A couple of years ago, a colleague and friend of mine asked if I wanted to join a text group of women clergy. The purpose was to communicate on a regular basis, to pray for one another, celebrate with one another, grieve with one another, and more. The heart of the question was, “Can we all be friends?” I don’t think I realized how important my yes was in that moment. I have never really had a squad—a group of women who have my back and I have theirs through the thick and thin of life, outside of my sisters. I’d never had a squad of women clergy until I joined this one.
When you are a child, making friends is easy. You find someone who looks to be about the same age as you, and then you ask if you can be friends. That’s it. Being an adult creates challenges in making friends. Being a member of the clergy often adds to those complications, and being a woman in a male-dominated field adds even more layers to those complications. Where my husband has found friends easily in the workplace, I find myself working in an office alone, and the times I have been on a staff of more than one, the staff was still small, and I was often much younger than my coworkers. Finding other women clergy in the communities I’ve lived in has also proved a challenge, and I find that while I have great friends in my sisters and even in members of my congregation, there is something special about having friendships with people who are walking the same paths you walk.
There is something unique about having friends who get you, friends to whom you can complain and not have them jump to irrational conclusions about the loved one you are venting about; who can and will live in solidarity with you, understanding that life and relationships are messy; to whom you can talk about your call and the way God is leading you without having to explain what the language means; to whom you can talk simultaneously about your love for and frustration with your congregation.
Becoming a mother this year made this text group even more important in my life. As I was preparing for the birth of our son, I asked for affirmations and prayers, which they sent in ready supply. A card arrived from them with the words “You are the best parents your child will ever have,” a mantra I continue to tell myself to this day. When I’ve had to have hard and vulnerable conversations, I tell myself that I have friends who will cheer and celebrate my bravery at the end of it, and they always do. This has encouraged me to be more honest with myself and my loved ones and become a better person. We’ve celebrated a wedding, baby baptisms, new jobs, new roles, and achievements. We have listened to each other preach and teach, and we read what each other has written. We continue to push each other to do the hard—but right—things, and mourn in moments of grief and frustration. We are there for each other in profound ways.
We’ve created this squad that transcends distance (we live in different areas of the country) and stage of life (some of us are parents, some of us are married, some are single). Despite the challenges, we make time for each other because we have felt the deep need for friendships, even long-distance ones. We make it a point to meet up at conferences and are planning what will probably turn into an epic retreat together in the near future. We’ve discovered in our darkest days that we aren’t alone, but we’ve also discovered the joy of celebrating with others as well.
I have heard from numerous other women clergy about the loneliness and isolation they feel. They lack meaningful friendships with other women clergy, women who get it without having to explain the nuances of ministry. The reality is that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to find women clergy you connect with who live geographically near you. It is going to take creativity to find ways to connect. Having a text group has been a great way to stay in touch on a regular basis, breaking through the challenges of both distance and time with busy ministry schedules. What it really takes, though, is someone having the courage to ask, “Do you want to be friends?” It took that question to cement a group of us from around the country into friends.
If you aren’t sure how to make friends, I’ve thought of some tips to help other clergy create friendship squads of their own.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask people to be your friends! If someone hadn’t just asked me to be their friend, I wouldn’t have the friendships I have today. If no one is asking you, it probably isn’t because they don’t want to be your friend; it’s that they think it’s just as weird to ask as you do. Be the person who just asks. The worst thing that can happen is that you end up in the same place you are now. Being proactive about making friends and building deep relationships is probably the most important thing we can do. It’s easy to blame everyone else for why we feel lonely and isolated, but when we are honest, it is often because we are too afraid to step out and ask people to be our friends.
2. Don’t allow geography to be a barrier to friendship. Technology has been very helpful here, but so have the myriad of conferences and retreats available throughout the year. Connect through text messages on a regular basis, but use conferences and retreats you are already attending to have meaningful times of face-to-face conversation. Even if you are only financially able to attend one conference or retreat a year, find one that coordinates with when your friends will be there. It’s worthwhile to spend time eating junk food late at night to have your soul fed by friends. You can also use conference time to find new friends! If they are attending a conference about preaching and so are you, chances are you have at least one thing in common already! Use that as a bridge to build an even deeper friendship.
3. Believe you are worthy of having people pour their lives into you. I borrowed this one from one of my text friends, but it is completely true. Often times we are so busy caring for others that we forget that we are important too. It’s important to have friends, and it’s important for others to make time to pour into you. I read a narrative from someone the other day that said your life is like a pool, and you can only pour out of it as long as there is water in it. Friendships fill our pool. They are ways for us to feel restored, refreshed, and renewed. Ministry to others is not sustainable long term if we aren’t being cared for by others. God created us for community, and we can preach that until we are blue in the face, but it doesn’t mean much if we don’t experience a life-giving community of our own.
Having these deep and life-giving friendships has changed my life in so many deep ways for the better. I am a better pastor, a better wife, and a better mother because I have a group of women who are constantly pouring into my life. It is time to give up the idea that we can do life and ministry alone, give up the awkwardness of reaching out to others, and start making friends. All it might take is being the one to ask “Can we be friends?”