Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Fully Rounded Humanity

Written by: on May 30, 2019

Dr. Emma Percy – it’s challenging to track down information on you!  I take pride in my sleuthing abilities, but Emma Percy gave me a run for my money.  Alas I located her dissertation and was able to dig a bit deeper into her research in an attempt to understand her context of gender (mothering as clergy) as she applies the characteristics of mothering (which she is clear to delineate is being used as a metaphor) to ministry attributes. It’s also important to note that Dr. Percy’s research was focused in England.  A cultural lens for her perspective is key…

Inevitably, this thesis touches on issues of gender and I will return to them in a later chapter. However, one of the issues in writing is the need to use a gendered pronoun. I have adopted the convention of referring to a priest as female. This is a feminist piece of writing in the sense that it prioritises what can be learned from a way of being that has specifically female components and traditional female resonances, and in that it draws on the work of many feminist writers who critique assumptions about language, child development and the prioritising of abstract ways of reasoning over concrete practice.

As you can imagine I was intrigued by Dr. Percy’s commitment to acknowledging the attributes of women – she, a priest herself, draws upon her own experiences as a priest and mom. At the core of her findings is the importance of relationship and nurturing. According to Percy, she sees the concept of mothering as two crucial components of ministry captured in one term – that of relationship and an activity that are “inextricably linked”. Dr. Perry sees these two facets of ministry separated/differentiated too often.  Instead, she asserts, both roles are equally important and should not/cannot be separated. She views the mother’s commitment to engaging in their “responsibility to relate and care for their children” as the example which can help articulate this practice to clergy.[1]

I do see some irony in Dr. Perry’s feminist approach to clergy – especially since so many denominations still have a complementarian belief system. My own spiritual beliefs – fully egalitarian – can relate to this writing and agree with and connect to what Dr. Perry is hypothesizing.  Although I would be the first to tell you that the maternal attributes Dr. Perry refers to are generalizations.  Not all women possess mothering instincts – and men can and do provide relationship/nurturing and tasks to their parenting (more so in today’s world than ever).  I have to be honest, I can’t wait to discuss this text asynchronously with my fellow LGP8’s.  In my mind, if you agree with the statement that clergy “mother” their congregants how can you condone that only men may pastor…?

Dr. Perry provides some insight into her beliefs on egalitarian ministry…“If women are different and humanity is only fully realised in both, then it can be argued that specifically female gifts are needed in ministry to reflect a fully rounded humanity. The feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether argues that this is the view taken by ‘romantic feminism’. This romantic notion of femininity as more altruistic, less egotistic, and less prone to sin lends itself to a bewildering spectrum of different social platforms and programs in Western societies.”[2]  I appreciate this perspective.  While this argument still recognizes that both women and men are designed differently, its core belief is that women have a role in ministry – for the fulfillment of humanity.

As a long time lay leader, administrative council chair, and staff pastor parish relations chair, I have had to field the insinuations from congregants (essentially the big question Dr. Perry poses in her title; What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing).  Those who have never been in a pastoring role cannot understand the significant number of needs congregations have.  From a supportive coffee, to counseling, to paperwork, to sermon prep, to funerals and weddings, the responsibilities of pastor are pervasive and demanding.  The problem is that others don’t get to see how much time and attention is needed to nurture and support members – they just get to experience a great sermon on Saturday or Sunday.  All the nurturing work is done outside of the church walls – and shouldn’t be revealed due to confidentiality.  There’s also the expectation that the pastor be available at any time for any need.  As someone whose work also requires crisis care, I know how overwhelming and exhausting a 24/7 response can be.  And for all these reasons, I believe Dr. Perry looks at ministry as mothering.  Since mothers are generalized to be the nurturers all the while “holding the home together” this feminine description of relationship and nurture fit well with pastoring.  Speaking of nurturing and holding my home together, I’m going to step away from this blog and enjoy my son’s graduation today from USAFA.  Can’t wait to dialogue with you (in true mothering fashion)…

[1] http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/12576/1/AS_A_MOTHER_TENDERLY_correct2.pdf

[2] http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/12576/1/AS_A_MOTHER_TENDERLY_correct2.pdf

About the Author

Jean Ollis

12 responses to “Fully Rounded Humanity”

  1. Congrats to YOU and your son! I have one that graduated this year as well–it’s a good feeling.

    I’m glad that you pointed out that Percy’s view of mothering is rather generalized. Even though her metaphor was well supported, you are right, and that needed to be said.

