by Hannele Ottschofski | 8 November 2023 |
The song written by Pete Seeger, and sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary, “Where have all the flowers gone?” came to my mind as I listened to the leadership of my church in North America discussing a pastor shortage.
The number of retired pastors and those eligible for retirement is growing. The number of pastors who leave pastoral ministry due to attrition (as they call it) is substantial. The young people studying theology and religion majors at Adventist universities will never make up for these numbers.
Where have all the pastors gone? The song repeats with the question, “When will they ever learn?”
Of course, the song is not about pastors. Nor does it offer answers, because the answers lead to further questions.
Where have all the young girls gone? Gone for husbands every one. That’s what women should do, isn’t it? Not to preach or teach. So why even think of studying theology and becoming a pastor?
I didn’t follow the discussion closely enough to find out whether the retired and retiring pastors were mostly men, but knowing that when those pastors were young women were told to marry a pastor if they felt called to ministry, I have reason to assume they are.
In the Swedish Lutheran church, there is a gender parity in the pastorate, with slightly more women priests than men.
The Roman Catholic church refuses to ordain women to the priesthood although there is a dire need for clergy—the door is closed to them. They are looking for an escape door by discussing the ordination of women to the diaconate: let the women minister, but not as equals.
Once again, I am reminded of how similar the Adventist approach is: let them minister, but not as equals.
More young women are studying for the ministry today than ever. We have more women who serve as pastors. There are many more who have studied theology and worked as pastors, but who have left the ministry. Where have the women pastors gone? And why? Is motherhood not compatible with working as a pastor?
I know of a few cases where the conference seemed relieved when a pastor became pregnant and decided to devote herself to her family. Other women pastors experienced rejection and abuse by church members, which led to burnout. Some women who worked as pastors were terminated when they married a pastor; why?
Where have our wounded gone? Where have all their flowers of joyful service gone? Can they grow on the graves of their hopes and dreams?
But who will fill the gap when the old ordained pastors have gone? After all, ordination is supposed to have some meaning as to how pastors advance in leadership. Will we soon ask the question, Where have all the leaders gone, because there are not enough ordained pastors to serve in leadership?
This is not just a problem in the North American Division. In many parts of the world, the church faces the same dilemma. I don’t think that God has given up on calling men and women to serve as pastors, to feed His lambs. When will we learn to let them use the talents God has given them without regard to gender?
The women who hold up half the sky could hold up the church as well.
When will we ever learn?
Hannele Ottschofski writes from Hechingen, Germany. She is the author of Tired of Waiting: Women in Church and Society.