Anniversary of Ordination

This weekend I’m celebrating my anniversary of ordination, a significant date that goes unremarked by anyone but myself. On a whim I searched through a few old photos, and thought I’d share this one with you.

In this photo I’m wearing a stole that my mother (left) and my aunt (right) embroidered for my graduation from seminary. The picture was snapped at our house in Minneapolis right after the May 1989 graduation. (Geeky Trivia: Guess whose framed portrait is watching over the proceedings from behind.)

I was especially surprised by the gift of the stole since the ordination of women was a controversial subject in my world. I wasn’t entirely sure that my mother and aunt approved. Actually, I don’t think they were sure either. Perhaps they stitched their way into approval with that stole.

Don’t I look young? I was so excited to have finished seminary and be on the cusp of everything wonderful! I was pregnant in this picture. Clara, our second daughter, was born in December and by the following fall, we moved to upstate New York for my first call. I was ordained in Penfield, NY on October 14, 1990, a ceremony I muse about here as a Kodak moment.

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When Your Thoughts Are Unthinkable

after sexual assault

After I got raped, one of my problems was that my thoughts were unthinkable. This problem joined other, more pressing ones. Where could I be safe? Where could I sleep? And how could I get through the impending hours of darkness? I continually felt like I was jumping out of my skin.

I’ll admit that I’d never been terribly comfortable in my skin. I was raised by Calvinists, after all. Everything important was housed from the neck up. But after the rape I couldn’t just escape to my head. My very thoughts—such as they were—became heretical. These weren’t complete thoughts, just words lying in proximity to each other. Unanswerable questions. Profanity. The divine name. I tried to stop the words from lining up, but when I got tired enough, they did, and taunted me: “Where the eff was God?”

To back up — the rape occurred in 1978 when I was a senior at Calvin College. Two masked intruders broke into the home I shared with housemates. They held us hostage for hours, then took turns sexually assaulting us at gunpoint. After the criminals left and we got loose from our bonds, we debated whether or not to call the police. That conversation was a work of theology, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Complete strangers had just taken something from us, something that we could never regain, although we didn’t know what that missing thing was, not yet. The first question was whether or not to tell anyone. Was telling or not-telling the stronger move? I realize now that these were the first steps of trying to reclaim a sense of agency.

That semester I was taking Linguistics and World Religion. I was a true believer in the Reformed doctrine in which I’d been catechized. But the sovereignty of God was no longer a comforting thought. If God’s will controlled all things, did that mean that God had willed this awful experience?

“Put it behind you,” our professors advised. Yes, that was the response of our faith community — deafening silence. Meanwhile, the denomination was embroiled in a fight over the ordination of women. Male pastors debated: What does scripture say on this issue? But I knew what they were really debating: What’s a woman good for?

Eventually I found my way to the Presbyterian church, to seminary, and to ordination. I have been in ministry since 1990. When my own daughters became college-aged, I realized I had unfinished business about the trauma I endured. I wanted to figure out how, exactly, it shaped me. So I began to write. What message did I want to convey to my daughters about living in a woman’s skin? That writing became my memoir, RUINED.

I am passionate about the life of faith, which isn’t a thought exercise. Discipleship is living as God-breathed beings on a God-created planet. We live in bodies, and women’s bodies are too often in peril. The church can break its silence and become a powerful support to victims of sexual assault. There are more of them in your pews than you think.

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Women Pastors Unite!

what to do when people make snide & hurtful comments

One of the joys in my life is being a “Matriarch” AKA “Mentor of Clergywomen Everywhere.”

Over at RevGalBlogPals, I and a number of other matriarchs respond to a classic question — what to do when parishioners make snide comments in the presence of others?

Unfortunately, it is a very common scenario for women in ministry. And what a shame! I know for a fact that clergywomen are just doing their best at a very hard job which is uniquely undervalued.

Click to read what I and the other matriarchs suggest. What would YOU suggest?

If you’ve ever been the person making the snide comment, I would love to hear about that experience too! What were you thinking?

Please pass along this resource to any women pastors you know. She probably would benefit from belonging to RevGals!

