Kitchen Conundrum

4 comments Written on June 8th, 2015     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Mug 2Karen Hinz is solo pastor of Mission Covenant Church in Ishpeming, Michigan. She loves to travel when time and money allow. Raising teenagers is her current joy and challenge!

I know this column is a place for serious discussion of issues facing women in ministry. And I’m usually pretty serious, but sometimes, we’ve just got to laugh. So today, don’t take life too seriously. Allow yourself a chuckle. It’s good for the body and the soul.

When I was a child, the church kitchen was run by Mrs. Bance, who had white hair, and Mrs. Bice, who had slightly blue white hair. Noisy kids were not welcome. Many years later, when I started as a solo pastor, I wondered what my relationship to the church kitchen ought to be. This was not covered in seminary. Was I welcome in the kitchen? Banned? Expected to share the load the same as the other women in the church? When “fellowship hosting sheets” came around, was I supposed to sign up?

The church kitchen is usually the domain of a few specific women, but also a place of expectations for all church women. In many churches today, males of any sort – and particularly male pastors – are not still not allowed near these stainless steel temples. Or at least not expected to take their turns. In fact, in these places, kitchen ladies will come to church any time of day to make coffee for the pastor, or for any gathering the pastor may be hosting. So I found myself puzzled as to what to do. For two years, I purposely did not learn how to operate the church coffeepots, because it seemed like trying to take over the kitchen ladies’ turf. But this also raised the familiar question: does a clergy woman need to act like a man to be respected as pastor? It’s a Catch-22. The last couple of years, I have been making coffee when needed. And no one seems to mind.

Beyond coffee, what about potlucks? Are female clergy expected to contribute? Are male clergy? (I almost always bring food for potlucks.) And how about bake sales? (I don’t contribute goods, but I’m present as a greeter. I’m not protesting, I just can’t bake.) My husband threw the stalwart group of bakers at our church for a loop by showing up with some delicious German pastries he had made. Question: Is a clergy woman with a husband who bakes like a clergy man with a wife who plays the piano? This raises a gender issue that we don’t talk about enough: what roles do churches traditionally expect of pastors’ wives, and are these expectations fair? And what is expected of pastors’ husbands? Honestly, most churches have no idea what to do with these guys!

I’m sure I’m overthinking this and that there are those reading who say: “forget other people’s expectations and just do what you feel comfortable with.” Well, yes. And no. Because clergy roles – and clergy spouse roles – are complex, whether we want them to be or not. We participate, but no one sees us as the same as everyone else. Expectations are different. The solution isn’t simple. I know that part of our calling is to give others space to shine. I know that we are not good at everything and should not pretend to be. And I know that women who are also clergy sometimes find their various roles in tension.

So what do we do with the church kitchen? Clergy, spouse, or layperson, we need to allow ourselves to do what fits with who we really are. To get involved or to stay out of the way. Either is fine. As the Body of Christ, let’s keep expanding the definition of what it means to serve in the house of the Lord. Let’s give thanks for church kitchen ladies, but also allow there to be kitchen guys. Let’s give thanks for the church janitor ladies, and teacher ladies, and usher ladies, and clergy ladies. And for the men who take these roles, too. One body, many members, right? (And by the way, noisy kids can dry dishes, too!)

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4 comments “Kitchen Conundrum”

LOL Karen! Your gifts should be the guide on the places where you participate and serve. The other complex issue that we often see is in the area of support ministries. Male pastors normally can find administrative support in their churches. Women clergy are often expected to handle administrative tasks. Gender roles and power projections are so embedded in the our thought processes that often we participate in sustaining them rather than broadening them. Thanks for a wonderful post that reminds us to do both. LOL – Catherine

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I wonder how these expectations vary according to the region where the church is located, the age of the congregation (and those controlling the various gender expectations) and the number of professional women within the congregation.  My guess would be that the older and more traditional the church is, the greater women clergy feel the impact of these kinds of issues. And for the record, I’ve been at my church for two years and have also successfully avoided learning how to use the coffee percolator!  Nice piece, Karen! – Jeff

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Good thoughts Karen. Two years ago I found myself Easter morning with an infant making 2 quiche for the Easter brunch, trying to make sure my little family had coordinating Easter outfits and preaching! i realized as a pastor’s daughter i was trying to be both my mother and my father. i love to cook but i no longer make quiche and i allow myself to do what all the other young families do…i bring beverages and store bought items that can be picked up by either myself or my husband. everyone is happier.

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You beat me, kiddo. I waited FIVE years before learning to operate those coffee pots. I was an associate with a male senior pastor, however, and knew it would take that long to for this particular (and wonderful) congregation to get used to the idea of a female on board. These questions will make many of us smile – but they’re really good ones. Thanks for asking them out loud in this space.

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