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.
I’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.