Sunday, August 27, 2006

Clergywomen Find Hard Path to Bigger Pulpit

Hat Tip to A. Linn at Longing for Home for finding this article from the New York Times

The article has this to say:

"Whether they come from theologically liberal denominations or conservative ones, black churches or white, women in the clergy still bump against what many call the stained-glass ceiling — longstanding limits, preferences and prejudices within their denominations that keep them from leading bigger congregations and having the opportunity to shape the faith of more people."

"Women now make up 51 percent of the students in divinity school. But in the mainline Protestant churches that have been ordaining women for decades, women account for only a small percentage — about 3 percent, according to one survey by a professor at Duke University — of pastors who lead large congregations, those with average Sunday attendance over 350. In evangelical churches, most of which do not ordain women, some women opt to leave for other denominations that will accept them as ministers. Women from historically black churches who want to ascend to the pulpit often start their own congregations.

This year, women were elected to lead the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. But such success has not filtered down to the congregational level, said the Rev. Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, dean of the school of practical theology at the Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.

It is often easier for women in the mainline churches — historic Protestant denominations like Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal and the United Church of Christ — to get elected as bishops and as other leaders than to head large congregations, Dr. Stonehouse said.

People in the pews often do not accept women in the pulpit, clergy members said.

In the first decade after ordination, men and women usually hold similar positions, said Jackson W. Carroll, professor emeritus of religion and society at Duke University Divinity School and author of “God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and The Shaping of Congregations,” published this year.

In their second decade in ordained ministry, however, 70 percent of men had moved on to medium-sized and large congregations, Mr. Carroll said, based on a 2001 survey of 870 senior and solo pastors. By comparison, only 37 percent of women led medium and large larger congregations.

In interviews with 15 women ministers, most said they had worked or were working at small congregations, often those that were dwindling. In all cases, the ministers had built up Sunday attendance. But such a track record is often not enough to win a post at a larger, more affluent congregation.

Experts on women in the clergy said that while the leaders of mainline denominations support women in the ministry, not enough is done to back their rise.

One small but important step male pastors can take, these experts said, is to get congregations to hear women preach. For example, those pastors can ask women to be guest preachers or have them fill in when they go on vacation."

It further quotes from Clergywomen about their experiences.

It also has a Video: The Stained Glass Ceiling it is worth watching.

I search for my words to add this article or comment on it, and they do not come. I think I have said so much that I don't know what else to say. In my own Denomination, and Conference I would say the numbers that Duke reports would be more like this 95% of the men are leading medium or large congregations, and 5% of the women are leading small churches. (This is not fact, just an estimate and would need to be researched.) It can be discouraging for someone and at times has led some of the female clergy leaving the Pastorate and going into other fields of ministry, ie Chaplaincy, Pastoral Counseling, or Seminary Professorships. It intrigues me that if a woman has helped turn around a dying or stagnant church to where there is growth, why wouldn't that track record then lead to a larger congregation? I do not think in my tenure as a Pastor we will see women leading medium or large churches, I think it will come later after I retire. I think we are still pioneering the way for those coming behind us to lead in the larger churches. I think it takes education for the laity, and the denominational leaders. I think it takes experiencing women preaching, teaching, leading, and Pastoring. And I think it takes the work of the Holy Spirit.


Songbird said...

Abi, do you mean 95% of women are leading small churches? There is some better movement in that direction in the UCC, toward leadership of larger churches by women, but I think that's also regional. New England, California are ahead of other parts of the country, or so I hear.

revabi said...

Songbird, I would have to do some research by putting together the list of appointments to the list of the size of churches in the conference journal to come up with exact number. I may be off some, maybe it more feels like that.

It is that way in the Methodist church too. Wonder what is like for the rest of us Clergywomen?

April said...

Hi, Abi... I found your site through Psalmist (followed your comments here!) I'm the pastor of a small, languishing Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation in northwestern Illinois. In our denomination there are a few women who are pastors of large, growing churches, but they are definitely the exception and not the rule. In my own region (like your districts), I find that the attitude of our regional minister, which tends to be affected by the physical attractiveness of the female minister in question (IMO), makes the most difference as to whether women will even be introduced to congregations in the Search and Call process.
It's frustrating in SO many ways, but I also find that most of my female colleagues just don't play the political games of our male colleagues. We don't tend to walk in a room and begin schmoozing. We don't fake familiarity with others. We do tend to develop hearts for pastoral ministry and the people we serve that I just don't see in my male colleagues who are moving to bigger and better churches all the time. I think we do that partly because those political avenues simply aren't open to us and partly because we have a different understanding of relationship than our male colleagues.
Anyway, now I'm hijacking your blog, but I'm INCREDIBLY interested to read your other posts. I've missed, really, really missed interaction with women from the liberal church background who are also passionately committed to a relationship with Jesus. Guess I haven't been looking hard enough!!

Purechristianithink said...

The Presbyterian Church website's statistics report that in 2005, of 4571 clergywomen in our denomination, 56 were serving as Head of Staff at churches of 500 members or more. Which sounds like a discouragingly small percentage. However, the statistics also report that in 1990 there were 16 women as Heads of Staff in churches of 500 or more, which means that the number has more than tripled in the last 15 years. Also, they don't show statistics re how many churches that size there even are in the PCUSA--I think the median church size is just under 200. The Times article also doesn't mention the impact of child-rearing on how quickly, (or not) women move into larger churches, nor the fact that most clergywomen are part of a two-career household which often means it is harder for them to consider major trans-continental moves.

mid-life rookie said...

I agree with you that in UM there are few women serving as Pastors in Charge in large congregations. The largest congregations in our conference all have men at the head. It seems that it is easier for a woman to move into administrative leadership(ie District Superintendent and even Bishop) than to move up to leading a large church. I do wonder if some of our (women's)preferences contribute to this. Pastor in Charge in a large church often has less contact with parishoners than staff members or pastors of smaller churches. Personally, I would enjoy the parishoner contact more than leading a ministerial team. I have no idea if my preferences are at all representative of other women in ministry. I would be thrilled to pastor a smaller church. I know it is loads of work because you do everything, but still that sounds more appealing than on staff some place larger. I do see a group of up and coming women who started in ministry at a young age and are building seniority. They are respected within the conference, and I suspect one or more of them will wind up leading a large church.

see-through faith said...

I look at this a bit differently - women are better at pastoring because of their nurturing hearts. I think many may choose to stay in a smaller congregation in order to be able to be a shepherd to the flock and it's really good that they do because they do such a good job of it.

I'm a bit sick and tired of the career ladder attitude within ministry to be honest - big isn't always better -but what I'd like to see is more team work within ministry - a real enabling of laity and also support between pastors - knowing our gifts and skills and sharing responsibilities.

But maybe I'm in cloud cukkuu land?

Amy said...

Hi RevAbi
Thanks for writing. I did not realize the stats were so low.. 3%! I agree that it has some regional variances. I was talking with a clergywoman in extension ministry from Western PA. She said she could think of three churches that would be glad to see her walk through the door. It is thoroughly different in my neck of the woods (Peninsula-Delaware). There are very few churches that have not had a woman pastor, but I must admit that most of those are the largest churches in the Conference. I do think it will change in my life-time. I hope it will be due to our system changing to honor the spiritual gifts and graces of pastors as teh primary criteria. But demographics will also play a large role. I am one of 14 clergy under age 35 in my Conference. Nationally in the UMC, half of our Conferences have half of their clergy 55 and up. So in the next ten years, the system is literally going to be turned upside down as half of our clergy retire... there has to be room for the Spirit in there somewhere!