    I love how confident and assured you are in your egalitarian view; I draw inspiration from you. 🙂

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Thanks Jenn! Congratulations to you on your son’s graduation! Did you get to travel to the US for the graduation? I’m curious how Europeans would receive Percy’s writings on mothering?

  2. Dan Kreiss says:


    I found this text very helpful and providing some restoration or balance to the more frequent masculine examples of ministry. Some of my frustration with the Church is that even when women are encouraged to be ordained and in pastoral roles I think the expectation of the church is that they will still largely express leadership in a more masculine manner. I think this is a tragedy and frequently leads to frustration for everyone.

    One of my dreams for future ministry would be to work alongside a female in ministry as her assistant (even better if she were a woman of color but now I am getting crazy). I would love to live out my true egalitarian beliefs for others to witness and encourage women in leadership to be who God desires them to be in ministry not necessarily taking on ‘traditional’ male characteristics.

    Do you think that could work?

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Dan, thank you for your desire, passion, and confidence to want to be an assistant pastor to a woman! Yes I think it would work. I know that Jake’s outspoken and and confident stance (living it out very boldly in his relationship with Jenn) has really inspired Ron – and I believe it impacts people through example. I hope this comes to fruition some day 🙂

  3. Jason Turbeville says:

    I did enjoy the text and agree with Percy that mothering or nurturing is part and parcel of what we do as pastors. I loved that she talked about dependency vs interdependence as an indicator of growth, we have to many dependent Christians who have not learned to feed themselves and this has led to a very inward focused Christianity. What are your thoughts? I think as pastors we have to take some blame for this for not pushing them to grow.


    • Jean Ollis says:

      You raise an interesting point! Wish we had time in our synchronous chats to discuss. The complexity of dependence is an important discussion in the church…

  4. Kyle Chalko says:

    Hi Jean, great post. Yes I do think this could be a good argument for the egalitarians. However one thing I was bummed about was that the author didnt really address how/if this ties into the Biblical metaphors, like a shepherd that are already given. Also, it could be said that if God wanted to have given the analogy of mothering as pastoring, he would have, because there were mothers around in Bible times as well. But I suppose the culture would not have been ready for it.

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Kyle,
      Thanks for raising important counter-arguments to the mothering analogy. Is it possible that women were disempowered or men translated/interpreted to their benefit? (I know, this just starts another challenging discussion – but I always appreciate your thoughts/perspectives!)

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean, I thought I would respond to your question, “In my mind, if you agree with the statement that clergy “mother” their congregants how can you condone that only men may pastor…?” I actually feel that the necessity to “mother, father, or parent,” a bunch of adult children is one of those sad realities of Christianity and ministry. Though I understood the very explicit “gender” implication here, I took this reading also at the face value of the implication of maternal care. The book of Proverbs introduced “Wisdom” with this almost female personification with whom you should develop a relationship…it did not mean that all Wisdom was gender specific to women; it was an illustration for understanding. I believe the same can be true of “mothering,” without it having to automatically justify female authority in the pulpit.

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply – you may be correct, the mothering, wisdom, etc descriptions may have been generalized, but I still maintain that attributes of women (generally lol) are important in the role of pastor. I’m glad we can have these challenging conversations!!

  6. Greg says:

    I kept thinking that I wanted to replace the word mothering with parenting. I like the image of mothering but also felt like it limited the ability to mother to females. I did very much appreciate her view of raising children and all that it takes as an analogy of ministry. There definitely were many cross over examples…some of frustration and some moments of redemption.

    • Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Greg! I agree with you – parenting fits much better. “Mothering” feels archaic on so many levels. Especially when there are so many parenting dads who are just as good, or better, than many mothers. I know that excellent parenting applies to you (and Ron!)!

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