Click here for General Assembly coverage

Cheers and tears

Rev. Stephanie Sorge writes a love letter to her fellow clergywomen.

Photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

In my recent text messages, you can always find a group text named “Lady Cheers.” There are four of us in the group — all cisgender women in ministry. I don’t remember how, when or why the group was named, or when it began, but it’s become a lifeline, essential to my overall well-being in life and in ministry.

We connected initially through the Young Clergy Women Project, now known as the Young Clergy Women International (YCWP/I,) an international and ecumenical network of ordained women under the age of 40. I met Amy in real life as many Presbyterians have met — during a conference at Montreat. Four years later, I was called to my current congregation and reconnected with Amy, who was a great support in my transition into this presbytery. At the same time, through YCWP/I, I learned that Emily and her family lived in my soon-to-be home city. We met up for coffee soon after I moved here, and we were fast friends. Less than a month into my tenure, my youngest – then just 2 months old – came down with flu and respiratory virus and was in the hospital for five days. That’s when I met Jess, a pastor in a rural town an hour away. She was on a Costco run and came by the hospital to offer support.

As a group, we have supported each other through so much over the years: health scares, fertility struggles, births, deaths, job transitions, moves, divorce, remarriage, financial stress, COVID and more. We share funny memes and videos and can share things within that small group that can’t be shared anywhere else. We’ve passed on hand-me-downs between kids and ordered family meals during particularly challenging times. We’ve shared tears from grief, joy and laughter. We’ve been truth-tellers and encouragers. I would be quite lost without this group of amazing women.

For a calling that involves building relationships and connecting with so many people, ministry can be very lonely. The traditional wisdom around clergy boundaries has maintained that clergy cannot be friends with congregation members. Many colleagues would offer a qualified “it depends.” It’s complicated. There are boundaries, power dynamics and dual roles to negotiate. Establishing a meaningful and mutual friendship might be possible, but it is rare.

Pastors are usually called to serve in communities that are not “home” to us. Often, we are geographically disconnected from our closest support networks, entering new communities without established connections. Making new friends is difficult enough. While other people might meet friends through work or church, that’s not often a viable option for pastors, particularly when it comes to soul friends.

Local colleagues can be great, but clergywomen often find ourselves serving in a sea of male clergy, many of whom don’t support the ordination of women at all. We face issues and microaggressions that men simply don’t, and even the best-intentioned of our male colleagues can be oblivious or complicit at times. As a cisgender White woman, I recognize my privilege too. Nonbinary and gender-nonconforming colleagues in ministry face greater challenges, as do non-White cisgender clergywomen.

I once heard the joke that Jesus’ most impressive miracle was finding a close group of friends in his 30s. In fact, the sisterhood of “Lady Cheers” is a miracle. These and other clergywomen have come alongside me, showing me the depth of God’s love and grace when I’ve needed it most. In their love, I have seen the Lord, just as Mary Magdalene, the first woman in Christian ministry, proclaimed. Following in Mary’s footsteps, the “Lady Cheers” group takes our place in a long and rich tradition of women in ministry in the only way we can — together.