When Mothering and Priesting Mingle

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By Sarah Condon | Twitter: @sarahtcondon

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I spent a lot of time in seminary trying to rank the more important vocation in my life: Mama or Priest. I often joke that having a baby was the craziest thing I did in seminary. Certainly, there are plenty of seminaries where women feel comfortable having babies. But I didn’t go to one of those seminaries. I went to Yale. And in my four years of study, I never met another fellow pregnant student.

I can still recall the anxiety I felt, when at 10 weeks pregnant, I sat in a library computer room that happened to be filled with some of my fellow female classmates involved in a lively conversation. Somehow, the topic of pregnancy was brought up.

There was an uproar of laughter, “I would never get pregnant in seminary,” one of them remarked. “That would be ridiculous.”

I worried in self-conscience silence. I feared that I would be expected to choose: Priest or Mother. Months later I would be given the gift in an answer of sorts. I was in my second year of seminary when my beloved Episcopal church in New York City asked me to preach my first sermon for them. As I arrived early that Sunday morning I greeted the priest at the door. “This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done!” I proclaimed about preaching the Gospel for a church full of people.

“Nope,” she pointed to my pregnant belly. “That is.”

How could there be anything more important than a profession described as the Cure of Souls? How could anything be better than celebrating the Eucharist of Christ’s Body and Blood?

And then, after I had a child, I realized that nothing could top my love for the most vulnerable of God’s creatures: a baby.

Since my ordination, I have come to realize that my priesthood and my motherhood are not exclusive of one another. They are in harmony with each other because they are profoundly connected.

One involves changing diapers and enduring episodes of PAW Patrol. The other calls me to walk into hospital rooms full of sadness and to direct difficult meetings. My job as mama means I get to experience a kind of sacrificial love I didn’t know I had in me. My job as priest means that I get to tell the story of the greatest sacrificial love that ever was.

Often people want these two roles to coalesce because church people use a maternal term to talk about women who are priests. While many of my dearest friends use the term Mother to describe their professional identities, I have never felt comfortable using it for myself. Part of that has to do with the fact that I became a mother to children around the same time I became a priest. I could not cope with my brood having to share my title with the rest of the world. I am Mama to Neil and Annie. I am pastor and priest to those outside of my front door.

God’s Grace and Law are the guideposts for how I think about my faith, because God’s love is articulated through his Grace and Law. His love for the prodigal son, the woman at the well, and the sinner who writes these very words is risky and dangerous. It is a limitless love that surpasses our roles and identities.

I wish I could tell you that I have always believed this, but as the Dixie Chicks song goes, I often find myself “taking the long way around.” I believed these concepts in theory, but it has been the business of mothering that has driven this theology firmly into my heart.

I am convinced that in order to see Grace and Law in action, one need look no further than my house on a chaotic Saturday morning. By 9am my four-year-old will have three art projects on the go and been to time out at least once. The baby will have required a few diaper changes, multiple silly songs, and will have had me on vigilant “don’t put that in your mouth” watch.

Then there are the shortcomings I face about myself in the midst of this scene: easily overwhelmed, prone to raising my voice, longing to go hide in the garage. It takes time, but it always hits me: grace and law, empathy and rules, skinned knees and kissed foreheads—God’s love is scattered all over my life.

As it turns out, my motherhood and my priesthood are intricately related. They are in constant conversation. It has little to do with the idea that I am “mothering” both my children and the church. My vocations are connected because they both speak to the very essence of the Gospel. They both flood my life with redemption, heartache, hope, and difficulty. They both can keep me up at night with worry or make me laugh until my belly aches. My mothering and priesting are filled with innumerable moments of joy.

In the end, my hand-wringing over which vocation ranks highest offered little help. Mother or Priest. Mama or Pastor. They both lead me back to love.

_________

About Sarah:

For MichaelaSarah is a writer, speaker, mom, and Episcopal priest living in Houston, Texas. The most interesting thing about her is that she is a sinner, saved by the Grace of Jesus. She is a frequent contributor to Mockingbird.

 

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