Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Training Women Ministers in the South

Last week, Kate Ott and I had the privilege of leading a one-day training workshop for women ministers in the South. They came from Georgia, Texas, Alabama and South Carolina.

Most had grown up Southern Baptist; most are Cooperative Baptists now. Most had grown up being told that women should be ladylike and couldn't be ministers. In their own way, most have challenged that ideology and have important roles in their faith communities. Most had had abstinence-only-until-marriage programs as youth, and few had had sexuality education in seminary.

We offered them a seven-hour version of our seminary course, "Sexuality Issues for Ministers." We moved pretty quickly through personal reflections of sexual messages growing up, the five components of sexuality, sexual identity, sexual orientation, human sexual response, American sexual behavior -- and that was before lunch. After lunch, we addressed counseling issues, sexual attraction in ministry, Scripture and theology, and ended up with worship and adult education.

It was a fascinating, eye-opening experience for them as participants and for us as leaders. They were open, vulnerable, honest and eager for information. They talked openly about their difficulties as women in the church -- and their frustrations about what that means in a system that still primarily has only men as senior ministers and that teaches celibacy except in marriage. They shared the difficulties of having learned a message that "sex is dirty, save it for marriage." They want to do better with the young people in their congregations, and in private conversations, I learned many want to have sexuality be a more positive part of their lives.

Once again, we learned how important sexuality training for ministers is...and how important good education is for young people. I'm grateful to them all.

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