What is your only comfort?

Urban God-talk for the church-o-phobic.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Why's that onboard clergy person always over 40?

It's been a long time since my last post. Unfortunately, in between then and now I ended up getting sick, had a number of church meetings to attend, and ended up taking a trip to Washington DC to visit family. Even more of a challenge to my budding blogging habit, though, has been developing a case of old fashioned writer's block.

Fortunately, this has somewhat dissipated as of this morning when I woke up with a new story to tell. I know that among women clergy, there are far too many stories of hitting the stained glass ceiling. Let's face it: women clergy make less, have fewer positions to choose from and encounter far more resistance to their calling from the church. Add on to this the fact that I'm a gay woman, and well...I've certainly had my share of encounters with discrimination in the church. The most easily visible demonstration of this is that I'm still not ordained (15 months and counting since I received my certificate of fitness and a promise of a call).

Most days, I try not to think about this and just put one foot in front of the other and follow Christ in ministry. It isn't all that hard - there are lots of ministry things that need to be done in my neck of the city. But yesterday, I had a completely phenomenal moment of discrimination that is almost laughable because it didn't have anything (at least I don't think it did) to do with being either a woman or gay. Nope. This time was a totally new reason why I couldn't serve god - I was too young.

Here's the set-up: last spring we went on a lovely cruise. The ship had a Catholic priest onboard, but no Protestant clergyperson. The priest officiated at daily Catholic mass and then at a Sunday morning "Protestant worship service." I don't know how a Catholic priest could officiate at a Protestant worship service, but hey - it worked for him and the cruiseline...The first Sunday very few people showed up at the Protestant service. The following Sunday, though, a lovely nondenominational pastor and his wife offered to hold the service and about 100 people showed up. "Wow" I thought to myself. "People really showed up when there was a pastor onboard. What a difference that made. Maybe I could help out with such a service sometime?"

Flash forward to yesterday afternoon when I finally got to the point of looking up information about becoming a cruise chaplain. I called up the agency that books these folks and introduced myself. The woman on the other end of the phone told me that she already had hundreds of resumes on file for the job of onboard clergyperson, but I could send in my resume. I said that would be just fine, that I'd be more than happy to wait my turn, and I thanked her for the opportunity to apply for the job. She then asked me how old I was. I said I was almost 30 years old. She then said, "Well, I can tell you that you won't even be considered for the position until you're at least 40 years old. We only select older clergy for the job."

No kidding. Those were her words - as if something magical happens between 39 and 40 that makes you better qualified to lead a worship service onboard a cruise. I couldn't believe it.

I wanted to say, "Look lady, if you're going to discriminate against me, why don't you find something a little less original. Hey, look, I'm a woman and a lesbian. You can exclude me for those reasons. Don't even bother going for the age thing. And by all means, don't be direct about it. Make some other excuse up about why I can't do the job."

Of course, we all know that when it comes to clergy jobs, you don't really have to make other excuses. Being direct about why you're discriminating is a-ok in the church. But I really wanted her to at least use the old stand-bys for why I wasn't capable of doing the job.

The thing that struck me about this conversation, though, isn't just the boldness with which she informed me that I was much too young for the job. It's that there are always going to be people who think women or gays or young people or fill-in-the-blank people can't be pastors.

And then suddenly, just as I was really getting my undies in a bunch, grace appeared, as God is always prone to do. And I realized that yes, sometimes getting a job is harder because of one's individual circumstances. But grace doesn't discriminate. We're all able to experience the gift of God's love and God's presence. And while a woman who books onboard clergy may think someone under the age of 40 is too young, God doesn't seem to think that the under-40 set shouldn't be pastors. Just look at our seminaries. They are filled with countless young people.
No, if we look around we can see that God calls young folks and old folks. God calls women and men. God even calls gay folks. God calls us because of God's love and God's grace. And we answer because of God's love and God's grace. And that love and that grace is all that we need to be sustained when those around us think we can't do the job. God sure thinks that we can do the job, and that's good enough for me.


At 11:53 AM, Blogger `tim said...

We have been working our way through the book of Romans during our evening worship service. Last Sunday we had (8.18: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.)

Should have been my week's verse as I've bumbled on the edge of depression complaining to myself about how miserable life is.

Amazing how people (and situations) test all of that, isn't it!

Grace and Peace,

At 5:21 PM, Blogger Purechristianithink said...

On the other hand, it's kind of nice to be in a profession where it's not all over once you pass forty. I've heard being a woman over forty in Hollywood or network news sucks. In the church, it's actually better than under 30.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Ann said...

Yes, this is definitely a profession which causes one to delight in additional gray hair.

At 11:13 AM, Blogger thelonebarista said...


As a late twenties female middler in seminary, I've had a lot of people both indirectly and directly pointing out the stainglass window to me during the past few weeks. It is life and call sustaining for me to read your words so I thank you for them!

Jess (friend of PJ and Andrew)


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