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.
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.” 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)…