Although I know many young women who are pastors, lets be honest, that is my world, the perception is that these pastors are few and far between. When I was in seminary, 8 years ago, there were more female students than male. My mother was a pastor. Its not unusual for me to see pastors who look like me.
But I have decided to embrace what I call, sneaky ninja Jedi pastoring, because the reality is I don’t look like what people picture as a pastor.
As I emerge with my messy hair, from my messy car, loaded down with three children, and climbing the steps in clothes that can generously be called casual professional, I can see the argument going on behind people’s eyes. Is that the pastor? She parked in the pastor spot. Hmmm…She doesn’t look like the pastor, where is her husband, he must be the pastor, nope she’s alone (my husband is usually working at the library during business hours). The nice thing is that by the time I get to the front door, I usually don’t have to explain, though I still hear the special emphasis when the person says to me “so you’re the pastor….”
A perennial topic on all the collegiate clergy boards is “where to find a collar” and “when do you wear your collar” the subtext of the question is “how do you establish your authority as a pastor?”
The simple answer to these questions for me is that I am a political figure, just by being a pastor. For me, its especially when people don’t know who I am.
You want to know how to abruptly stop a conversation with someone? Tell them your a pastor. This trick is especially fun with hairdressers, parties and with your seatmate on an airplane. Because, as every pastor knows, the person you are talking with suddenly stops and reviews the entire conversation they just had, and tries to apologize for anything that you, the pastor, might have found to be offensive.
But, because of how I look, the denial factor is strong! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve introduced myself as “Pastor Katy,” shook hands, and had hours of conversations, only to have the affirmation later in the day, “oh, wait your the pastor.” The sneaky ninja Jedi pastor strikes again.
And here is where being a pastor is political, because if you’ve gotten to know me already. Then, hopefully, I have shown myself to be kind, gracious and compassionate. No doubt you’ve already heard some of my struggles and imperfections, and its likely we’ve already connected with one another (because I can talk to anyone). I look and sound very ordinary, and before you know it we will be talking philosophies and hopes and fears at playgroup, in the secretary’s office, during nursery school or the weekly farmer’s market. We’ve already enjoyed a conversation together, and the reality of who I am as a pastor has already sneaked through, permeating the conversation. Suddenly, this person understands that pastoring is about caring for people, not judging them. And its amazing, how often, that validates my authority in a more politic and substantial way then a collar would. I do my most pastoral care work when I’m not wearing any symbol of authority, and my role in the church is hazy at best (parent? secretary? random churchmember?).
The best conversations are the ones with them reviewing the conversation in their head looking for clues of my love and grace, not looking for what needs to be apologized for. These conversations prove the positive politics of being a pastor.
My authority comes from how I am a person in the world, my authority comes from the idea that if I’m a pastor, with all of my silliness and oddities, then maybe you could be a churchgoer or even just someone who is not too scared to talk about faith, politics, or even personal difficulties with a pastor-type-person.
Pastors are inherently political, quite simply because we are humans who are trying to do the Christian thing, and doing the Christian thing is in our varied, silly, creative human bodies. And sometimes people want a say over how a pastor looks and acts, because they want a say over how God calls people. But God, who is ever so much wiser than us, keeps teaching us how to widen that circle of call, reminding us that every time we embody Christ, we challenge the powers that be, and then are, by definition, political. Sometimes I think pastors are the most political when they are in the most ordinary of situations.
Katy Stenta has been a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside for over seven years in Albany, NY. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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