Women in Ministry Series: Is There Room for Pregnancy and Pregnancy Loss in the Pulpit?

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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.

Crickets.

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

Angie and Jeremiah's baptismRev. 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.

You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list. (You also get a free E-book!)

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

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17 thoughts on “Women in Ministry Series: Is There Room for Pregnancy and Pregnancy Loss in the Pulpit?

  1. Pingback: Pregnancy and pregnancy loss in the pulpit: Is there room? « Woman, in Progress…

    1. Angie Mabry-Nauta

      Hi David. Thank you for your comment. Yes, it is forgotten, which is strange because pregnancy loss is so common. This tells me that there are potentially legion women and couples who are silently suffering, or who are reaching out to an inept church. What is currently a chasm is a great space for the church to step into and walk with all who suffer pregnancy loss and infant mortality in love and grace. Thanks also for the article. I look forward to reading it. Blessings to you, brother!

    1. Angie Mabry-Nauta

      Hi Christie! It is my humble pleasure, my friend. I must say that I felt pretty raw when I hit “send”. PTL that it may have blessed you. Peace and love to you and your sweet fam!

  2. Patti

    Thanks for covering this topic so well. It does matter. I came into ministry after my children were born and in school, so this never crossed my mind. Glad that you were able to share so that we all could take a closer look.

    1. Angie Mabry-Nauta

      Thank you, Patti. It was almost surreal, navigating those waters. My sense is that you might have plenty to share and teach the church, as well, simply by being a mother who is in the pulpit. Many blessings upon your ministry, sister!

  3. Peggy

    Great post. What amazing stories I continue to read here from the awesome women Ed has found for this series….

    My third (last) son was seven months old when I was hired as associate pastor. I wore him in a babysling until he was a year old and took him to our pastor’s retreat (large church…nine associates) just six weeks after being hired. Nursing during some of the meeting was — um — distracting for some. :-)

    I was in a catastrophic car accident during the early weeks of that pregnancy … and it amazed me how people would say things like, “Aren’t you over that yet?”.

    So many wounded folks whose injuries are seemingly invisible are right there with you.

    Welcome to what I call The Order of the Purple Martyrdom … and blessings to you as you serve.

    P.s. Loved your Love and Logic post at your blog. Wish I had heard of it 17 years ago with our first was born … training the parents is more challenging when the children are all teens. But they say it’s never too late — and our school district train all their staff with it, so it is familiar.

    …I am both a recovering Pharisee and a recovering helicopter mom, with a splash of drill Sargent to recover from as well!

    1. Angie Mabry-Nauta

      Hi Patti!

      Thank you for sharing your story. “The Order of the Purple Martyrdom”…hmm…the name makes perfect sense to me. I am glad to be in the sisterhood with you. :) Thanks, also, for stopping by my blog. I’m somewhat of a “latecomer” to L&L myself, not beginning until my girls were 8 and 5. But, you are right, it’s never too late, including the teen years. The important word in your description of your parenting style is that you are “recovering”!
      Peace to you, sister!
      Angie

  4. Herm

    We need ekklesia (as one divinely concerted body) in our lives to help each other, all of our neighbors, out of the ditch to heal back into sharing. We all are subject to life whelming life experiences with each unique to any other. We all carry visible and invisible strengths, weaknesses, scars and wounds from life experiences that allow for the need of reciprocal mercy and tolerance.

    No human being can sufficiently empathize with the joys and pains of another without the Spirit who can join all hearts and all minds into One who can empathize fully as Man and God.

    My Brother knows all the scars I carry from an overly adventurous childhood and understands better than I because He endured one like mine as Man, also, as God. He knows the scars and grief I carry from Vietnam from combat in the zone and being spit on by friends when I came home. He knows all the grief I still maintain in my heart from the loss of extremely valuable life I have shared in 68 years, including one miscarriage I shared with my wife. He, also, knows and shares the joy I have been so fortunate to have experienced innumerable (except to Him) times in my life; which He so graciously reminds me of when I need those memories the most.

    We are so fragile and judgmentally childish as a mankind. We attempt to compartmentalize and formulize all things so we can maintain without help from another, especially One more capable who we cannot see with our naked eye (but can only in our naked heart and naked mind). We even sometimes tell our capable human parents, who we can see, we would be so much better off without them in deference to the protection of the strong local gang. If this is so, and it is, those of us who do share our adult childhood in deference to God’s protection can begin to understand why so many reject Him, who they can’t see, for the much more understandable assurances and structure of their neighborhood gang.

