A career in the Protestant church

Jean Curtis finished seminary in just two years, instead of the typical three. ''I guess I found it fairly easy to write all the papers,'' she says with an easy laugh.

The ministry is a second career for the Rev. Mrs. Curtis. After raising three children, she worked for a number of years as a free-lance writer for newspapers and magazines and also wrote three books, including ''A Guide for Working Mothers.'' Her life and vocation changed, however, when she began attending a large Congregational church in downtown Boston in the 1970s. It wasn't long before she had enrolled at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton, Mass.

''I grew up with one set of social expectations, and I'm living my maturity in another set,'' she notes. ''When I was married 21 years ago, I had no expectation that I would even be working in middle age.''

In 1979 Mrs. Curtis was ordained by the United Church of Christ. This summer she will finish a term as assistant minister at Old South Church in Boston and move to an outlying suburb to take over as senior pastor for a congregation of more than 300.

After substituting for three years for the senior pastor at Old South, she is looking forward to the weekly preaching she'll be doing at her new church. It's the hardest discipline of the ministry, she says, one that takes a lot of scholarship and study. Each minute of a sermon, for example, represents two hours of preparation. But she also sees it as a challenge.

''Preaching has traditionally been a male profession,'' she explains, ''and pulpits generally are built for big men. Women have to learn to transcend that and to speak to people in the pews with some sense of relationship, not as though they're just reciting something. It's probably the area where congregations still find it difficult to accept women.''

Mrs. Curtis was selected from a field of 85 applicants after 10 months of consideration by the search committee of the her new parish. Although wives routinely accompany their candidating minister-husbands on the rounds of interviews, Mrs. Curtis's husband was never required to attend meetings. ''The assumption was that I was a professional woman who was handling these things myself, and I made it clear that both my husband and I share responsibility for our children and the household.''

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