VIEWPOINT: Ministry and Motherhood

A Hindu priest, and Catholic priest and an imam walk into the office of a Protestant female reverend.

This is not the beginning of a bad joke, but rather another Tuesday morning in my office in Healy 110. To be honest, there was a time when, in that lineup, I would have felt like the punch line. As a young female minister, I have had my fair share of incredulity and opposition.

Sometimes it is stated blatantly —  as when people tell me, “I believe women should not teach from the pulpit” — but other times it comes in the form of a question of my age, appearance or tone of my voice, resistance to my pastoral authority or even a refusal to use my title. There are myriad ways clergywomen experience challenges, but rather than face antagonism here at Georgetown University, I have had the opportunity to flourish.

Since coming to Georgetown a year ago, I have received many questions from colleagues and friends about my decision to work at a Catholic institution as an ordained woman. Many of my female peers from seminary, upon deciding to start families, have had to stop working for a number of years or decided to step away from ministry altogether.

This is primarily due to the high cost of child care coupled with the wage disparity still present in mainline denominations, and the fact that ordained ministry — which almost always connotes a church setting or extensive congregational care — tends to take an extreme toll on the time and energy of its female pastors, making family dynamics very difficult.

Nevertheless, I came to the university to participate in the Chaplain-in-Residence program and recently took an additional role with the Office of Ministry working as a Protestant chaplain because I sensed Georgetown might be different.

My decision to come here was strongly motivated by a discernment process where I identified that being able to balance my call as a minister and my role as a mother would be important to my personal growth and the growth of my family, and that an academic setting with deep religious conviction would provide more flexibility for exploring my calling than a church or nonprofit.

My 2-year-old Eli joins me for the Office of Ministry’s Chaplains Tea each week, where he likes to follow in my footsteps by inviting students to “talk about our days” or loudly announcing “I need to work, I need to send an email.”

This past semester I participated in the Women in Faith retreat nine months pregnant, where I presented faith and friendship stories alongside other female leaders from the university. Most recently, this balance has played out during my morning office hours, where I am accompanied each day by my 2-month-old daughter Eden so that I can continue her breastfeeding.

Thanks to an incredible cast of colleagues and the university’s commitment to their Jesuit values and heritage, especially cura personalis, I have been able to embrace my work in ministry while also having an active role in the lives of my two young children. My hope that I would be able to embrace my roles as woman, mother and minister have been realized in a variety of ways.

All too often, women are deterred from pursuing a role in ministry because of stigma and that they approach faith in many different forms. For some of my sisters, it means work as laywomen, both in and outside of the church. For others, it means pursuing the responsibilities of ordination, and for many more, it simply means wrestling with questions of who God is as they go about daily life.

Here at Georgetown, on any given day I might have a conversation about karma, the prophet Elijah and Immanuel Kant, which is of the stuff that made up my seminary dreams. All joking aside, the opportunity to work alongside the women and men here at Georgetown — to learn from their unique voices, to experience their various callings from lay-worker to priest to administrator — is an exercise of faith for which I am profoundly grateful.

Written by Reverend Olivia Lane,  Protestant Chaplain and Chaplain-in-Residence at Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Hall at Georgetown University. This article was originally published in The Hoya on January 31, 2017 and can be found online here.