REFLECTIONS ON GENDER AND MINISTRY
Rev. Kit Ketcham, PUUF, June 10, 2018
I had never seen a woman minister, ever, during my growing up years. It just wasn’t done among the Baptists, and though nobody ever said “women can’t be ministers; it’s a man’s job”, the unspoken message was not lost on me.
However, after graduation from Linfield in 1963, it took me a long time to find a job, so I briefly considered going to Berkeley Baptist Divinity School in the Bay area, but when I looked at what programs were available and talked to some of my women friends who were already at Berkeley, I discovered that the routes open to women were pretty limited!
My women friends already at Berkeley were in training to become Christian Education Directors, and I wasn’t fooled by the lofty descriptions of that calling, because I recognized “glorified Sunday School teacher” immediately and shied away. I had taught a lot of Sunday School in my day and did not find it very fulfilling.
Finally, a job as a caseworker in the Washington State welfare department came up and I began working with families and the elderly and disabled in Klickitat and Skamania counties; subsequent careers that followed (like inner-city missionary, stints as a school teacher and counselor) kept me employed for thirty years. That was more satisfying but it was still “women’s work”.
I was attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation by that time, in Colorado, when my church called the first woman minister we’d ever had. Rev. Sylvia was a controversial character; she was divorced, a single parent, and a “flaming feminist”. And she started to date men in the congregation which was sort of okay at that time, though not any more.
It didn’t take long for Rev. Sylvia to be the center of dissension in the congregation and she was asked to leave, under a cloud. There was another lesson---women were dangerous in the ministry. No wonder they were few and far between.
And yet I kept meeting women who were studying for the ministry. Many of them reported that it was quite hard, because they had to contend with male clergy who resented their presence, with congregations who were wary of the issues of pregnancy, motherhood, divorce, and all the other conditions that professional women often have to figure out while trying to maintain their work schedule.
In seminary, when I finally made up my mind at age 53 to start my studies, the tide was starting to turn and my seminary, Iliff School of Theology in Denver, was admitting women to all programs---parish ministry, community ministry, PhD studies, and making academic positions available to women scholars.
Nowadays, there are more women ministers in the Unitarian Universalist Association ranks than there are men. Women hold the position of Senior Minister in several large churches across the country and the UUA has an outstanding woman minister as the president of our denomination, the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, who is the first female president of the UUA.
But still women struggle to deal with male colleagues who feel resentful or are sexually inappropriate. Occasionally congregation members also behave badly toward women ministers, not taking them seriously or paying them less than their male counterparts or even being sexually suggestive toward them. It is still a struggle for many women ministers, even in UU circles.
There are Facebook groups strictly for UU women clergy, in which a frequent topic is “how do I deal with this male in this situation---he’s being creepy, OR he’s patronizing me by his mansplaining, OR he’s being overly familiar with women in the congregation, and so on.”
Ministry can be hard on marriages, as well. Several of the women I went to seminary with were divorced by the time they qualified for ordination. I myself have found that for the men I have dated over the past 20 years, my being a minister was either a sort of creepy turn-on for him or an irritated turn-off because I couldn’t devote more of my time to him. Neither situation was sustainable and none of those relationships flourished for long. So I have chosen to be Single with a capital S for many years.
Men in ministry have their own challenges; a male minister often struggles to set his male privilege aside and deal with women colleagues as equals. Some denominations still refuse to ordain women due to mis-interpreted Biblical injunctions by ancient prophets.
In closing, I’d like to say that gender is a tough row to hoe. No matter where we are on the gender spectrum, we have challenges to surmount and big decisions to make, as well as losses and gains that we could not foresee.
I am so grateful to our guests today and to the visitors who have come to take part in our service. Thank you all for coming. I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Pride picnic in Tapiola Park right after this service ends. We will meet at the park for our monthly potluck and share our dishes with all who attend. There should be plenty for everyone. The Pride committee is providing burgers, both meat and vegie, plus some beverages and plates and utensils.
Our closing hymn is one we’ve sung many times and is one of our favorites, number #1053, “How Could Anyone Ever Tell you?” Let’s sing it through several times.
BENEDICTION: As Bree extinguishes our chalice, let’s pause for our benediction.
Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that we are in this world not to see through each other, but to see each other through. May we offer our rainbow message to all we encounter in the days to come. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.