Sunday, February 1, 2009

On the Journey: Bursting Bubbles

During this fifth and final year of my M.Div. career I have been looking forward. In the summer I wrote copious essays for the Center for Career Development in Ministry and had a two day psychological and career evaluation resulting in a report that will go to the Committee on Ministry as part of the ordination processs. I began Watchcare: an American Baptist mentoring relationship that is part of the ordination process—an experienced pastor meeting monthly for 8-12 months with me as the ordination candidate. In the fall I went to Green Lake, Wisconsin for a five-day denomination sponsored conference for American Baptist seminarians and new pastors. I wrote to faculty following that conference:

I recently attended the Introduction to American Baptist Life conference for seminarians and new pastors. While there I attended a session on women in ministry where national staff shared some rather depressing statistics about placement for women in the ABC-USA: only 413 churches out of 5500, or 7.5%, have women as senior or solo pastors, with another 1100 women ordained as music ministers, CE directors or associates. One person said that admissions officers had an ethical obligation not to accept women into seminary if they didn’t think that placement would be likely or possible. One faculty member from Northern Theological said that she is in charge of placement for American Baptists and is having great success placing women, because theology now trumps gender—a 24 year old woman with moderate to conservative theology can be placed more readily than a liberal man with experience—of course that’s in the Midwest.

A couple of us convened a welcoming and affirming Baptist group ad hoc during the conference and fully half of the people attending and supporting welcoming and affirming churches were from ANTS, and three-fourths of the identified GLBT folks were from ANTS—there were four in total who felt safe to identify as GLBT in that circle.

Those things certainly gave me pause. I have one final elective course to complete in order to graduate in May 2009 (concurrent with an extended unit of CPE). I am writing to the group of you in hopes that
1) the idea presented briefly below can be approved for a directed study for Spring 2009, and
2) that one of you will leap at the opportunity to be my faculty partner in this study. I am sending this to faculty who are either American Baptists and/or sympathetic to women's or GLBT issues.

This journal/blog serves as a reflective part of that directed study, which was approved and supported by a number of the faculty. I plan to be posting weekly during this spring. More about the study will be forthcoming.

Yesterday I heard an investment advisor discussing the precipitating events that brought us to our current economic crisis. She called the first a "housing bubble" where nationally we were buying houses we couldn't afford, lending without understanding the value of what secured the loans, and investing in derivatives of both of those too good to be true practices. I suspect I have been living in my own "bubble" during my time in seminary: I did my field education work under the mentorship of a woman pastor, in a welcoming and affirming congregation, have studied in an ecumenical and progressive seminary environment, while attending and being sponsored to the ministry by a church where radical social action and progressive views are the norm.

In October at the seminarians conference, coincident with the run-up to the national elections and the economic collapse, my bubble also burst. It was clear from the range of political and theological views expressed that I, and most of the colleagues from my seminary, along with two-three other seminaries in the Northeast, were in a minority as progressives. We found each other, and could occupy one or two tables. The American Baptist Churches-USA, as a denomination, is a place where pastors who are uncomfortable with the extreme fundamentalism of more conservative Baptist fellowships are migrating—those were the new pastors I met, and is a denomination, like many others, that has been torn by the question of how to deal with people whose sexuality is not heterosexual. I know that some Southern Baptist women ministers moved their affiliation to the ABC-USA when the Southern Baptist convention said that they would no longer support ordination for women. Being uncomfortable with extreme fundamentalism, however, does not make you a progressive or even a moderate, and I would judge that a majority of the seminarians and new pastors and leadership at that conference are well to the right of center—there seemed to be more people excited about Palin than Obama, even among the sizable contingent of black seminarians.

There were a lot of women at the conference—maybe even half. If American Baptist churches aren't hiring women as pastors, what happens to us? Fifteen years ago, women made up 5% of senior/solo pastors in the ABC-USA. Today it is up to 7.5%, while many seminaries are up to more than 50% women.

I remember from my own experience in blowing bubbles, after you blow bubbles and they pop, after a while the floor becomes covered with a soap film that can be slippery and treacherous. It becomes hard to remember and appreciate the iridescent beauty of that gently floating bubble, when you slip as you step.

Today my prayer is for balance, both as I step forward in slippery territory and as I remember and claim the beauty in the bubbles of ministry that I have done and am called to do.

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