    We need ekklesia, led by empathic example through saints such as you, because our neighborhood gangs don’t necessarily have the Holy Spirit in their hearts and minds as do you. Without the Holy Spirit we can’t recognize nor support in healing coordination the most serious of all open wounds found in the hearts and minds of our neighbors.

    Maternity leave is relatively new to mankind as a formula for the systemization of our self defined society. Luke 10:25-37 is just too random, chaotic and dependent on divine intervention a structure in the judgment of mankind who are separate from the Father and responsible only to their ability to understand.

    Imagine life founded only on mercy and not at all on sacrifice to support the structure of those accepting responsibility for the church administration; a church they have known from birth (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7). I can’t, after having been an active officer of the church, because experience tells me such a foundation is just too insecure to trust for most people responsible to supporting church life. Now imagine a responsible Islamic Cleric or church Muslim board member who accepts responsibility for the church “he” was born into inspired only by mercy and not at all on sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).

    As to a human administration concept I can see actually being formulized within the organization of each church I am reminded of my military training. I was trained in a “chain of command” structure so when in the field of combat if I was the last soldier standing I was the general and private in my responsibility to perform. Pastors can be stricken at any moment with seemingly any number of job disabling circumstances whether female or male. If that particular unit within the body of Christ is to responsibly perform to the will of God, as a soldier must to the will of his/her nation, the next inline must take the lead immediately. Hopefully the lines of communications to the Head of the Body are still open. If the lines are cut it is better to have someone making decisions (right or wrong) for the direction of church performance than to do nothing which allows time to elapse where nothing can be done. If the lines are open to the High Priest timing will be perfect and the direction most appropriate.

    Thank you Pastor Angie for your service and sharing with us all how we can improve our relationship!

    1. Angie Mabry-Nauta

      Herm, your witness and testimony touched me. Thank you for taking the time to type and share. I sense your giving heart in your own sacrifices of serving your country and church. It is a privilege and a challenge to be the “ekklesia” (church), the “ones called out” to serve Christ in mission together. By its nature the church is filled with both the Holy Spirit and fallen human beings…we can separate one from the other (by the grace of God). It’s when we focus too much on either the Spirit or human beings that things get murky for the church. I feel that keeping just this balance will help congregations discern how to care for their pastors, whether female or male, when pregnancy and pregnancy loss become part of their experience of God’s many graces.
      Grace and Peace to you, friend!
      Angie

  5. Teddi Deppner

    What a fascinating glimpse into being a woman pastor! Never having attended a church where a woman was the pastor, none of this ever crossed my radar screen. I appreciate the opportunity to think through the ideas surrounding the expectations we have on pastors, and on women / mothers / wives.

    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Angie Mabry-Nauta

      Hi Teddi! Thank you for not only reading, but for coming to my post with your heart and mind open to the Spirit. From where I sit, it seems that God spoke something to you. Glory hallelujah! What a great day this is!
      Joy and peace to you!
      Angie

  6. Becky Town

    Thanks Angie. Here on the east coast, more churches have dealt with maternity leave but fewer have actually faced a woman grieving the loss of her child. And what about those who have experienced this loss but are unable to share it with their congregations? And then the must endure such comments as, “when are you going to have a baby?” Or, if the congregation does know, comments can be just as painful–like,”well it wasn’t meant to be, God has a plan, maybe you should lose weight before you get pregnant”, and on and on.

    On a separate note. I have two Christmas time babies. being pregnant during advent and at Christmas has totally changed my and my congregations’ experience of Christmas, in an amazing way. What a way to bring the Gospel to life as we reflect on Mary etc…

    1. Angie Mabry-Nauta

      Hi Becky! I didn’t know that both of your & Greg’s girls are Christmas babies! How theologically wonderful! :) You bring up an excellent point about the congregation’s ineptitude with grieving pregnancy loss, especially when the pastor has not shared her experience. On one hand I empathize with them. Indeed, they have not had to think about it, and therefore most likely don’t know what to do or say. On the other hand, pregnancy loss is common. I think it behooves a congregation to educate itself should its pastor (God forbid) lose her baby. Stephen’s Ministries, and a book by two Reformed Church in America Elders (Karen Mulder & Ginger Gurries), “The Compassionate Congregation” are great resources.
      Love to you, my sister!

  7. Marlena

    Angie,
    Thanks for bringing this topic to the fore. I am sorry for what you endured and for your loss. There’s so much we can learn. Hopefully church leaders will take note!

    1. Angie Mabry-Nauta

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Marlena. You bless me with your empathy and compassion. Yes, we as the church do have a lot to learn…and I am hopeful because God is God!
      Many blessings to you and your lovely ladies!

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