A Benedictine sister (Sister Paula) asked a young female theology student (Bailey) who are her models for leadership. Bailey quickly named a few people and the sister clarified her question: What women have been your leadership models?
This young Catholic theologian was stumped. She did not have those names on the tip of her tongue as she did with leaders who are men. Sister Paula agreed that the men Bailey named are good models of leadership but Sister Paula is very much aware that in their Catholic faith, woman leadership is not as obvious or prevalent.
It got me thinking. What women would I name as models of healthy, strong leadership for me? There are many professional
women in my life (in both church and secular leadership) who have leadership qualities that I admire. If that is true, then why is it also easier for me to name men leaders than women?
What qualities do I seek out as an example?
~ A heart for ministry and serving the people of God
~ An active deep listener
~ Confidence and courage in their own voice
~ Encouraging others to grow in their gifts and faith
~ Being comfortable with people in the wide range of our human experience
~ A healthy respect for the institution of church; seeing both her limitations and possibilities
These are the things I seek in both men and women leaders. So why do I have a hard time naming women
colleagues with all these qualities? It certainly is not because they do not exist! That is for sure. I think it is that we have had the practice for so long of highlighting leadership in men, that women (and our culture) have grown comfortable with that. Many women would say, "I don't need the attention. I just want to do the work." Yes. I agree that is important except for when we ask our young women (and our young men) to name us - they can't.
We, as women, need to do a better job of striking a balance of doing the work that we are called to do but also having more of a leadership presence and helping others find their voice.
As it turned out I was able to do this over the past weekend. Just as I was finishing some continuing education in Minnesota, one of our new young woman pastors was being ordained in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I decided to make the 4 hour drive to attend her ordination. I don't know Sarah very well yet but she is called to a church in my same conference in suburban Chicago. I see potential for us to be colleagues in ministry. My decision to drive to Sioux Falls was about the future. I wanted to send a clear message to her that she is
already surrounded by colleagues who support her as she begins living out her call. It wasn't until that conversation with Sister Paula and Bailey that I could truly articulate why I needed to be there. It is in these small moments that women leadership is nurtured. I think I have some good qualities and experience that I can share with Sarah as she begins. But I am also sure that she will find ways to teach and challenge me in my ministry.
This is what I learned from Sister Paula: Strong leadership is not about hierarchy, who has the power, or even gender. It is about the mutual ways we lift each other up and challenge each other so that we all strive to do God's work for the sake of the world.
I included pictures of me with both Sarah and Sister Paula. Thanks be to God for both women!