Reverend Mama, Part 2 (Reverend Cara Gilger)

The latest edition of the MLCI series seeks to incorporate the voices of those who are both “Reverend” and “Mommy.” There’s many of us out there, in a wide variety of contexts and each with our own celebrations and challenges. We are grateful to the three Disciples pastors who have volunteered to share their reflections with us for this particular discussion, and seek to honor each one’s story as that — HER story, and not necessarily a definitive statement on what it means to balance and live both ministry and motherhood.

Rev. Cara Gilger and her husband Tim live with their two daughters Adelaide (3 ½ years) and Everly (4 months) in McKinney, Texas where Cara serves First Christian Church. Cara is a Vanderbilt Divinity School class of 2008 alum.

Rev. Cara Gilger and her husband Tim live with their two daughters Adelaide (3 ½ years) and Everly (4 months) in McKinney, Texas where Cara serves First Christian Church. Cara is a Vanderbilt Divinity School class of 2008 alum.

What makes ministry and motherhood uniquely different than working and motherhood? This is the question that I have kicked around for weeks, while, standing at my kitchen counter making lunches, while sitting in worship singing the Doxology, returning e-mails.

What makes this life in ministry uniquely different for my family and for me as a mother than the mother who sits in the third pew from the back and practices law or the mom who teaches second grade? In many ways there is not much of a difference. I mean, I shuffle childcare, albeit with probably more nights and weekends than my corporate ladder climbing sisters. I worry about getting enough time with my daughters. I worry about missing my youngest’s milestones and meal planning is my best friend for nightly home-cooked meals.

The truth is that most of the time the things that set my life in ministry apart from other vocations are a blessing to my family.

My children are not only welcomed but wanted at the church where I serve. My eldest daughter attends pre-school at the church and I can pop my head in to see what she’s up to at any point during the day—try finding that anywhere but select companies like Google. My youngest, when she is not busy charming the church nursery staff, is being passed knee to neck by church grandmas.

There is a rhythm to ministry that makes this odd and wondrous calling of congregational life and motherhood a unique blend of beauty and chaos, humor and grace. Evening meetings can make meals hard and bedtimes a full on invitation for a full family melt down. The law of probability means that with as often as my children are at church, chances are they will have moments where they make poor choices and I have to parent—and we will both do it on display. There is no other time that really epitomizes the uniqueness of ministry and motherhood more than Advent. While the rest of the parenting world is gearing up with magical moments and special crafts and outings, my family is stream-lining the schedule, spending nights in the church nursery, or Sunday school party-hopping. On Christmas Eve when other families are spending time together, I leave my willing and capable spouse to lead our daughters through baking cookies for Santa while I pull a marathon day and evening. It is in Advent that I am most sharply aware that motherhood and ministry in some ways operate on a different time that the rest of the parenting world.

Because of this, here is what I have decided—I am an awesome ordinary time mom. Ordinary time makes up the bulk of the church calendar, it is the rhythm and rhyme that orders the rest of the year, that brings stability and rest and presence to the rest of the year. Mothering in ministry has allowed me the opportunity to cut out on a random Tuesday afternoon to take my girls for ice cream or take a school holiday off to lay around the house in pj’s and watch princess movies because I have the flexibility and comp-time to do it.

Ordinary time is the time for building relationships. We know that if you attend church during special seasons your spirit may be fed by worship or special programing, but it doesn’t give the opportunity to build the relationships that sustain. Ministry and motherhood have gifted my family and children with the time that cultivates depth in relationships. My daughters already have people who care for them and for their spirits in remarkable ways. And for that I am grateful.

And finally, there’s this: When I showed up to lead my first Women’s Prayer Breakfast after maternity leave, and my oldest was still wearing pajamas, and my youngest proceeded to spit up in quantity I had yet to see and have never seen again, all I received were hands to dig in diaper bags, words of assurance, arms to console kids and change baby clothes.