Oct 19, 2012
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about folks from Texas, it’s that they tend to have A LOT of enthusiasm. When I met today’s guest blogger, Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta, at a writers conference, I was struck by both her enthusiasm and her genuinely humble and kind spirit. She exudes energy and grace. She’s also working on a memoir that should be killer awesome. I’m grateful to share one of her stories today.
I was a pastoral intern when God graced my husband and I with our first pregnancy. The congregation I was blessed to serve celebrated with us.
Weeks later joy morphed into pain when I miscarried. The pastor graciously gave me several weeks off.
When I returned to church I was greeted with hugs, love, and strong support. And yet, people didn’t know what to say. The congregation seemed not to know what to do with me or the situation. How often are churches faced with a pastor who is grieving pregnancy loss? I recall feeling as if I was given only a few short weeks to grieve, and then I was expected to return to my congregational duties.
Time to move on, Pastor. The Word of God needs to be preached, and people need visiting. And besides, the joy of the Lord is our strength.
But it wasn’t that simple. My husband and I lost our baby. I needed time to sit in that cloudy emotional place but was denied that.
Skip ahead two years.
I was the mother of a beautiful infant daughter. Sophia was born during the spring semester of my senior year in seminary. During my interview with the church that eventually called me, I brought up the topic of maternity leave.
The committee blinked and looked around at one another for an answer. Red faces, embarrassed smiles, and uncomfortable chuckles filled the small room. The chairperson cleared his throat.
“We’ve never had to think about that before,” he says. “I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it if you’re the one that we call.”
Two-and-a-half years into my tenure, the time to cross that bridge came. When I announced that my husband and I were expecting our second child to the church’s leadership, they were sincerely joyful. They were also anxious, but that wasn’t expressed as directly.
There were, of course, not only pastoral implications Who would preach? Who would visit? What happens if there is an emergency? There were financial concerns, as well. How much do we pay her? How much will pulpit supply cost?
I sensed that some saw my pregnancy as an inconvenience to the church. Most, though, were jubilant. This pastor, someone joked, is really serious about church growth!
For a church that didn’t know nothin’ about their pastor birthin’ no babies, they rose well to the occasion. The denomination recommended six weeks of paid maternity leave. I was given eight.
After I returned to work, the ladies of the church generously gave me a baby shower, even though showers for a family’s second born weren’t usually done. And, most importantly, the whole congregation “adopted” both of my children.
There were, however, some strange and painful moments that ranged from subtle to outright sexist. One woman worried that I would leave the church after my baby was born. “Sometimes working mothers decide to do that, you know.” True. I wonder if she said the same thing when my predecessor’s wife gave birth to their children. He may have chosen to leave ministry to stay at home with his children.
As the signs of my pregnancy became more and more evident, comments about my body and how I dressed grew more frequent. My breasts were too big, and my blouses were too low cut. My clothes too tightly silhouetted my body. Few of my brothers of the cloth receive comments about their bodies and how they dress; and some of their bodies have changed dramatically due to weight loss and gain.
What stung the most, though, was the small number of visitors at the hospital after my daughter was born. When this topic was discussed at a church leadership retreat about a year later, I was still emotional. If this is how we visit our pastor when she is in the hospital for a good reason, I shudder to think how we visit the person in the pew who is sick or dying, I say.
“You asked for your privacy,” responded one of the leaders. Okay, I conceded a misunderstanding. I just didn’t expect my request to be taken so literally as to keep people away from visiting me and my newborn daughter at the hospital.
“It was just kinda…weird,” says another. “We’ve never had a female pastor before, and there’s lots of different dynamics.”
My guess is that these two congregations are a microcosm for the greater Church. Some things were done well, other things not so much. Sadly, in both cases I experienced my pregnancy and pregnancy loss as events for the church and its pastor to “get through” together. Life and the loss of it are so much bigger.
The Church, I regret to opine, is overall unsure what to do with pregnancy and pregnancy loss in the pulpit. I believe this stems from the fact that (on the whole) the Church still does not know what to do with women in the pulpit. Yes, there have been great advances. But, we still have a long way to go, baby.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta is a writer and an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). She served in congregational ministry for six years. A member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, Angie blogs at “Woman, in Progress…” and on the Church Herald Blog of the RCA. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Godstuffwriter.
About the Women in Ministry Series
The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:
- Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
- Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.
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Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed.Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.
Next Week’s Blogger: Erin Raffety