Carol Pinkham Oak: A New Culture Rising

Carol Pinkham Oak

The Rev. Carol Pinkham Oak ’85 M.Div. has been rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Md., since 2006. With twenty-five years of parish ministry experience, she is also actively involved in the Lilly Endowment’s Transition into Ministry initiative. That program nurtures new clergy by focusing on mentoring by experienced clergy, ensuring that the congregation offers a supportive climate for clergy growth and learning, and encouraging a wide array of clergy skills through involvement in all aspects of congregational life.

Times Have Changed: During my time at YDS, women seminarians were seeking role models. Joan Forsberg and Margaret Farley were our mentors. now, women clergy are role models for one another, seeking to grow through peer relation- ships and through exposure to the many experiences of church. it raises the confidence level of everyone. Women’s leadership isn’t novel anymore. now it’s just as important as men’s leadership..

A New Style: Clergywomen will not be isolated or defined in their ministry in traditional ways. When i graduated from seminary twenty-five years ago, the traditional attitude was: the only focus was your ministry. but women in ministry came along and said, wait a minute. I have these other relationships too – perhaps as a mother or a spouse, relationships growing from other areas of my life, through my children’s schools or my interests. this network of relationship helps women bring a sense of teamwork to ministry.

Decisive Early Years: God is calling forth a new church. And that is exciting, but the ministry for which you are preparing will not look like the ministry any of us has known thus far. if you seek to be the best pastor you can be and want to thrive in a changing church landscape, then find a clergy mentor for your first three years of ministry. exceptional mentoring programs are emerging across the church. those early years can be negative or positive, but they will be formative. You are changing into a pastor, hopefully growing into it in the wonderful ways God intends. After all, God led you to this calling. this is a time of integrating your identity, bringing together your academic learning with congregational-life learning. find your preaching voice. Develop healthy habits of self-care and spiritual practices.

Generation Next: As women in ministry we now have a generation of experience to draw on. I had to fight for maternity leave. i had to resist the culture that said you will be available every single moment. We are generating a new culture. Women of this generation will make their own contributions in as-yet-undefined ways, but they will discover their way. And they will give the next generation even more to build on.