The cost of being a strong woman


Key points

  • Being a pastor has required finding balance in life and tending to one’s own soul while caring for others.
  • Ethnic clergywomen face complicated challenges as they serve marginalized communities with limited resources and often face pushback.
  • Standing firm in faith, practicing self-care and maintaining solidarity with other clergywomen are important.

The Rev. Adrienne M. Zackery. Photo courtesy of the author. 
The Rev. Adrienne M. Zackery.
Photo courtesy of the author.

Commentaries

UM News publishes various commentaries about issues in the denomination. The opinion pieces reflect a variety of viewpoints and are the opinions of the writers, not the UM News staff.

As we close out Women’s History Month, I want to offer some recommendations for my clergy sisters on the journey, as well as insights on how the church can be true to equity and equality for women within and beyond The United Methodist Church.

For nearly two decades, I have served in pastoral ministry through The United Methodist Church and have been active in church my entire life. Currently, I serve a two-point charge in Southern California, with congregations in Compton and Gardena. As a Black clergywoman who has been predominantly in churches in the Black community, I have been a fiercely independent social justice warrior.

I have learned to balance vulnerability, surrender and a complete dependence and reliance on God. During all my pastoral appointments, I realized the necessity of tending to one’s own soul. Placing the needs of others above myself has often had the unintended consequence of diminishing my capacity to prioritize my own emotional needs.

As a pastor, this journey has taught me the importance of balance in my life. This wisdom did not come easily.

First, stand firm in your faith. For Black, Hispanic and Asian clergywomen, the picture is even more complicated than for others. Most ethnic clergywomen serve in ethnic communities, so we are serving the poor, underserved and underrepresented. Our salaries are mostly half or quarter time. The buildings are in dire need due to delayed maintenance. The congregations have been in “survival mode,” and often our introduction to the church is seen as interference. Even in 2022, with the achievements women are making in the world, many congregations still say, “We don’t want a woman for a pastor.”

As Black clergywomen, we are not considered a priority, whether in appointments or recommendations to conference boards and district committees. These disparities are a source of great pain and heartbreak. The disrespect by laity and the disregard by church leadership has many clergywomen feeling like the hired help. Imagine a process in which conference leadership unequivocally defended the fair and equitable treatment of clergywomen. 

There is a common Black folk expression taught early to young Black girls by their mothers and grandmothers that affirms a strong behavior. We are taught to be “responsible” and “in charge” and to “take care of yourself.” This has been contradictory in a society where many Black women are treated as invisible.

I am finding that there truly is a cost to being a strong woman. 

Where do you find support when you experience a crisis or when the rope you are grasping begins to break? This is where I have found myself in many seasons of my life. My self-sufficiency and rugged individualism have challenged my ability to ask others for help. I am learning to ask for help! I have learned to extend to myself the same empathy and compassion I so freely give to others. I have released the strong woman persona and welcomed the opportunity to receive unapologetically the strength I desperately need from God.

I find myself in this stage of my journey with a movement from the exterior, the circumstance, to the interior and the need for peace and comfort. Further, as I am opening my heart to the leading of the Spirit, I am learning to allow people to love, support and help me.

Despite any opposition that may arise from church committees, what I know for sure is that I am called to stand up for Christ my Savior. I am called to make disciples and serve people by being authentic, true and vulnerable. I am called to love!

More specifically, the Black church is charged with spreading the gospel message generation after generation in our communities. I am going to be there. As the pastor of a Black church in the Black community, I am committed to serving in the heart of my community.

I have witnessed firsthand how the presence of clergywomen of color in our communities has given people the opportunity to experience love, know peace and find dignity in their humanity. These qualities are often lacking. We are called to share justice and wholeness to many who feel forgotten by society. I will provide a safe and nurturing place for those who live in high-risk communities to feel respect and dignity.

Second, we need to practice self-care deliberately. Self-care must be intentional. In developing discipline and spiritual practices, you are given an invitation to get closer to yourself. I now understand the importance of how I show up in my relationships, and further, I desire to be more authentic and present in them. I am learning to place caring for myself as a priority.

Nurturing community engagement played a significant part in my healing journey. My challenge has now been to allow people to come alongside me. I learned that in isolation, when I was disconnected from those that genuinely offered support and caring, it is important to cultivate deep connections with the people that understand your journey. Meditation and breathwork are two additional tools I am using to immerse myself into self-care. Journaling and therapy are also critical components of my self-care practices.

The late Rev. Junius B. Dotson reminds us in his book, “Soul Reset,” that exhaustion and burnout are rampant among leaders and wear down even the best of us. He goes on to say that “we’ve got to stop the hustle in order to let our hearts, bodies and minds rest.” 

Lastly, we need the solidarity of sisters. The embrace and encouragement from circles of sister friends, including clergy sisters, are vitally important. Godtalk is an inclusive language that other clergy sisters share to inspire and lift one another up with godly counsel and prayers. Every clergywoman needs a circle of trusted women friends who model nurture, grace and faith along the journey of life. I have extraordinary relationships with women of faith and have found these sisters to be a gift and joy. We laugh and cry, celebrate and mourn, challenge to grow, love and listen. These women and the experiences we share through our collaborative relationships feed my soul with their courageous, bold and faithful lives.

In closing, I ask all readers to take a moment to reflect upon each of the women in your life — those who have raised you, taught you, sacrificed for you. Reflect upon the women who have loved you, and simply thank them.

Zackery is serving a two-part charge as senior pastor of Crossroads United Methodist Church in Compton, California, and Holly Park United Methodist Church in Gardena, California. 

She will co-moderate Leading Women: From the Pulpit to the Boardroom, a conversation with mother/daughter ministry duos about the breakdowns and breakthroughs for women who lead in ministry. The free webinar is 6:30 p.m. Central Time, Thursday, March 31. For more information and to register, go to https://www.resourceumc.org/en/content/leading-women-from-the-pulpit-to-the-boardroom

News contact: Tim Tanton or Joey Butler at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.


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