I have been ordained nearly six years, and during that time have also been raising small children. My first child was born in seminary, my second two months after graduation, and we've just adopted a third. My husband is also a priest.
Although we moved to a very conservative part of the country, Southwest Missouri, I have not had much difficulty due to being a woman priest. In fact, because of the general religious ethos in this area, I think many of my parishioners have enjoyed the difference of having a woman pastor. My struggles in the parishes I have served have been the results of one of a few different factors: One, that I am young; I was ordained and served as vicar at age 26, and those who "have kids your age!" often found it difficult to accept leadership from me. Another is that I am not a very skilled politician. I try not to offend, but apparently every thought I have shows on my face, and my pattern of conflict resolution involves getting questions out in the open and hashing them out, even if those questions are hard to talk about. Apparently, this gives some people the impression that I am confrontational (which just isn't true from my point of view- I hate confrontation!), and causes me to miss problems that others may have but aren't dealing with in such a "confrontational" way.
My most significant problem, at the risk of complaining, has been the struggle with having small children and being a full-time priest. Any pastor knows that ministry will consume any time you allow it to consume, so I have been careful to create boundaries to guarantee time with my family. However, the creation of those boundaries has led some parishioners and one former rector to feel that I am not committed to my ministry! If I refused to work more than 45 hours a week on average, so that I could be with my husband and children, I would be taken to task for not being available at all times. It's a catch-22, based upon old, outdated corporate models, not meaningful for our generation or appropriate for the community of faith, but all clergy parents need to know that it's still out there, and to bring those questions up in early interviews.
More than anything, the one thing that has given me legitimacy, and helped folks get past their unease at having a young, assertive woman priest, has been my skill at preaching. Preaching and pastoral care are very closely linked for me, and I take what I know my people are struggling with and weave it into my sermons, so that those listening almost always feel like the sermons speak to them. In addition, my preaching is very doctrinally and liturgically based, though always rising from the lectionary readings, because I find that people are starving to know who they are, as Christians and Anglicans in a historical church, and where we come from and what this faith means. They become excited about their life in Christ and start to grow and change when they are given those tools to do so.
I don't mind labels when it comes to discussing where Christians fall on certain questions and issues, as long as everyone is clear that a person is more than a label, and even an opinion cannot be defined by the label put on it. Some of the labels I am glad to apply to myself are Prayer Book Catholic, feminist, theologically conservative, socially liberal, and more and more (though with definitional caveats), evangelical, because I want to preach the gospel and convert the world to faith in Jesus Christ. I believe in the prayer book because it gathers in the best of the age-old tradition and presents it with respect to both ages past and our own day, and it encourages a fullness of faith and practice that I feel is essential to spiritual maturity. Both feast and fast, both honor to saints of the past and service to brothers and sisters in our own time, both corporate prayer and private devotion, both intellect and emotion, both repentance and rejoicing, both intercession and gratitude- it's all there. Which brings me to the Catholic part. I am a catholic in that I am committed to the faith once delivered to the saints in ages past and lived out by the saints in our own time, with reference to all who have come before and mindful of our sacred duty to guard the faith for those who come after. And I am a maximalist when it comes to discipline and liturgical practice, which is a trait found in the catholic tradition. Why just observe a holy day when you can celebrate it? Why just read a prayer when you can sing it? Why have bare walls and stark grounds and unadorned vestments, when we could have icons and murals, flowers and the fine embroidery of skilled seamstresses, gold thread and silver candles and painted ceilings from which cherubs look down and join in our worship? Why just walk in when you can process, a great long crowd in fancy clothes having a parade to celebrate the presence of God with us?
I am theologically conservative because I can't see what hope there is for the human race if Jesus is not who the Church says he is, God Incarnate, and if his Resurrection is not literally and historically true. I am an educated person, about to finish a doctorate and off to teach in a seminary, and I know all about symbol and myth and historical context, but I don't think a lesser Jesus than the One proclaimed throughout the ages is worth either living for or dying for, and I know that a lesser Jesus can't save us. Besides, I've met him, and he is all that, and therein lies our joy.
In his Peace,
Mother Kathy Calore