If you're on Facebook or Instagram, I'm sure you've seen posts from an app called Timehop. It's a little program that taps into your Facebook posts and shows you everything you've posted on that day for the entire time you've been on the site. Mine go back six or seven years and it's a mix of quotes and pictures. Some of it is fun, but some of it is hard.
Surprisingly, the most difficult post for me to read had nothing to do with my father’s fight with cancer or his sudden passing. The most painful posts for me to see are the ones from just over two years ago, when I was certified ready to receive a call in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I was hopeful, joyful, optimistic—”Have resume, will travel.” And so began my walk on the path to ordination that I am still on today. Call seeking is hard. Everyone brings their own baggage to their journey, and queer folks have an extra load of it.
A recent Presbyterian Outlook article written by Susan Fox and Lynn McClintock from Union Presbyterian Seminary (UPSem) looks at some of the challenges that are facing recent seminary graduates. Their writing got me thinking about my own call story and my own ongoing journey toward ordained ministry. I graduated from UPSem in 2012, was certified ready to receive a call in 2013, and have been seeking an ordained call ever since. I’ve had countless phone, Skype, in-person, and FaceTime interviews, and rejection letters—some addressed to the wrong person or sealed with a cheerful sticker. Job searching, in whatever field you’re in, really is a great act of faith.
For all the challenges that have been pointed out in the article—a smaller number of first call positions, folks who have geographic restrictions on their search, folks who have a very set idea of what they’ll be doing—there are at least two that I face that aren’t addressed at all. As a single, cisgender, white, queer woman I have to look at realities in the job market that other folks don’t have to even contemplate, and I also recognize that I sit in a place of privilege within the LGBTQ community. One of my favorite things to do is read through a congregation’s Ministry Information Form and try to figure out if I would be welcome in this church, let alone welcome in the pulpit.
The truth is that women have a harder time finding a call. Though women have been ordained in Presbyterian churches for decades there are still churches who won’t really consider a female pastor. Friends from seminary who are clergy couples were told flat out that if at all possible to let the woman find the job and the man just follow her because it was still much easier for men to find positions than women. That was said by a PC(USA) staff person. In 2011.
Since 2009 I have been part of a group of emerging LGBTQ pastors who are ministered to by Parity. We meet each summer for a retreat and have a Facebook group where we can support each other and get advice from folks facing some of the same challenges. Recently I asked if anyone had advice around coming out to a search committee. The answers ranged from something like “listen to your gut” to “tell them when they ask if there’s anything more they should know” to “I tell them when we’re in conversation about me visiting so that if it’s going to be a problem I don’t waste their money.” All of these are viable options. But as they were flowing in, I found myself getting more and more angry.
I am a beloved child of God. I have a tattoo that says tov meod in Hebrew that reminds me daily that I am a “very good” part of creation. My sexuality is part of who I am, but it’s not the only part, and strategizing about how to tell folks this information makes it seem like a dirty little secret. But the truth is, we have to strategize.
LGBTQ folks have only been able to be ordained in the PC(USA) since 2011. There are some of us in our emerging pastors group who have been ordained since that time, but there are also those of us who have been actively seeking a call for years and years. Acknowledging a changing landscape within the church without acknowledging the challenges that exist for people of color, people within the LGBTQ community, or women doesn’t tell the whole story.
There are fewer full-time calls, there are more candidates, and yet, “despite the numbers, God continues to call men and women to ministry.” I know I am called by God to this life of ministry, to preaching and teaching, and I know that when it is time God will make the path clear and I will join my friends in ordained ministry. Indeed, God continues to call LGBTQ folks, now churches must start doing so too.