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Marking the Date

Ordination of Ruth Huizenga Everhart Oct 14, 1990

Ordination of Ruth Huizenga Everhart Oct 14, 1990

October 14, 2015 marks my 25th Anniversary of Ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

I posted some thoughts in 2013 and in 2010.

Today I just want to mark the date.

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Your LinkedIn Profile: An Obituary in Progress?

As I updated my Linked In profile today, it felt like I was writing an early draft of my obituary. Perhaps the difference between the two documents lies mainly in timing. A LinkedIn profile covers work in progress. An obituary doesn’t show up until our work is done.

Since LinkedIn is a professional tool, the information has to fit certain parameters: keep it positive; use active verbs; highlight results; quantify accomplishments. I tried to do those things. But as I crafted my profile, I thought about the transitions from one position to another. Words on paper convey a certain inevitability; they even create their own reality. But the real reasons for job transitions might be different from the ones we announce. After all, we know that professional transitions are supposed to look seamless and logical. Defensible. But transitions are rarely seamless, and in my life, at least, might appear to make little sense. Yet there is more to life than logic.

Why did I leave a successful church position in order to write a book, for which I had no publishing contract? What about salary, benefits, pension? Why did I take a lowly job as an administrator when my previous positions had entailed significant responsibility? What about the career ladder?

To an outsider, my decisions might appear daft! But I did not make them based solely on bettering my finances, or climbing a ladder. Like many people, I was following my sense of the Spirit’s leading.

(more…)

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I’ve Always Wanted to Be Normal

RevGals coverI’m a woman and have spent a good portion of my career occupying pulpits. In some circles a preaching woman is seen as a problem. Now comes a book that normalizes my life: “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.” What a gift! I’ve always wanted to feel normal.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor (SkyLight Paths Publishing).

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

My guess is that you know someone who would love to receive this book as a gift.

More than 50 clergywomen have written this anthology. I contributed an essay, which ended up first in the book. It leads off a section called “Fierce & Fabulous for Jesus.”

(more…)

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Pilgrim Hospitality

Pictures of the Incredible Scottish RevGals!

I have just returned from a pilgrimage to the UK where I was on the receiving end of so much hospitality! I led a 3-day conference called The Pilgrim Way for 18 clergywomen in Edinburgh, Scotland. The woman who originally envisioned this international event, and organized it, was Julie Woods. She took care of “all the things.” How inspiring to see her idea give birth to an event, years in the making! Here Julie and I are, in front of the priory ruins on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which was a follow-on from the conference.

Rev. Julie Woods, right.

Rev. Julie Woods (right) Rev. Ruth Everhart (left) on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

To back up a bit, I arrived in Scotland a few days early in order to get over jet lag, and was hosted by Liz Crumlish at her home in Ayr, on the western coast. Liz was the first Church of Scotland clergywoman to attend a RevGal Big Event cruise almost a decade ago, and it was her enthusiasm that persuaded more Scottish clergywomen to cross the pond year by year. I chose a picture of Liz laughing because she is always laughing. (more…)

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Is He Hitting On Me? A Clergywoman & Bereaved Guy

RevGalBlogPalsClergywomen face unique challenges. Today’s “Ask the Matriarch” column at RevGalBlogPals addresses a question about enforcing boundaries with a person who is hurting:

Dear Matriarchs,
What’s a gal chaplain to do? I work in hospice and I try hard to be professional and do my job well. What does one do when a bereaved male claims he has “felt a connection” and asks where you “do services” or looks at you very intently in the eye and says he gets “lonely”. So far I’m just taking the professional route and ignoring the hint. Should I call him out and name it in regards to me, risking breaking the “connection” or trust? Or just continue the professional, empathic way? Does “compassionate, pastoral, good listener” equate with “possible hookup” to these guys? I am solidly married with kids and love my work.

Many Matriarchs responded, including me.

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In Celebration of Clergywomen

October 14, 2014 is my 24th Anniversary of Ordination to the Ministry of Word & Sacrament. What a privilege to live this life! For the past three years I haven’t been serving a church full time, and so I have a bit of distance from my vocation. More than ever, I love rubbing elbows with other clergywomen. I thought I’d list some of the reasons I’m grateful to still be counted among the ranks of clergywomen:

1. Clergywomen laugh at the humor in life. They are intimately involved with people’s lives — and life is funny. If you don’t think so, invite your favorite clergywoman over for a glass of wine and ask her if anything ridiculous happened in the past week.

