As a man preparing for ministry alongside women, I’m often in a middle place. At 45 I’m in the middle of generations: one that struggled for equality and another that reaps the rewards of that struggle but finds its own dilemmas. As a member of a seminary class that’s 50-50 female-male, I’ve been in the middle of courses and projects in which there is parity but not always unity, collegiality but not always empathy, talking but not always listening.
In one class a woman admitted feeling intimidated as a pastoral intern due to her youth and small stature. A young male colleague responded defensively. But he can’t erase the reality of his considerable size and voice. We talked it out: Should women speak up? Should men shut up? We couldn’t dismiss the disparities, nor could we put aside the pain and frustration.
During my summer of clinical pastoral education at a hospital, I found myself wishing to bridge another gap: to be a “middle man” within our mixed gender team of student chaplains. I used my classic tools: humor and self-deprecation. But some of the women didn’t buy it. They’d been manipulated by men who sought chumminess but later held back honesty or depth, failed to show respect, or were unwilling to really include or collaborate. It was eight weeks into the 12-week session before we could all let down our guard to truly trust.
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