stained glass ceiling

The New York Times has a story today (copied below) about clergywomen and the stained glass ceiling. The experiences of the women in the story rings true with the women I know. I have seen women who “moved up” but didn’t get support from the heirarchy or local church. So even when the stained glass upper limit seems to be overcome it is usually short lived as well.


I think there must be a way for The Church to create a better support system so clergywomen who may “move up” can have a real chance at successful ministry. When clergywomen were just beginning to serve as pastors there were outspoken supportive clergymen who countered the negative voices. It seems those voices have become silent when it comes to real equity. Isn’t this a justice issue? Don’t we care about that anymore?



August 26, 2006

Clergywomen Find Hard Path to Bigger Pulpit

By NEELA BANERJEE

In the 18 years since her ordination, the Rev. Elaine Puckett has wrestled with whether she should be in the pulpit at all.

When she left divinity school, Ms. Puckett, a United Methodist, thought that some day she might lead a large congregation in her hometown, Atlanta. Instead, she has shuttled between jobs as an associate pastor on someone else’s staff or as the leader of a small congregation fighting to survive. In contrast, the men she was ordained with, for the most part, have moved on to run bigger churches.

“You begin to question your competence,” said Ms. Puckett, 58, an associate pastor at the large Embry Hills United Methodist Church in Atlanta. “When you look at the endless cycle of one appointment after another after another like these, your endurance runs low.”

The trajectory of Ms. Puckett’s career is familiar to many other women in the Protestant clergy.

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. “It’s still difficult for many in this culture to see women as figures of religious authority,” said the Rev. Cynthia M. Campbell, president of McCormick Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian seminary in Chicago.

The Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank, pastor of Crossroads United Methodist Church in Phoenix, said that at every church where she has served, people have told her they were leaving because she is a woman.

At a large church where she was an associate pastor, a colleague told her that when she was in the pulpit, he could not focus on what she was saying because she is a woman. A man in the congregation covered his eyes whenever she preached.

Conflicting interpretations of the Bible underlie debates over women’s authority and ordination. Opponents of their ordination cite St. Paul’s words in I Timothy 2:12, in which he says, “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” But proponents point to St. Paul again in Galatians 3:28, which says, “There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Ms. Escobedo-Frank is familiar with the argument.

“People have written me in almost every church I have been in except the current one, and said, ‘Timothy says women can’t preach, so how can you?’ ” she 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 the mainline Protestant denominations, Mr. Carroll found that women made up 20 percent of lead or solo pastors. But of the pastors at the top of the pay scale, largely those who lead big congregations, only 3 percent are women. Of all conservative Protestant congregations, 1 percent are led by women, he said; of African-American churches, just 3 percent are led by women.

“It’s a combination of age-old customs and democratic myopia: that in the marketplace of ideas and values, men matter most and that by definition, women have to take a back seat,” said Dr. Alton B. Pollard III, director of black church studies and associate professor of religion and culture at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

Several denominations began ordaining women in the 19th century, from the Quakers and the Christian Connection Church, a forbear of the United Church of Christ, to the churches of the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. One of the precursors to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) first ordained women in 1956, the same year that the United Methodist Church granted full clergy rights to women. The church bodies that ultimately formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America first ordained women in 1970, and the Episcopal Church officially ordained them in 1976.

When the Pentecostal movement started in 1906, it did not bar women from preaching. But over time, congregations have limited women’s leadership.

The country’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, does not encourage the ordination of women, although some individual congregations and other Baptist groups do.

Dr. Kenyn M. Cureton, vice president for convention relations at the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “The biblical passages that restrict the office of pastor to men do not negate the inherent worth and equal value of both women and men before God, but rather focus on the assignment of different roles and responsibilities to the genders.”

Individual congregations generally have a great deal of say about who will be in their pulpits. This is especially true of the larger, wealthier congregations in all denominations, even in the United Methodist Church, in which bishops appoint ministers to congregations, said Adair T. Lummis, faculty associate in research at the Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

For the most part, congregations want a young married man with children, according to research Ms. Lummis conducted in 2001. “The whole demographic image of a pastor had not changed much since the 1950’s,” she said.

Smaller, poorer congregations will hire a woman, but often, only grudgingly, clergy members said.

“When we met with the search committee in Louisville, people on it said to me, ‘We really didn’t want a woman, because we know that we’re dying when we get a woman,’” the Rev. Lucia Oerter said of her experience at John Knox Presbyterian in Louisville three and half years ago.

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.

A Presbyterian minister in Northern California, who asked not to be identified because she did not want her congregation to know she was looking for a new post, said she received 65 rejections when applying for a job in the mid-1990’s. Over the last two years, as she has sought to move to a larger church, she said she has been passed over by 15 churches, even though her own church is thriving and she teaches preaching at a prestigious seminary.

“When a senior pastor is consulted about whom he would like to succeed him, there aren’t any women on those lists,” the minister said. “The good-old-boy network starts there.”

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.

“I speak differently than a man does,” Ms. Escobedo-Frank said. “To hear the fullness of God’s voice, you need to hear both men and women. People’s ears are opened more because of the surprise, and they are delighted by surprise.”

Certainly, not every minister wants to lead a large congregation. And in Protestant traditions that do not ordain women, such as evangelical megachurches, lay women who lead youth groups or women’s groups influence the faith of hundreds of congregants in a way that a woman minister in a small church cannot.

The Rev. Alise D. Barrymore, 37, grew up in the Church of God in Christ, part of the Pentecostal movement. She is co-pastor of the Emmaus Community, a non-denominational, “post-modern African-American church” which she founded with another minister in Chicago Heights, Ill.

Like many women from conservative Christian backgrounds, she had to leave her denomination, hop-scotching from one tradition to another, to enter the pulpit.

The church she grew up in has powerful women as members, she said, but it does not ordain them. Yet she had long wanted to enter pastoral ministry. Women in the black Pentecostal tradition can be itinerant evangelists, but rarely pastors.

“You can’t handle the sacraments, and it would not be rare for you to preach from the floor and not the pulpit, though that has changed a little bit in recent years,” Ms. Barrymore said. “Names and nomenclature in the black church are so important: as a woman, you teach but don’t preach. Yet the teaching sounds just like preaching.”

Ms. Puckett, the United Methodist associate pastor in Atlanta, left pastoral ministry for a time, she said, because she felt that she could not get the kind of work she wanted. She returned because she felt called to preach. But answering that call, she said, is a struggle.

“I’ve felt depressed sometimes, but the support of friends and colleagues got me through,” she said. “I’d ask them, ‘Is what I’m feeling about what is happening real or am I just crazy?’ and they would tell me I’m not crazy.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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About Sarah The Vicar of Hogsmeade

I'm an United Methodist clergywoman with two daughters. I read. I geocache. I look for excuses to laugh. My Ph.D. is on Clergywomen and Grief.
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3 Responses to stained glass ceiling

  1. revabi says:

    Hey so glad you blogged on this article. It does not make you very hopeful does it.

  2. To be honest it brings out the worst of my cynicism

  3. Sally says:

    Like many women from conservative Christian backgrounds, she had to leave her denomination, hop-scotching from one tradition to another, to enter the pulpit.This is so sad, and so frustrating- so many gifted women are pushed aside…I am currently training for Ordained Ministry having been an employed Lay Worker for a number of years, and it is hard.Thank you for blogging this

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