mUNczhUWhat is a RevGal Matriarch? Our Matriarch panel is composed of clergywomen with at least 10 years of professional church leadership experience. With experience comes . . . well . . . all kinds of experiences. Take heed as the Matriarchs to reveal how their regrets have made them better pastors.

Dear Matriarchs:

As you look back on years of ministry, what thing — or more than one thing! — do you regret, or do you wish you had done differently?

Dee Eisenhauer:
I wish I had learned to have direct (mediated, if necessary) conversations with critics rather than avoiding them. Conversation doesn’t always solve problems but in the long run it is better than the endless internal speculation about what a perceived opponent is thinking and why. I still wish I could have gotten a fuller understanding of what one person who seemed determined to usher me out the door was thinking some 30 years ago in my first call, but I was too chicken to talk to her. I also wish I had asked for help sooner with a few personnel management issues–management has not been my great gift, and I finally figured out that there were members of my church who had useful (confidential) guidance for me. I had to mature a bit before I learned that asking for help is usually a good thing; in my younger years I was too eager to demonstrate competence in every little thing.

Jennifer Burns Lewis:
I wish I had accepted the invitation to join a group of women clergy who met annually for a preaching roundtable. 

I missed out on an amazing opportunity for deep friendships and good continuing education.

Julia S:
I have many regrets, but one very sharp one. Someone came up to me on Christmas Eve, about 9:30 pm, when I was 36 weeks pregnant and asked about getting their 8-month-old child baptized at a later date. I said I’d be glad to talk about it when I came back from maternity leave, but in the meantime, it would be great to see them at church more often. The person took great offense at this and refused to ever further the conversation. If I had it to do over, I would just say, “I’ll write it on my list to give you a call when I get back from maternity leave.” It is always the failure to acknowledge when I am tired and overwhelmed that leads to regrets and things I wish I could do over again. I’ve never regretted a quick nap, a second breakfast, or an email/text/statement that said, “Let me get back to you on that.” I don’t think idle hands are the devil’s playground; for me, it’s overworked hands (and minds).

Camille LeBron Powell:
I wish I had negotiated a sabbatical & parental leave in my first call. I was single & didn’t think I’d be there long enough for a sabbatical. 11 1/2 years later I moved on, having fought for 2 maternity leaves & no sabbatical because they thought ML was basically the same thing! 

I wish I had learned earlier that I cannot be responsible for someone else’s anxiety, only my own. That would have served me well in lots of ways, particularly in dealing with criticism. 

I wish I was better at planning for time off. (Still working on it). I’ve always been good at taking days off and balancing out week to week, but I have failed to carve out real vacation time until it’s too late & seems impossible to take.

Thank you, dear Matriarchs! In the infamous words of Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Thank you for encouraging us as we seek to do better. 

RevGal readers: What do you know better now that you have been in ministry awhile? What are you doing better about? Please do tell us in the comments below.

Do you have a question for our Matriarchs? We would love to hear from you! Send it to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and we will do the best we can for you.

Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

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