2. Clergywomen don’t hide their eyes from the pathos in life. When they get the call, they get in the car and drive to the hospital, the nursing home, the morgue. They may cry but they also pray and bring a message of hope.

3. Clergywomen are beautiful in their robes and stoles. Have you seen the light in her eyes when a clergywoman is preaching the gospel and is totally un-self-conscious?

4. Clergywomen are down and dirty in their “I Love My Church” T-shirt. Also while hoisting that Habitat for Humanity paintbrush, or wearing a hairnet while making sandwiches to hand out to homeless people, or dripping in the dunk tank at the local street fair where they raised money for mission.

5. Clergywomen are leaders. They know how to put together an agenda and make decisions and delegate the next steps. (Please include that in the minutes and the church newsletter, thanks.)

6. Clergywomen are servants. Because Jesus.

7. Clergywomen are smart. They graduated from seminary. They earned a Master of Divinity degree. They passed ordination exams.

8. Clergywomen are foolish. They spent all that time and money and effort to get a degree that won’t buy them much earning power. Why? Because they felt called by God.

Clergywomen are a sisterhood and if you are lucky enough to be one, I don’t have to explain a word of this. But please pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine or cup of tea, and tell me what you’d add to my list!

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Praise or Blame, All the Same: Handling Criticism

A recent article in the NYT, Learning to Love Criticism, discusses a Fortune.com study of performance reviews, which shows that women are criticized more severely, and in more personal ways, than are men. In other words: It’s not our imagination!

I am familiar with the dynamic described. As a clergywoman, my work requires me to make decisions, talk frankly to people, and speak the truth. At the same time, I deal with people at vulnerable moments, and am heavily invested in communicating the love of God at all times. That is already a difficult dance to manage. Add the gender piece and now the dance floor is littered with holes that can grab your (figurative) high heels and pitch you to the floor.

Women who speak frankly are called strident. Women who are decisive are called aggressive. Women who exert their authority are called control freaks.

How can we do our job without paying a price? Perhaps the answer is: we can’t. So we must calculate the price and count it against the cost of not doing the work.

The NTY articles speaks about the “impossible tightrope” women must walk to do “substantive work.” The tightrope referred to is: how to be professional and make tough decisions while at the same time be seen as nice.

I am familiar with that tightrope. As an Associate Pastor in my first church, I was told that I too frequently used “I” language. This puzzled me. I had just spent a great deal of time and energy learning about family systems theory, and was committed to using healthy communication patterns. I thought that using “I” language was a good thing, not a problem. Even the committee members giving me the criticism were unable to further explain what the problem was, or how I should change to please them. One said: “They just think you should let the group make all the decisions, I guess.”

In that same group, we routinely ended our meetings with a time of open prayer. After everyone had prayed and the silence stretched for some moments, I would bring the prayer to a close. As soon as I said Amen, one particular person would invariably say “I was just going to pray but you ended!” So the next time I would wait longer. Still the person would not offer a prayer. So I would close and the person would protest. The pattern continued, with constantly lengthening periods of silence until it was ridiculous — a full two minutes of silence.

Finally, one of the older members pulled me aside and said: Don’t you see? It’s the perfect complaint. No matter how long you wait, it will never have been long enough. I am grateful for that wise elder, whose comment freed me from the need to try to please someone who was determined to not be pleased with me. A criticism that is a perpetual Gotcha! is not worth heeding.

I would like to think that this story is hopelessly outdated and that things have changed since the early 1990s. But I doubt it. Just as I was finishing this blogpost, my friend Carol Howard Merritt wrote about a similar dynamic. I know that I over-learned the practice of back-seating my own opinions. I became too enamored of a consensus model of leadership. I under-valued my own ability to help a group discern its next steps.

Now I am trying to learn new behaviors.

What we professional women must do is not easy. But we can feel empowered. Rather than waiting for the tightrope to disappear, we can change how we receive criticism. We can hear whatever bits are helpful, but not let any mean-spiritedness impair our ability to do the work. The work is what matters. The work is always what matters.

As Richard Carlson so memorably said: Praise or blame — is all the same.

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