Bless Her Heart: Life As A Young Clergy Woman
By Ashley-Anne Masters, Stacy Smith
With stores ranging from humorous to humiliating, the life experiences of young women clergy comprise this book in a reflection on the everyday realities of pastoral ministry for the young, female professional. Presenting real-life, first-person scenarios from young, female pastors in a variety of denominations, church sizes and ministries, this book is intended for young women in ministry, as well as those considering a ministerial calling.
This is the first in a new series of books from our collaboration with The Young Clergy Women Project. The series will feature writing from young adult clergy women on topics that give meaning to their lives and ministries.
"Bless Her Heart is an excellent book using the long-standing tradition of women's truth-telling in order to discuss, compassionately and frankly, a number of issues pertaining to the lives of young clergy women. At the time of its publication it was unique in its focus: there was little, if any, literature directed to young clergy women. Now, a few books have been published in this genre; yet the selection is still limited.
The topics in the monograph range from the seemingly frivolous, but surprisingly troublesome, 'Issues with Shoes and Sandals,' to the perhaps more expected and weighty 'Establishing Pastoral Identity.' Some chapters include topics, such as staying grounded in a new call, that would apply to any pastoral minister, while others, such as pregnancy, are unique to young clergy women. Other concerns, such as fashion, romance and the role of emotions, may apply to any number of clergy, but the way the situations play out is particular to young women in ministry. Finally, the authors discuss gender balance and working with other women—a concern of professional women in general.
Each chapter begins with an introduction and a story or two in which the topic at hand is particularly problematic. Masters and Smith then seek to treat each issue theologically, drawing from a wide variety of Scriptures in which they ground their thinking. They offer a variety of responses to the topic and follow up with another story where the issue at hand either has brought about an unexpected blessing, or is on its way to resolution. The authors are clear that not every topic is pertinent to every young clergy woman. Some topics may be a complete non-issue for some, while others may experience them all. Still others may experience issues not addressed in this book.
I found this book to be extremely useful. It has helped me to think through some of my experiences theologically, and helped me to explore a variety of responses. What is more, this book was a Godsend as it reminded me that I was/am not alone in experiencing these challenges. Some of my sisters in ministry face similar experiences every day, and there is hope for change. Reading through the stories, I found myself laughing, as I could easily relate to any number of situations; tearing up, as I found myself equally frustrated by familiar experiences; and inspired, as I delved into the depths of the authors' reflections.
My only negative critique of this book is that it errs in common with other literature about women: it does not address the situations of women who are doubly or trebly marginalized. Issues of race and sexual orientation, for instance, are ignored. While the authors acknowledge that there is a wide variety of experiences not covered in this book, these pertinent issues of identity should have been addressed, especially as hey are so much a part of one's pastoral as well as personal identity.
On the whole, I found that Masters and Smith did an excellent job of addressing situations that young clergy women face, considering the rich variety of traditions, denominations and personalities they seek to include. This book treats many of the topics that give young clergy women grief, topics 'that keep us up on Saturday night and make us think twice before stepping into the pulpit on Sunday morning.' Moreover the authors deal with these topics from the perspective of faith and of love of their calling. I would highly recommend this book to any young woman who is a member of the clergy, is considering becoming a member of the clergy or even who is highly involved in lay ministry within the church. Additionally, I would recommend this book to any who are involved in the formation or support of young clergy women. As for me, I know I will return to this book again and again, and remember that I am not the only woman facing the challenges and joys of ministry.'—Erin McIntyre Garrick, Touchstone, February 2015
“Ashley-Anne Masters and Stacy Smith have provided an invaluable resource to their sister ministers with this wonderful compilation of stories, theological reflection and good advice. It’s all in there: shoes, sex, dating, the sexist remarks with which every clergywoman is all too familiar, and the struggle with ‘The Collar.’”
— Victoria Weinstein, author of BeautyTipsforMinisters.com.
“With grace and humor—and a deep love for ministry—Ashley-Anne Masters and Stacy Smith examine the unique challenges faced by young clergywomen. Through stories of women pastors and reflection on biblical texts, Masters and Smith offer affirmation, guidance, and hope for young women in ministry.”
— Charles L. Campbell, Duke Divinity School
“Its honesty alone will enthrall men and women who want to know the true story of real people in holy vestments.”
— Donna Schaper, Judson Memorial Church, New York City, author of Sabbath Keeping
“Bless Her Heart is like an old friend. I will turn to these pages again and again to remember that there are a myriad of young clergy women friends that share my story. Indeed, we are not alone.”
— Elsa Peters, First Congregational Church UCC in South Portland, Maine, managing editor of The Young Clergy Women Project