Pastor Mom: Reflections on My Son’s Baptism and Life as a Mother in Ministry

It started when I was pregnant.  

I knew that when I had a baby, it was going to change the way I did my job as a pastor. I didn’t anticipate how much even being pregnant would impact the way I did ministry, mostly because I was very sick my entire pregnancy.  I had to preach sitting down.  I would attend meetings and have to lie down half way through them, saying: “Don’t mind me! Keep going!” as I continued the discussion while lying on the closest couch.  At our monthly ministerial, I would ask for prayer from a group of men who tried hard to be empathetic, but who had no idea what it was like to lead worship with morning sickness.

Then I had the baby – and the first maternity leave for our church to figure out. Then I had to return from maternity leave – and there was the first returning-from-maternity-leave to figure out.  

And then there were Sunday mornings with a clingy toddler.  Negotiating what to do if my son was upset in the nursery while I was preaching.  Managing night meetings around bedtime routines. 

Being a Pastor Mom was complicated.

My son got older, and I had another baby.   I was still learning to navigate the life of a pastor mom, and now the realities of what that meant were timed by two. There were more board meetings that had to be held at my house to compensate for bedtimes, more sermons written during fleeting nap times, more bodies to get out the door on a Sunday. There was more stress that I was messing everything up.

kids
Actually looking like we are pretty put together on our way to church one Sunday. Probs why we took a picture…

Like other working parents, the struggle of a pastor mom has lots to do with schedules and work hours and fitting everything in. But it also has to do with what sometimes feels like the clash of one call with another.  

Parenting versus pastoring.  

Mom versus minister.

It’s been eleven years, and I still wrestle with the tension.    

I wonder, often, how my job makes my children feel about church, a place I want them to love, but also a place that often seems to take their mother away from them.  Will they love the place that makes them say: “You have to go to church AGAIN?” on a night that they hoped I would read another chapter of Harry Potter? Will they resent the place where they always have to show up early, and where they are always the last to leave? What is it like for them to have their MOM be the one who preaches the sermons they hear, and how do they process how others respond to that?  (Once, my son came home saying that his friends hadn’t believed him when he told them what I do: “Women aren’t priests,” his classmates had chided him).

Of course, there is also the unique guilt that comes with having a job that some Christians don’t even think I should do in the first place.  There is little empathy from some of my brothers and sisters in Christ about finding work/life balance as a woman pastor when they think I shouldn’t be a pastor anyway.  

And even among those who support my calling and role, there is often little understanding of the differences my life has from my male colleagues with wives at home.  No, I can’t do an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting – I drop my kids off at school. No, I can’t do a three day ministry retreat. We have no family close by and my husband works in Toronto. I have turned down countless ministry opportunities and speaking events because this is a season where my kids need my “yes” more than another conference does.  

I am burdened by the questions every pastor asks:  “Am I leading this church well? Have I portrayed God’s love to those who need it? Have I done all I can to present the hope of Christ?”

But the burden multiplies because there are two people in my church that I really want to hear that message: my children. I worry about every program. Every Sunday School lesson. Every aspect of youth group.  I worry as a pastor, and as a mom who, I feel, carries double the responsibility.

There are many days I wonder if I am short-changing everybody.  My kids. My church. My husband. Myself. God.

There are lots of hard times, times I second guess everything.

Times like: “I’m not allowed to visit you in hospital when you’re dying because of doctor’s orders and I wonder if you regret hiring a woman who is now pregnant.”

Times like: “Why are you out ANOTHER night, Mom?”

Times like: “All of us had such a great time at the conference you could not attend.”   

Times like: “Oh shoot I think I just started leaking breast milk while I was preaching.”  

Times like: “You finish the movie while I work on my sermon.”

Times like: “Sorry we can’t go away for the weekend because I work Sundays.”

Times like: “You’ll have to miss the baseball tournament unless someone else can drive you.”

And, always, times like:  “Is any of this worth it?”  

But this week I got to have one of those times when I knew that it was. This week, on a sunny Easter Sunday, I got to baptize the child that I had carried in my womb and in my heart, the child whose gestation had caused me to preach from a stool and whose presence forced me to change everything about my schedule and my life.  The child who first made me Pastor Mom.

This week, I got to stand by my son as he shared with his church family why he wanted to follow Jesus and get baptized.  I got to follow along with his notes as he read, ready to help him find his place if he got lost. Then I got to hold his hand as we stepped into the warm tank of water, white robes billowing around us.

j speaking
Photo Cred; Richard Evelyn

I also got to do something else special. We have a tradition in our church of letting those being baptized ask someone to stand in the water with them, someone that has been important to them on their faith journey.  For several weeks my son kept saying he couldn’t decide who should join him in the water. He finally explained that the reason was that he had SO MANY people he wanted with him.  He actually wanted all of his Sunday School teachers to be with him as he was baptized.

Well, being pastor mom gave me a little sway, and I told him that if that’s what he wanted, we could ask all of his teachers to come and stand around the tank with him. The Mom in me loved being able to give him this gift. The pastor in me loved being able to show the Sunday School teachers what a difference they’d made.

So this week,  I got to ask eleven years worth of my son’s Sunday School teachers to come and stand around a child they had taught as he was baptized. I got to see a dozen people step forward who taught my son God loved him, people who had held my son in nursery, people who had taught him as a shy preschooler, the particularly patient who had managed him in a class of rambunctious ten year olds. I got to see the tears glistening in their eyes as we stood together.   

teacher
Photo Cred: Richard Evelyn

And in that moment, I got to remember something –  it had never just been up to me, Pastor Mom. I am only one part of the family of God, living my role and calling, just as others live theirs.  This family of his has been, all together, all he needed.  I didn’t need to be anything other than Pastor Mom and what that meant for me. With the help of all those with me, and so many others, it had been enough.

Then I got to lean in and whisper in my son’s ear: “I love you,” right before I got to say:  “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I got to lift him down under the water, and lift him back out again  into a new life in Christ, got to see him flick his too-long mohawk out of eyes, hear him catch his breath.  Got to see his smile. Got to hear the whole church cheer.  All of this I got as a pastor mom. 

after baptism

As I write this today, I think of one other struggle I had as a pastor mom – not having other pastor moms to talk to.  I think back to what I would have liked to have known in those early days as a pastor mom, how alone I sometimes felt, and how often I wanted to ask some other pastor mom if it would all be worth it.   

Today, I would say this, learned from my son’s baptism, to all my sister pastor-moms.

You are not alone.  As you live into your calling, trust that others are living into their calls too.  Together, as God’s church, you will show your child the fullness of the story of God.    

Yes, there will be many hard, tension-filled, uncertain days, but there will also be days like Easter Sunday 2019 was for me, days when you look to God, and know with every certainty: It was worth it.

3 comments

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  1. Terri Ralph

    Leanne, you are an inspiration to many people. As a mom I understand many of the things that you mention, but I know that you are exactly where God intended you to be. His love is evident in your work. Seeing how no matter the challenges life may bring us, God will always show us how his love and his path for us is always worth it! Thanks for sharing your story!

    Like

  2. Rachel Wallace

    I’m all teary! Thank you for this. As I begin the process of looking for my first ministry position, I am so aware of all these tensions you list. Thanks for sharing your experience, and that it’s worth it.

    Like

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