: Is God really that involved with whether or not we conceive? We say that children are a blessing, but does that mean that people who cannot conceive are not blessed or have not pleased God in some way? What about the 50 percent of pregnancies that are unintended–some conceived in violence, some which cause great hardship for the mothers–how is God feeling about them? For heaven’s sake, do you think I waited for or value our first child any less than the one I will birth? By the way, you do not say things like this to other families at our church or in the neighborhood, do you?
I had so many topics to handle, but in the hand-shaking line at the end of a church service, practicality won.
In the moment, I assumed that the fact-checking answer had a slightly higher chance of changing the story the church member was telling, than the faith-related questions. Yet there are bound to be opportunities to dig into all of these thoughts in my life as a clergy mother. Incidents like the brief conversation above are opportunities not just to explain my personal actions, but to challenge all of our assumptions in healthy ways.
Being a pastor and a mom makes me and my family obvious case studies for many topics related to God and families (since we are already front and center, and being discussed anyway). Sometimes the issues are practical, but frequently they beg for solid theological wrestling.
The above is an excerpt from Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God (©2020 Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY 10016) by Lee Ann Pomrenke, interim pastor at All Saints Lutheran Church, Eagan, Minnesota. Lee Ann writes for Living Lutheran, The Episcopal Cafe, and other publications. She has an article, “Our Bodies,” in the September issue of Gather magazine.
Feature photo by Will Nunnally | Worship at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee celebrated the 50th ordination of women.
How might we listen?
As we celebrate the 50/40/10-year anniversaries of women’s ordination in our tradition, we rightfully acknowledge the first women ordained and the challenges they faced. We can also take the opportunity to listen to women pastors’ voices today, for how they change our understanding and experience of the Good News. How might we listen?
Listen to women pastors’ voices and experiences via podcasts:
- Cafeteria Christian: As the name suggests, this podcast doesn’t stick to one subject or viewpoint, but hosts include two ELCA clergywomen who address a wide variety of topics.
- Collared Chicks: A United Methodist clergywoman interviews other clergywomen on their lives and responses to current events.
- For Collard Girls: Hosted by two Black women in ministry in mainline denominations, this podcast lifts up and cares for women of color leading in the church, with Womanist theology.
Read short articles online:
Young Clergy Women International is an ecumenical, global community of clergywomen under the age of 40. Their online magazine publishes new articles every Tuesday and Thursday, available for anyone to read and share.
Read longer accounts in recent books:
These books from the past five years will add to your understanding and appreciation of the contributions of women as pastors.
- There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments and the Healing Power of Humor, edited by Martha Spong (2015)
- SHE: 5 Keys to Unlock the Power of Women in Ministry by Karoline Lewis (2016)
- Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God by Lee Ann M. Pomrenke (2020)
Discuss in community:
Perhaps it is time for a book study or discussion group within your congregation using any of these resources. Call it a celebration of the 50/40/10 anniversary. Or initiate the conversation as a means to support your pastor, who is also managing distance learning with her children during the pandemic. If your congregation is anywhere in the call process, this would be a great way to proactively prepare to be a healthy congregation, ready to receive the gifts of women clergy.