Longtime PHC fans have expressed frustration with Keillor that the appearance of a female pastor in Lake Woebegon is so disappointing.
I don't think Keillor thinks for a second that all female pastors are like this. But I do think (and I believe he does as well) that some are. GK isn't creating a caricature, he's simply telling it like it is.
Pastors aren't talented and virtuous because of their gender. They are through dedication, patience, hard work and the gifts of the Spirit. Poor pastoral habits aren't limited to men, there are plenty of women in pastoral office who abuse their power, who don't have appropriate boundaries, who don't practice good self care or whose talents lie somewhere other than in the pulpit. That's just the reality of the pastorate and church life.
Rev. Ham is a fictional character and she no more represents all female pastors than Pastor Inqvist did all male ones. But she does represent the reality of the church- pastors are people too.
We'd all like our pastors to hold to the orthodoxy we don't have the patience for, practice the faith we don't have the discipline for, sit with the mystery that we don't have the openness for and love those we don't have the time for. But church doesn't work like that.
Pastors work hard. They lie awake and think of you when you're sleeping. They sit in their cars and weep when they know you're aching, so they can be stronger in your presence. They provide a backdrop to weddings and funerals- scanning the situation to help things be as smooth for you as possible. They stare over Bible texts and pray for guidance to say what God wants you to hear. They seek creative ways to help you hear it. Pastors will pull weeds, meet the ambulance, trim beard hairs, literally feed people, wait with the dying, sit in silence, engage in email correspondence, go on field trips, sing to spiders, show up early and leave late.
Pastors will also swear, get exasperated, feel confused, get sick, make decisions that result in poor outcomes, interpret Scripture wrongly, say things they don't mean, procrastinate, have feet of clay, ignore burning bushes, adopt heterodox beliefs, question their faith, sing flatly or sharply, forget the words to the Lord's Prayer, lay in bed on Sunday morning and wish they didn't have to get up, and sometimes wish they could jump in a bush when they see you coming.
Pastors are leaders of the baptized- ordained for order, not because they have special powers. They dedicate their lives to being where others might not be able to be, to praying when others cannot pray, to trying to explain what's explainable and to holding you through the inexplicable. But through all that- they are still people.
Reverend Ham isn't bad woman pastor. She's just a woman pastor who's not all she could be. What remains to be seen is how people will respond to that. Will Clint Bundsen call the Bishop and say, "I think this pastor needs a sabbatical and some continuing education. Could you send us a more intentional interim and give us some direction here?" Will the Church Council say, "Pastor Ham, we know you're here to help us, but these are the things that are important to this congregation. Here's a little bit of our history. We need help understanding ourselves and then understanding how we relate to the rest of creation." Will Rev. Barbara have the patience and insight to listen to that?
Pastors work alongside a congregation. Too often we think of them as working for a congregation and we only do that when we realize there's a problem in the relationship.
It's a complicated relationship, that of a pastor and a congregation, but at its best the relationship should have mutual and healthy support that causes everyone involved to remember Who is really in charge.