Friday, May 30, 2008

Do or Die?

I've emailed the chairman of my presbytery's Committee on Ministry asking to be put on their docket this coming Monday evening.

A presbytery's COM is its gatekeeper, pre-examining pastors who wish to serve within its bounds. And, along with the Executive Presbyter, it recommends--or doesn't recommend-- member pastors who wish to serve churches anywhere in the Presbyterian Church (USA) nationwide.

For the last four years I've been stymied by my COM. I've been limited on what ministries I may undertake and I haven't been referred even for the sorts I am technically allowed.

I've told myself that that was because I had an architecture job for a couple of years. Then I thought it was because nothing in my categories had come up. Then I thought maybe it was a case of out of sight, out of mind.

I've gone to work to rectify that. I've gotten myself on a presbytery committee. I see the EP at least once a month and ask him what's available. I've written a letter to the COM chair. I've lobbied people I know who are on COM. I ask fellow pastors to keep their ears open for churches that are coming open in their areas.

But nothing has come of any of it. I know that opportunities have come available. And somehow, the powers that be haven't seen fit to refer me even for an interview.

I wasn't present at the COM meeting four years ago when the decision was made to limit me. The only "specific" comment was that I seemed to need more mentoring than usual.

To what did this refer? I know I was unable to control the ruling family in my last call-- but neither were any of the previous pastors going back twenty years or more. I considered that maybe the difference is that the previous pastors (all men) toughed it out until they couldn't take it any more, then circulated their CVs and got new positions. They didn't bring the COM into it.

I did. Should I have kept my mouth shut about it? A fellow pastor who was on the administrative commission that took over the rulership of that church four years ago says no. He says I did a good thing for that congregation by reporting the shenanigans of my bull elder and his kin. They jumped ship to another denomination and the church is now recovering under the leadership of a new pastor.

While I, their indirect benefactor, am still treading water, doing nothing but pulpit supply.

I've been making myself visible in presbytery meetings. I have, I hope, demonstrated my capabilities as I make statements and ask questions graciously, forthrightly, and succinctly. I hope to show myself to be a competent person who can take a stand in a respectful, collegial manner, and not be turned to mush by the prospect of opposition.

Or am I totally wrong about this? Last meeting, I asked for what I thought was a simple doctrinal clarification from a man being examined for membership in the presbytery. He was confused and I had to retreat unsatisfied. On my return to my seat, a fellow pastor leaned over to me and said, "He probably thought you were trying to catch him out because you're a woman. He doesn't realize you're conservative." Do my fellow presbyters, clergy and lay, merely see me as unfeminine and over-intellectual and thereby, automatically, insensitive and unpastoral?

(That specious and false link was made by a previous presbytery several years ago.)

Well, yesterday we women clergy met for our monthly luncheon meeting. We all told our news: A prospective marriage for one of us, a daughter married for another, the church building repaired and rededicated for another, that sort of thing.

And I, not for the first time, brought up my situation. But this time we really talked about it. And one of the clergy women there, a COM member, told me flatly that I couldn't keep wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin' for the COM chair or the EP to move on my behalf. No, I needed to ask for time on the next docket and meet with them to learn what's going on. She herself could give no guidance; she's come on the committee since the fateful decision was made.

And, she said frankly, if there's something about me that means they'd never, ever recommend me for a position, officially allowed or not, I have to find that out. If they're just waiting for me to get tired and go away to some other profession, I have to find that out, too.

Because I'm not getting any younger. And lately I haven't been actively looking for architecture work. Not only because I'm not that qualified anymore for the mechanized way things are done these days, or because of the economy, but also because I want to do Christian ministry. I don't want to be hired by some firm and tell them goodbye in two months because sorry, I'm off to be an Interim Pastor for a year. I don't treat people like that.

But if I'm wasting my time waiting for something in ministry to open up, I have to get busy determining how else to serve Jesus Christ-- and to keep myself and my four-legged children off the street.

Whether I really want to leave the ordained ministry or not.

So if there's room on the docket, Monday may be the night I find out.

Kyrie eleison!
Note: I've heard back from the COM chairman (3:00 PM), and there's no room on the June docket. Next on my own agenda: Push, push, push to get on their agenda for July.


Sandy said...

Ah, Blogwen, I don't think they treat you fairly.

St. Blogwen said...

As my grandmother used to say, maybe I'm not holding my mouth right!