Shepherding 2 Families: At Home And In Church

About A Dozen Women Lead Or Assist In Leading Congregations Around County

October 22, 2006|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,Special to the Sun

Rabbi Sonya Starr should have been at an evening meeting at her synagogue, the Columbia Jewish Congregation. But a baby-sitting glitch meant Starr did not have coverage for her three children, ages 11, 9 and 3.

"My congregation is very willing to switch venues," she said of her recent difficulty. The meeting was shifted to her house. "People have been wonderful about that. It's made it a whole lot more doable."

Starr is among more than a dozen Howard County women who lead or assist in leading religious congregations - and who juggle the demands of clergy life with raising a family.

"We don't have some of the expectation of 24/7 availability and a kind of sense of always having to be in the role" of minister, said the Rev. Heather Kirk-Davidoff, who has been pastor of Kittamaqundi Community Church in Columbia for more than a year. "My congregation does sort of flex with me, but ... I let them know that I have a commitment with my kids" that comes first.

In many ways, clergywomen are typical working mothers.

"The demands of the job are endless and so are the demands of being a parent. ... There's never enough time and energy," Starr said.

The Rev. Carol Pinkham Oak became rector of Ellicott City's St. John's Episcopal Church last month. She has two teenagers.

"I'm not a mother to my parishioners in the same way I'm a mother to my children," she said. "But I am probably more aware of all the different dynamics that comprise family life."

Before having children, many of these women threw themselves into their work. Kirk-Davidoff was working for just over a year before her twins were born.

"It was very good for me to have the kids because when I first started in ministry ... I just really let my job consume me," she said, and having children forced her to work more efficiently.

On the other hand, "There's a lot about minister's hours that [is] somewhat annoying to families," she said, such as giving up weekends. The trade-off is that she can volunteer at school or work from home if one of her children is sick. She said there are not many jobs at which someone can earn a full-time salary and be so available to the family.

Kirk-Davidoff's son Paul, 10, likes the perks of being the pastor's kid. When there is an event at church, "I get to go to the store and pick out the sodas," he said.

His 7-year-old sister, Rosa, sees a downside: "Sometimes we have to go to church early with her [their mother]."

Rabbi Susan Grossman leads Columbia's Beth Shalom Congregation and has a son, Yoni, 17. "The challenges are that wherever we are, we're on call," including when there was an emergency during Yoni's bar mitzvah.

Said Grossman: "That's the classic dilemma of ... wanting to be present for my son when he needs me and needing to be present for the congregation."

Some congregations are actively seeking women leaders.

"They're interested in making the church more hospitable to ... families with young kids," said Kirk-Davidoff. "In some ways, they're kind of looking at me and saying, `What do families with young kids want?'"

Columbia resident Ilene Toller was on the search committee for Rabbi Starr.

"Some of the things that we were looking for ... were her ability to be with people of all ages," particularly young kids, said Toller, who has two children.

She pointed out that Starr sometimes includes in her services "things that are impacting her as a parent, and she'll bring it to the congregation ... in a way of demonstrating a point that people can really connect with."

For Kirk-Davidoff, parenting and leading a church "weren't competing and contrary activities but in some ways were two faces of the same activity."

"What you do for that child is what, in some ways, the church is called to do for the world - to see that giftedness, that really perfect self" in other people.

Said Starr: "For my kids, given them a whole community that's helped raise them."

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