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Meg Jenista on The Young Clergy Women Project

Face it. There are still far more male pastors than female pastors. That is why young female pastors support each other in The Young Clergy Women Project.

Meg Jenista is pastor of The Washington DC Christian Reformed Church. She’s also pursuing a ThM in preaching at her alma mater, Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Jenista serves on the community board of The Young Clergy Women Project (TYCWP). In this edited interview she explains why TYCWP is such a valuable resource for pastors who are young and female.

When and why did you join the Young Clergy Women Project?

Friends and fellow bloggers from seminary told me about TYCWP. It’s for women who are ordained by age 35 and who are under age 40. I joined pretty quickly after I was ordained in 2008 as minister for congregational life and witness at Third Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

I joined TYCWP for collegiality with people who understood specific issues I was wrestling with, along with being young and female in ministry. I had great denominational support but not a large cadre of young female MDiv peers in the CRC. For example, I’m the only woman and one of two under age 40 in a CRC peer learning group in our region. 

How do you describe the project when you tell others about it?

I get really excited, which is why I’m serving on our community board. We have 1378 members in 49 states and several countries. We’re across the spectrum on denominations and social issues, but there’s a lot of kindness and overwhelming graciousness when we disagree on social issues. Our tagline is “You’re not the only one.”

The project started as a completely online network of young women pastors who blogged. It’s a great place for support and shared resources. People post, read and comment on our blog, Fidelia’s Sisters. As our website says, “The name ‘Fidelia’ comes from the Latin word meaning faith. We use it to celebrate those pioneers who were the first women ordained in North America.”

How has being part of TYCWP helped you?

I’m one of about 800 members in our password-protected online Facebook community. It’s become such a valued resource, because we share information very specific to our demographic, like maternity leave policies and whether or when to share information with your congregation about your dating, engagement or wedding. We have subgroups for solo pastors, associate pastors, denominational leaders in nontraditional settings, solo parents, women who need a safe place to share marriage issues and more.

We share ideas for planning worship and recommend online resources. I often promote Calvin Institute of Christian Worship resources, such as the board book At Your Baptism by Carrie Steenwyk and John Witvliet. 

Has the project helped you do pastoral care?

Yes. I’ll describe, in broad strokes, what’s happening in my congregation, like for a funeral or hospitalization, and ask for ideas on how to respond. We try to respect requests. So if someone says she’s just looking for prayer, then we don’t give advice.

We do Facebook prayer chains. Someone will post, “I really need prayer for this.” The next comment will say, “I’ll pray for you, and I really need pray for that,” and the third commenter will accept the prayer request and post her own. Sometimes we get 60 comments deep on prayer chains. Community board members keep an eye on these needs. Sometimes we’ll send a card or small gift for members going through hospitalization or divorce.

As our Facebook numbers have grown, we’ve had to develop fairly strict confidentiality guidelines. The larger we get, the more it’s possible that a fellow member may become your bishop.

Do project members ever connect in person?

We have an annual meetup week where we ask people to drop pins on a Google map to show where they’re organizing some face-to-face time, like lunch for a certain date, time and place. We also have annual conferences that shift geographically. Usually between 70 and 80 women attend. We alternate between biblical/theological themes and personal/professional development themes. One of my best friends since moving to Washington DC is an Anglican priest in the area. I met her at an annual conference three years ago.

What happens when clergy women turn 40 and age out of TYCWP?

A former board member organized a TYCWP alumni group that’s become quite active. People also connect through RevGalBlogPals, a support community not restricted by age or gender.

Watch the 2015 Calvin Symposium on Worship service where Meg Jenista preached on God’s surpassing power. Read Fidelia’s Sisters blog posts.