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The cost of being a strong woman (UM News)

As we close out Women’s History Month, I want to offer some recommendations for my clergy sisters on the journey, as well as insights on how the church can be true to equity and equality for women within and beyond The United Methodist Church.

For nearly two decades, I have served in pastoral ministry through The United Methodist Church and have been active in church my entire life. Currently, I serve a two-point charge in Southern California, with congregations in Compton and Gardena. As a Black clergywoman who has been predominantly in churches in the Black community, I have been a fiercely independent social justice warrior.

I have learned to balance vulnerability, surrender and a complete dependence and reliance on God. During all my pastoral appointments, I realized the necessity of tending to one’s own soul. Placing the needs of others above myself has often had the unintended consequence of diminishing my capacity to prioritize my own emotional needs.

As a pastor, this journey has taught me the importance of balance in my life. This wisdom did not come easily.

First, stand firm in your faith. For Black, Hispanic and Asian clergywomen, the picture is even more complicated than for others. Most ethnic clergywomen serve in ethnic communities, so we are serving the poor, underserved and underrepresented. Our salaries are mostly half or quarter time. The buildings are in dire need due to delayed maintenance. The congregations have been in “survival mode,” and often our introduction to the church is seen as interference. Even in 2022, with the achievements women are making in the world, many congregations still say, “We don’t want a woman for a pastor.”

As Black clergywomen, we are not considered a priority, whether in appointments or recommendations to conference boards and district committees. These disparities are a source of great pain and heartbreak. The disrespect by laity and the disregard by church leadership has many clergywomen feeling like the hired help. Imagine a process in which conference leadership unequivocally defended the fair and equitable treatment of clergywomen. 

There is a common Black folk expression taught early to young Black girls by their mothers and grandmothers that affirms a strong behavior. We are taught to be “responsible” and “in charge” and to “take care of yourself.” This has been contradictory in a society where many Black women are treated as invisible.

I am finding that there truly is a cost to being a strong woman. 

I have witnessed firsthand how the presence of clergywomen of color in our communities has given people the opportunity to experience love, know peace and find dignity in their humanity. These qualities are often lacking. We are called to share justice and wholeness to many who feel forgotten by society. I will provide a safe and nurturing place for those who live in high-risk communities to feel respect and dignity.