“And Mary treasured these things in her heart.” Luke 2:19
“I am so afraid to tell my elders. What if they fire me?” Her face is screwed up in genuine anguish as she shares what should be happy news. After years of hoping and trying and disappointment, she and her husband are expecting their first child. But instead of joy, she feels fear. She is a full-time minister at a church of Christ. She has been there for 8 years, building relationships and serving a local body of Christ that she deeply loves. This church has witnessed her meeting her husband, marrying in their facility, and desiring a child. She sees this church as her family. Why is she afraid?
There is no maternity policy in her contract or anywhere on paper in the church’s records. She is the first young female to ever be employed by the church—There have been female administrative assistants, but they were past childbearing years. She has carefully and lovingly drawn the church’s leadership’s attention to the places where they can grow in accepting a woman as minister. But this one big detail has never been addressed before. She finds herself wondering how she missed it and what in the world to do now. “I am so afraid to tell my elders. They have never had a pregnant employee. What if they fire me?”
In our last post, we addressed how being employed in ministry puts women between a rock and a hard place. They are caught between cultural expectations, some of them taught by the church, and their sense of calling to ministry. This young woman finds herself in an even more debilitating dilemma.
Historically, the church has taught that a woman is supposed to have children. In bringing new life into the world, a woman is correctly being a woman. We even quote scripture at women to prove our point: “Women shall be saved through child-bearing. (1 Timothy 2:15)”. In recent years, I believe churches have become more sensitive to the pain this causes, especially to women experiencing infertility, and that is the redemptive work of the Spirit. However, this expectation still lives and moves under the level of our awareness. It’s like a snake under the carpet; we see it moving but we can’t identify the origin of the whisper, ‘A woman is truly being a woman in the best sense of that label when she is pregnant and/or caring for children.’
Contrast this with our brave young woman. She is living into her calling to vocational ministry, a calling from God. Without a written maternity policy, she has no idea if her church will allow her to be fully woman and fully minister. The bind now feels like a noose. Will she have to sacrifice one part of her identity to live into the other? Here she is, finally both biologically and socially able to see herself as fully woman. But that very fullness threatens her spiritual personhood– as she identifies herself as a minister.
Practically speaking, any church who hires a female should have a written maternity policy. It should include time away from the office, and ministry responsibilities, to bond with a baby and physically recover. It should include plans for a purposeful transitioning back to work. Having a written policy allows women to bypass some of these noose-like binds. It can move the church, and the minister, more quickly into vital conversation about how ministry and motherhood are complimentary pursuits. In fact, a “parenthood policy” that is clearly articulated would speak volumes to the value the church places on both parents being free to nurture young life.
The church stands in a unique place to bless the difficult road of parenthood. She alone is able to speak to the biological, social, and spiritual aspects of caring for the life of a child. May the church’s actions, words, and policies declare, “It is very good!”
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