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New Book Guides Women Pastors on Spiritual Care While Raising Children

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New Book Guides Women Pastors on Spiritual Care While Raising Children

News Story by Nina Culver | FāVS News

The Rev. Alyssa Bell of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church has just published a book aimed at supporting women pastors who are juggling ministerial work while also raising children.

Titled “Calm and Quiet My Soul: A Holistic Approach to Spiritual Care,” the book encourages those filling the dual roles of pastor and mother to take care of themselves in addition to caring for others. The book is based in part on Bell’s personal experience as a mother and a pastor.

Limited Resources for Pastors Who Are Mothers

Bell was working as a musical director in a church in Marysville, Washington, when she began taking seminary classes.

“I enjoyed the academic work and really felt called to walk with people in a pastoral capacity,” she said.

After going through a discernment process she graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. As she started her pastoral work, she had a 2-year-old and had also had several miscarriages.

“I was very much in the mix of parenting and grief,” she said.

Her spiritual director, a person she still meets with regularly, and a small support group gave her the spiritual and emotional care she needed to move forward, Bell said. It was that experience that led her to explore the spiritual care of women pastors for her doctoral dissertation.

That dissertation, which granted her a doctorate of ministry in leadership and spiritual formation from Portland Theological Seminary, became her book.

Bell said she recognizes that not everyone has the support that she did.

“It has been my experience that it is unique,” she said. “There are a lot of pastors who are mothers, but I don’t see a lot of resources for them as a group. I wanted to explore that in my dissertation.”

God as a Mother Figure

In her book Bell asks people to consider God as a mother figure, as portions of the Bible depict God as both a comforter and a fierce protector.

“The Biblical and theological image of God as a mother can provide unique comfort and strength for pastors who are also mothers,” she said.

Bell said she knows that this message of God as mother may not be helpful to some, particularly those who have had a challenging relationship with their own mother.

“For some women, considering God as a mother is an unhelpful image because of their relationship with their mother,” she said. “I know this is not universal.”

One of the key suggestions that Bell makes in her book is for pastors to find a spiritual director, someone who they can have unfettered conversations about faith with. Even pastors need a pastor.

“To be vulnerable with someone if you need spiritual or pastoral care takes courage,” she said. “It takes the right person to talk to.”

Having a spiritual director is something that often happens organically rather than institutionally, Bell said. She was lucky enough to find someone to speak to about her faith, a person who is involved in ministry but is not an ordained pastor. She meets with her spiritual director monthly.

“It is the safe spiritual place for me to ask questions, to grieve, to rejoice,” she said.

Bell’s Book Inspirational

The Rev. Susan Rose heads up Diakonos Solutions, a non-profit organization that mentors women in ministry. She said the message in Bell’s book spoke to her.

“It felt very affirming as a woman and mother in ministry,” she said. “She was speaking a language no one had had ever spoken before. It just felt affirming to be seen.”

Bell’s message of self-care for women pastors also struck a chord.

“She hits a real tender spot in that mothers tend to pour themselves out and ministers tend to pour themselves out,” Rose said. “How do you maintain your spiritual equilibrium?

“I don’t think anything else has been written like this. I liked that Alyssa is theologically grounded and historically grounded and Biblically grounded all together.”

Just recently the number of women pastors in the Presbyterian faith passed 50%, Rose said, making Bell’s book all the more important.

“It’s more important to hear those voices,” she said. “She is an important voice for women pastors.”

The Challenges

Matters of faith aside, it can be mentally and physically challenging to fill the roles of pastor and mother at once. There are the pastoral emergencies that call a pastor away on holidays or during other family time. A sick child can disrupt office work. It can also be difficult to juggle child care when there are late night or weekend pastoral emergencies.

“I’ve been known to bring my kids to visit people in nursing homes,” she said.

Bell said her husband supports her and she also has family in the area to call on if needed.

“It is practically challenging,” she said. “Even though it is a challenge, I feel called to be both a mother and a pastor.”

Rose said she found Bell’s book very actionable, with concrete suggestions to assist pastors who are mothers. She said she believes the message in the book would also speak to lay women.

Rose said that while her children are grown now, she’s been recommending Bell’s book to young mothers in ministry.

“I wish I had had that book 15 years ago,” she said. “I wish I had that book when my children were smaller. I wish I had that book when I was first starting out.”

“Calm and Quiet My Soul” is available on Amazon and at bookshop.org.

Nina Culver
Nina Culver
Nina Culver is a freelance journalist and North Idaho native who has called Spokane home for the last 30 years. She started working at The Spokesman-Review in 1995 as a work study intern while still a journalism student at Gonzaga University and stuck around for the next 22 years, covering everything from religion to crime. She has an adult daughter and two grandsons who keep her hopping and if she has any free time she likes to read.

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