I am afraid

If I am honest, I have to admit that I am afraid.

I graduate from seminary in a month. I will walk across a stage (platform, I should say – graduation is in a church sanctuary), read a litany, and be blessed by my “soul mother” (as Terry Rosell would say—from alma mater) as one who is “biblically knowledgeable, theologically articulate, spiritually healthy, humanly sensitive and professionally competent” (from Central’s mission statement).

I am afraid that even with a degree from a wonderful seminary I will find that churches do not want me. I am afraid that my resume will not even be looked at. I am afraid that the churches I actually get to interview with will return and say “I’m sorry, but the congregation just isn’t ready for a woman yet.”

Not ready for me yet.

I don’t feel like someone a congregation needs to “get ready” for. I feel like a woman who has received the training and who has served in enough intern and interim roles to develop into a good minister. I just need the chance to serve and grow.

But I am afraid that I will join the ranks of the countless gifted women who have been forced to find an alternate means of fulfilling their call. Ministries that are not “less than,” but are “other than” the perfect fit.

I have watched friends jump denominations, and I, too, have wondered if I need to make a switch. I interned last summer in the United Church of Christ and will intern this summer with a Mennonite congregation. I have dear friends in Disciples of Christ congregations. But I long to remain Baptist.

I want the denomination who raised me, who trained me, who loved me to make room for me to serve. I want to help pave the way for future generations of Baptist women, the way other brave women stood to pave the way for me. I don’t want the next generation to come to the end of seminary in tears because there seems to be no place for them. I’m just not sure I know how to pave the way.

Already I am looking at back-up plans. While my resume is in the hands of church search committees, it is also going into the hands of non-profit organizations. And I have considered the possibility of returning to journalism.

When I was asked during my first create class what made my heart sing, I had no idea the answer might turn out to be something I wouldn’t be able to do. My heart is in the church. I pray that I will get to hear it sing.

(photo credit)

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “I am afraid

  1. Elizabeth Hagan

    Keep the faith! You are strong, talented and ready! God will make a way. Don’t listen to the voices that say you can’t. You can!

  2. Jenn, I was not familiar with the reluctance to hire women in the Baptist faith. I pray that your resume is just the first step in your path to be all that God intended.

    • Thanks, Judi. And yeah, the number of women ministers in Baptist life is statistically very low. Some churches are just now beginning to wrestle with the idea of women in ministry. Many others say they support women in ministry, but that they wouldn’t personally want a woman pastor. That is part of why I try to talk about it so much, and why I’m working on a book of the call stories of Baptist women ministers — I think they are still going through a lot of struggle.

  3. Bruce Pate

    Jennifer: I will pray for you; that you will have a place that makes your heart sing. (You should talk to Lynn about this. I have a suspiciion that she may have some wisdom to offer. She has made many sacrifices for me; for us, as have I, but I feel she got the tough end of the stick on this one.) I will say, even though I speak from a having a job outside of ministry perspective, and I am sure you know this already; sometimes you takes positions which are more money/work/jobs than heart singing jobs. In fact, tully even heart singing jobs don’t already have melodies you enjoy singing all the time. For me, I finally realized that I don’t have to be happy 100% of the time, but maybe 60-75% fulfillment is great. The reason? Because I have a life outside of the job and there are things I do which make me happy on the outside. You have those things. You named them in your post. So, as a child once said when she was acting acting out the manger story, “don’t be a-scared…” God is waiting for you, guiding you and God will prepare a place for you …and Allyn. It may not be what you think or want. but there is a place for you always. Peace be unto you….

  4. Did I tell you that, had I stayed in my PhD film program, I would have been one of almost 500 candidates trying to fill 15 available positions in the nation upon graduating? Ha! 🙂 I remember getting into that program and hearing that I might not be able to use my degree and I thought, “Are you people smoking squirrel tails? Why get a degree you CAN’T USE?”

    I’m sorry you’re under the weight of all this right now. I think your book project is one unique way you can definitely participate in ministry even if it’s not in the capacity of ministry as the church might traditionally think of it.

    Please hang in there, friend. 🙂 God knows you signed up to feed his sheep. We Baptists might have wool in our eyes and need an early sheering so we can see, but we’s be good people. 😉

  5. Melanie Dempsey

    Jennifer you are an amazing woman. God will lead you where you are needed most. Have you considered ministries in other areas of your country where they may embrace women leaders more? I pray that you will be given the chance to show your community that women are just as strong of leaders as any man. HUMANS can lead – not just MAN. *HUGS*
    Thank you for sharing your struggles and fears. It’s important that we acknowledge our fears & doubts – I work for a major bank in Canada. Many Many women are branch managers and have leadership roles in our bank but the customers are still surprised that my branch manager is a woman. If a man is on staff they assume he is the manager. Sad.

  6. kpickett

    Dear Pioneer Woman in Ministry,

    Welcome to the Baptist trail. This is where the power of call gains even greater importance in your discernment process. Is it a call to keep blazing the trail for Baptist women and Baptist congregations? Is it a call to serve the body of Christ regardless of denomination? Is it a call to creatively participate with our Triune God beyond the current ecclesial boundaries? If it is indeed a call to serve God through Baptist congregational life, put your stake in the ground. Be open to any opportunity to make a difference. Embrace the reality of your fears. Use your wisdom, knowledge, and grace to plow the ground. Keep planting seeds, watering, tending, don’t let the weeds strangle your fruitfulness. Reframe your image of success. When necessary, visit the little brown jug of hooch. Unfortunately, this is still the ground on which Baptist women travel. If Baptist life is indeed God’s call for your future, God will make a way.

    Thank you for your honesty. It’s good to be on the journey with you. My wagon ride story is coming soon.

    KP

    • Jennifer Judd

      I agree with Kathy! Determine to what you are called. Having grown up as a Southern Baptist, I had to struggle with my call…but found it for me outside of a Baptist denomination. I remember David May telling us in one of his classes (paraphrasing Buechner) that one’s call is where the world’s greatest need and your greatest joy intersect.

  7. My heart hurts for you. Reading this brought back the memory of receiving a “rejection” letter from a CBF church telling me that they were looking for their “man of God” and they didn’t see how I fit that. I was stunned.
    Before graduating McAfee, my husband and I sensed God’s call for us to co-pastor. There are the other memories of having phone conversations, emails, and face-to-face conversations with personnel committees telling us how qualified we were and how wonderful we would be, but they didn’t know what to do with me. That their congregation was not ready for a woman pastor. One committee actually asked if I would be okay preaching once or twice a year. After all, they would still call me pastor.
    I write this to encourage you, because we have been serving as co-pastors for the past 9 months! And it is a wonderful Baptist church, celebrating 226 years this year, and they have embraced us both.
    Be patient. I know it is easier said than done. And don’t give up on being Baptist. As I pondered they same thing a few yeas ago, a mentor told me that there are little girls and little boys in Baptist churches who need to see Baptist women ministers and pastors. They need to see anything is possible when God calls!

  8. Patti Faesy Meyer

    Unfortunately, church folk as a whole aren’t as interested in what makes their own hearts sing in faith. If they did, they would be more interested in a creative side that is often found in the hearts of women called to ministry. It is a tough journey, especially if you want to stay in the mid-west, or anywhere except the east or west coast. And then you, like me, have the joy of being a clergy couple called to serve in vocational ministry — and that’s an even bigger boulder for church folk to see through. Praying God is now preparing the people for whom you are called to join in their journey so that they will see that your gifts are just what they need to move them forward as they grow in faith and service.

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