Ever since I announced my pregnancy to my congregation in March, I am greeted multiple times on Sunday with the loving and curious question, “And how are you feeling today?” I struggled, at first, to answer that question so frequently. Maybe it’s because I’ve felt good and, to this point, been very healthy during the pregnancy. So there’s just not much to say. But that simple question is also a sign that the dynamics between congregation and pastor have shifted because of this life-changing event.
My congregation now routinely reaches out to me with pastoral care and concern. I am used to being the one inquiring about their health concerns, their friends who are ill, their parents living with dementia. Now I am the one with a special concern worthy of weekly updates and frequent prayers. Experiencing this shift can be hard for pastors. Though our position means our lives are public, we do not reveal all. We work hard to make sure that when we share our issues, we are not asking anyone to take care of us. We are professionals and it’s up to us to find people outside our flock to minister to our personal needs. So it’s natural to try to keep doing that, to push away the additional questions and to try to make sure the focus is not all on us.
As the months have passed through, I have found that this “business as usual” approach won’t work as I approach the birth of my baby. Things are different. My body is different. In a few months, I will have a whole new vocation of being a mother on top of my calling as a pastor. Things simply cannot stay the same. With this in mind, I have tried to open my heart to the genuine love with which my members ask about the pregnancy. I have shared with them about the genetic testing we did, our plan to use cloth diapers and the fun of setting up the nursery. I am trying to let down my guard and let them in. I am trying to let them minister to me in a way I may have resisted in the past.
I do not think this goes against good boundary keeping. I think it shows that boundaries shift as our lives shift. These people will not just be my congregation anymore. They will be part of my baby’s family. They will hold her while I preach, since my husband will be pastoring at the church where he serves on Sunday mornings. They will probably change a diaper or two when the need arises. They will promise to love and nurture her in faith. Things won’t be the same for them, either.
This experience of being a pregnant pastor has also opened new doors in my pastoral relationships. Women have told me about their pregnancies. They’ve shocked me with their tales of the bygone era in which pregnancy weight gain was strictly limited to 15 pounds. They have shared with me stories of their own miscarriages and babies that died to soon. Men have talked about their days of sitting in the waiting room while their child was born. (Most were content with this arrangement!) If I had not become pregnant, would I have unearthed these stories? Perhaps the gift of pregnancy just sped up the process of sharing.
A common refrain that my husband and I are told is, “Everything is going to be different when that baby is born!” True. Some of those changes to our routine will be welcome; others will be hard to adjust to. I never anticipated how much my ministry might change, too. I do not think these changes make me a better or worse pastor. I simply think they force me to be more open and let people touch my life in ways that might have seemed too personal before. These changes will require of me more humility and more gratitude. Probably a lot like parenting.
EMMA NICKEL serves as stated supply pastor of Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Greensburg, Kentucky. She is passionate about small church ministry, cooking and playing with her cat, Scout.