Thank You for NOT Asking – Guest Blogger Larissa Kwong Abazia

Note from Jan:  In my ongoing hope that both congregations and core leaders  will be teachable followers of Christ, I’ve asked my friend Larissa Kwong Abazia to share her experiences as one searching for a new call in a new city.

 Larissa Kwong AbaziaI’ve recently started interviewing for ministry positions and felt I was prepared for the onslaught of what I deem “inappropriate questions” from churches.  As a 30-something woman of color, I am familiar with comments that pose doubts about my age or experience, ability to minister to people older than me, slotting me right into youth ministry roles, assuming that hiring me will automatically grow the young adult population, or blatant misunderstandings surrounding race.  I’ve learned to take them as par for the course, as sad as it may seem in the life of the Church.  I was not ready, however, for questions surrounding my role as a mother.

Every single interview (Did you read that?  EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW) that I have had in the past several months has included some form of the question, “How do you feel about going back to work?” or “What will your son do once you start working?”

At first, I found myself justifying my desire to go back to work, laid out daycare plans, and the ways that my husband and I would juggle the weekly schedule.  Then I gave more guarded answers by acknowledging the concern behind the question and returning to my ministry experience as someone who likes balancing a lot of things at once.  Finally, I worked to briefly reassure them of a healthy work/life balance and redirected the interview to my call to ministry.  I confess that I have yet to find an answer that I am comfortable with even though I have been asked countless times.

I have no doubt that such questions will continue to come throughout my career and I will have to become at expert at answering both pastorally and candidly.  For now, I have arrived at an even deeper concern for our hiring process for female clergy.

For those who are seeking a pastor, here are some friendly notes that you might want to take into consideration:

  • It is illegal to ask a woman (or anyone for that matter) if they are married, have children or plan to have children, or any other personal questions.  I’ve also been asked about my plans for daycare and how I will juggle my potential work schedule; if those aren’t illegal, they certainly are poor form.
  • If you’re going to ask a question of a female candidate, first ask yourself if you would request that information from every other interviewee.  If not, then perhaps you should consider not asking at all.
  • Asking a female candidate, “How do you feel about working while raising your children?” feeds into decades of pressure on women to feel as though they have to do it all.  I’m guessing if a woman has applied to your church, she has already considered this…otherwise why would she have submitted her resume in the first place?!  Give her the benefit of the doubt, bite your tongue, ask about the unique gifts she brings to your congregation, and uncover the ways you can do ministry together.
  • It seems as though the underlying concern in such questions is a distrust that a woman can care for her congregation if she is also a mother (and therefore caring for her family).  Perhaps, then, congregations should consider if they are asking for too much time and energy from their leaders that won’t allow them to maintain healthy boundaries outside of the church.  We aren’t parents of, but partners in ministry with our congregations.  It’s long overdue that we begin thinking about the ways we support our clergy, male and female, in their calls in ways that allow them to be whole people both inside and outside of the church walls.
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11 responses to “Thank You for NOT Asking – Guest Blogger Larissa Kwong Abazia

  1. Well said Larissa. Maybe each PNC needs this list. I’m a pastor’s wife and a congregation once asked to interview us together and asked me questions.

  2. It also happens on the other end of the spectrum. “Do you (as an older person) have the energy (health, etc) to do the job of ministry?” The willingness to forget the partnership aspect happens ALL THE TIME. Thanks for the insights provided. Good job. Blessings.

  3. Pingback: Thank You for Asking… A Response to Larissa Kwong Abazia « The Blue Room

  4. OMG Kate…

    Thank you so much for this, Larissa. You brought up a lot of food for thought. I started to comment but it got too long so I wrote it up on my blog. I hope the conversation continues!

    http://theblueroomblog.org/2013/01/22/thank-you-for-asking-a-response-to-larissa-kwong-abazia/

  5. What would be really helpful would be for other people (other members of search committees, other members during congregational meetings) to respond when inappropriate questions are asked.

    During the congregational meeting when I was moving from PT Co-Pastor with my husband to FT solo pastor, someone asked – in the congregational meeting – “But who will take care of your children?” I was rather stunned, especially since HH and I had been taking care of our children in partnership for the previous 7 years serving them. I am certain that they would not have asked HH if he had been the one becoming the solo pastor.

    It would have been helpful/supportive if even one person had stood up and challenged that question on the floor of the congregational meeting.

    As I shared with Larissa before she wrote this post, I was asked “if there was anyway I could be gay” during an interview when I was sitting beside my (male) spouse with the spit up of our 6 month old on my shoulder from a last-minute hit before the interview. I wish I’d had the chuzpah to say, “Oh yes, I am totally gay which is why it was such an effort to stage this fake husband and pretend baby spit-up ruse.” Not a single person even looked askance at such an odd question.

  6. Brava, Larissa! So true! (Blessings on your search.)

  7. Jaw on the floor, Jan!!!!!

    I agree that other committee members should call that out… or at least the COM liaison should know better.

  8. I agree that having another voice to call out these questions would be a great help. As an interviewee, it feels “risky” to name the inappropriate questions outright as I also hope to make a good impression, share what I bring to the ministry, and potentially move on in the interview process. As Mary Ann wrote on her blog, redirection is a helpful way to open up the conversation and name the issue.

    Perhaps regular training/conversation with search committees would be helpful as many consist of lay leaders, not trained human resource managers. I don’t think this happens across the board in presbyteries/governing bodies but it would be a great way to guide and support church leaders in the discernment process for a pastor.

  9. Pingback: Thank You for Thinking Before Asking: Dialogue with Larissa and MaryAnn – first day walking

  10. Pingback: Thank You for Naming… A Response to Larissa Kwong Abazia | Art for God's Sake…

  11. Thank you thank you thank you.

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