Review: Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Young Clergywomen of Color

January 15th, 2014

A really ugly article was published the other day, by a retired minister and professor, on the website of a conservative ecumenical “think tank.” If I’m being vague, it’s because I don’t want their web-traffic to increase. Also, this is not news: that some Christian group published something ugly; it happens all the time. That the church has work to do in the area of understanding sex and gender, race and culture, age and class, and how to engage in loving discourse across difference is basically the understatement of this new year.

Young pastors routinely get told that they resemble the youth group’s members more than the stereotypical image of pastoral authority; young men can at least grow beards. A female colleague of mine serves a congregation—in the United Methodist Church, which has been ordaining women for nearly sixty years—where several of the members have explicitly told her she has no business serving as a pastor because of her gender. Non-white clergy are assumed to be outsiders or “foreigners,” regardless of whether they were born in California, Connecticut or Korea, and are asked regularly where they’re from.

It’s out of ministry contexts like these that Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Young Clergywomen of Color emerges (©2013 Judson Press). The book is a unique collection of interviews, essays, anonymous testimonies, and editorial content from the Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, a pastor in the PC(USA) and author of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian-American Feminist Theology. Its contributors tell stories of discrimination and challenge, both to their work in ministry and their sense of identity. There are theological and sociological insights here, and descriptions of wide-ranging ministries and experiences.

In some ways, Streams Run Uphill covers ground familiar to many pastors, especially young ones: Reinhold Niebuhr and Richard Lischer both penned staples of seminary curricula that demonstrate that the challenges of ministering across difference are time-worn traditions. With its commitment to sharing multiple perspectives, Streams Run Uphill lacks the narrative coherence of a single-author piece, and thus this reader found it somewhat difficult to keep track of the varied contexts and commitments of each speaker. Some of the essays are jargon-heavy, while others grew bogged down in the details of each writer's’ story—missing the forest for the trees—weaknesses that could limit the book’s usefulness among a broad readership.

Others, though, are quite strong, and provide a critical and important witness to how far the church has yet to go in living into its ministry to all people, as well as a resource to young clergywomen of color in need of role models in perseverance.

Read the Table of Contents and writer bios on the attached pdf below

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