Pastor-mothers balance pulpit and parenting

Every now and then, pastor Amy Butler will find herself having to do a
little simultaneous parenting and preaching from her pulpit at Calvary
Baptist Church in downtown Washington.

"My daughter, in
particular, knows the look," said Butler, whose teenage children sit—and
occasionally chat—with their friends in the balcony. "And if I'm up
front leading worship, I can see everything. So if I need to shoot a
look, I do. And they know exactly what that means."

Female pastors
with one flock at home and another in the pews say being a minister and
a mom is a perpetual juggling act, with high expectations, never enough
time and challenges that their male colleagues will almost never face.

At the same time, they say, it can also be a profound blessing.

women ministers more than ever before are young, married and starting
families," said Pam Durso, executive director of the group Baptist Women
in Ministry.

Pregnancy, in particular, creates unusual dynamics
for clergy and congregations. Rachel Cornwell doesn't usually talk about
herself in her sermons, but one Sunday during Advent, two days before
her son was born, she couldn't help but draw parallels to the baby

Now the pastor of Woodside United Methodist Church in
Silver Spring, Maryland, is preparing for the birth of her third child
in August.

"It's the kind of job where you don't clock out. . . .
But I had to make sure that I was really taking my days off and really
honoring my family as well as my congregation and my responsibilities to
them," said Cornwell, the mother of a six-year-old daughter and a
three-year-old son.

Across denominations, clergy moms speak of the
gifts of sharing their children with their congregations and the
challenges of meeting everyone's needs.

Joe Stewart-Sicking, who
has studied Episcopal clergy who have young children, calls it the
"church-home spill­over." He assisted with a recent study of Epis­copal
clergy, which found that 84 percent of clergywomen said balancing the
dual roles is difficult, compared to 61 percent of clergymen.

spoke of a number of sticky situations, especially with small children.
"They talk about their three-year-old seeing them in their clericals
and telling them, 'Please take that off,'" said Stewart-Sicking, an
assistant professor of pastoral counseling at Loyola University
Maryland. "They knew that that meant Mommy was going away."

when children are in the sanctuary, the distance between the pulpit and
the pews can be difficult for some ministers' children.

Smith-Pollard, pastor of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in
Los Angeles, recalled one Sunday when her son, Dorian, preferred the
company of his mother over his babysitter. "He still got away . . . and
he ran right up there to the pulpit and he held on to my leg, and I kept
on doing what I had to do," she said of her son. "When it came time for
me to preach, one of the ushers . . . came and got him."

the growing acceptance of  women in the pulpit, congregants often worry
about how the church will deal with their absence when their baby is
born. When Cornwell took eight weeks of maternity leave, she arranged
for others to fill in on Sunday mornings.

"You always have this
issue if the young woman you hire . . . gets pregnant, then who's going
to take care of their church?" said Adair Lummis, a sociologist at
Hartford Seminary who has studied women clergy.

Tonya Vickery of
Cullowhee Baptist Church in Cullowhee, North Carolina, said she and her
copastor husband split parenting and pastoral duties between them, with
each of them baptizing one of their two daughters. "Whoever's on call as
the minister at that moment, the other is on call as the parent at that
moment," she said.

Clergywomen with adult children say the dynamics have changed as more churches have grown comfortable with female pastors.

in the early years, we were trying to prove that women could be
ministers, could do this work," said Peg Chemberlin, president of the
National Council of Churches and the mother of a 26-year-old daughter.
"And on the other hand, there was built into us culturally and perhaps
biologically this push to be good mothers, too." Now, she says, many
denominations have groups for women in ministry that provide clergywomen
with informal networks to discuss how to juggle roles.

Leaders of
the Young Clergy Women Project, an online community with more than 500
members, say the most popular sections of their online publications are
the ones devoted to "Moms and Ministry."

This past Mother's Day,
Cornwell planned to spend her weekly day off—Friday—at a special
Mother's Day party at her children's day-care programs. On Sunday after
she finished preaching, her husband treated her to a special lunch. "I
feel very celebrated," she said. "I feel very blessed." —RNS

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

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