What would you do? -- Breastfeeding Edition

When I was in seminary at Meadville Lombard Theological School, we were often focused on one big hurdle that UU ministers have to get over: the MFC visit.  The MFC, or Ministerial Fellowship Committee, is a committee that grants UU ministers "Fellowship," which gives us the right to search for a church through the UUA's systems, access to UUA grants, and is a major gate to keep out people the MFC believes are not suited to the UU ministry.  It's a major credential on the path to becoming a UU minister, and without it you're unlikely to be able to be a UU minister.  It puts you in the group, basically.  When I went through it, this is how it went: The MFC asked for all sorts of paperwork, which I shall not go into, and all sorts of steps you go through before you get there, and then you had your interview, in which the committee members each asked you a question.  The question could be a single question or a series of questions along a particular line, or a question with a lot of follow-ups--whatever they felt like they needed in order to judge your suitability.  You preached a ten minute sermon for them, gave them your first question that you want them to ask, and then they gave theirs.  After the interview, you go went, they deliberated, and they gave you a number from 1-5.  A "one" was good.  Anything else meant more work, or giving up, as the numbers increased.

Since we all were going to face this, all of us seminarians at Meadville Lombard, we would gather around our classmates who had gone through it, and they would give the recounting of their interview, remembering as many questions and interactions as possible.  We would, at other times, share stories of questions we heard that so-and-so had been asked.  There were a couple of scenario questions that got repeated a lot--scenes where you're the minister, x happens, and you're asked, "How do you respond?"

I think it was the year after I saw the MFC that they, realizing this was always the case, released sample questions so that everyone could have this same sort of data.

One of the most popular questions that we would toss around as an example of a former MFC question at least one somebody supposedly got once was one that went something like, "You're leading a worship service, and during the announcements somebody stands up and says that they're announcing that this is a house of worship and that breastfeeding during the service is inappropriate.  A woman who had been breastfeeding her child, gets up and rushes out crying.  What do you do?"

I remember vividly one of my classmates responses, although I don't remember who said it, but this seminarian said something like, "I would say, 'My congregation (or faith, or something like this) is out there,' and follow her out."  Others had responses like asking another member to go follow her out and then dealing with it after the service, or stopping and preaching on it then, or asking a member to take over the service while he or she followed her out.  I don't remember a single person saying that they agreed with the member standing up against breastfeeding in public and would support that policy, although some may have or may not have spoken.

I don't know if I knew it then, but I knew the woman in this story.  Well, sort of.  My mother had been criticized by members of the congregation she attended for breastfeeding my sister in the church.  I don't know if the minister knew about it, or what he did if he did know, but I know that the criticism was painful for her.

I was never sure what I would do.  I knew that somehow I would make it clear to both the woman who left and the congregation as a whole that I believed breastfeeding was not something we should make policies against, and that it should be welcome.  But I didn't know how I would go about that, in that particular scenario.  At that time, I probably thought that I, as the minister, would be the one to make such a decision.  Now I understand the roles are much more complex about who decides such things, since as a policy decision, it could fall to the board, or is it a worship decision that falls to me?  I would certainly have discussion with the board and worship committee about our shared roles and responsibilities around issues like this.

Well, several months ago, back in the fall, I believe, we did have a discussion at our board meeting about breastfeeding policy.  We agreed to allow usage of a small symbol that shows we're supportive of breastfeeding in the church building and on church publications.  We left it to the Membership Committee to decide where and how to use this logo, and so far we haven't implemented it, but it's likely that we'll be putting it eventually in places where we put other symbols, like ones to indicate that we're accessible and welcoming and listening devices are available.  It may go on the order of service, for example.

And then I would finally know exactly what I would say: "If you would turn to the cover of your order of service, you'll see there that we have a policy in this church about allowing and being supportive of breastfeeding.  I am happy to talk to people further about this issue following the service." 


Kelly KH said…
Good for you and your congregation. In NY, breastfeeding is a civil right (it seems crazy to me that it has to be legislated as such, given our biology, but there you go). A public place could actually be cited for asking a bfing mother to leave the premises. It has been challenged all over the place, but has stuck.

I have to say that I never considered that this might be an MFC question! LOL!
adelev said…
I love this post! I also think it is wonderful that your church has decided to use the breastfeeding symbol. I should probably talk to people at my church about doing this.
Meg said…
Thanks for this post. I'm curious if you know how many UU churches have explicit policies supporting breastfeeding. I'd like to propose it to my church and am looking to share some precedence with them.

Seattle, WA

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