At the Intersections: Motherhood? Ministry?

Many good people live and work at the intersections … of feminism and Christianity, of ministry and justice, of religion and politics, of gender and society, of race and inequality, of everything and then some.  I’ve invited a few people to tell a story from their intersections, and will be sharing their stories from time to time here.

Today’s story comes from Sami Kay Martin, a writer for The Christian Post who lives in New York City.  Her book, Becoming the Butterfly, has just been published and is available for purchase on her website.

How am I at the Crossroads?  Well, let’s put it this way…  Right now I feel as if I am at the crossroads of ministry and/or motherhood.  My earliest life’s dream has been to be a mother, which may sound cliché to some but is quite serious to me, especially when I learned that my fertility could be threatened.  Now, though, I am seriously considering going into the ministry and wonder how a single mother could fit into the pulpit.  It’s as if I have to sacrifice one thing for the other, and I’m not sure I’m willing to do either.

Why does motherhood conflict with ministry in so many ways?  In the first, I want to be a purposely-single mother, with no partner or foreseeable father for my child.  I don’t plan on having a one-night stand in order to get pregnant; I plan to take advantage of science and technology, which some may frown upon.  Others may call me selfish for wanting to bring a child into the world all on my own, but it has always been the way I’ve seen my life’s purpose.

It’s not that I haven’t thought this out—I don’t plan on starting my family until I have adequate health care and enough in savings to be able to provide for myself and a child.  There’s been a lot of thought and care put into this plan, as I’ve always been a Type A personality who must have everything carefully thought out.  There’s just one possible problem… my future career.

Right now I enjoy working in the news industry, having set hours to work, having the opportunity to write all day and be up-to-date on the latest news.  Yet there’s another, more spiritual, job that I am interested in and have gone to school for.  I studied religion in college and went on to earn two master’s degrees, including my Master of Divinity, which will allow me to be ordained if I so choose.  Being a minister is not something I had ever imagined for myself, though I often played “communion” on those Sundays after church.
It’s an idea that came along later in life and was quite a surprise.  To be completely honest, it’s the last thing I ever expected.  There are days, though, when I can’t imagine doing anything else… but the question I wrestle with is how to merge the worlds of purposely-single motherhood and ministry.  There is already a great deal of scrutiny placed on those who askew the “traditional” family route.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked why I’m not married/dating/interested in either of those two things!

Being a single mother, or becoming one while a minister, would subject me to a whole new world of scrutiny.  Why didn’t she want to get married?  Is she a lesbian?  Is there something wrong with her?  How did she get pregnant?  Who is the baby’s father?  What does her family think of this?  I can just hear these questions, and many more, ringing in my ears.

It’s strange because I have a friend, a single friend, who adopted while she was a minister, and no one blinked twice (or so it seemed).  Instead, she was encouraged, supported by friends and family, and lauded for what she was doing.  However, should a woman choose to take her fertility and body and use them in specific ways, she is looked at like an alien, as if her body was not her own anymore or that she had committed an immoral act.

This may all be in my imagination, and I may never venture down one of these roads.  But until the day comes when I make my choice, this is where I stand.

Mother & child image via.

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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