Women as Pastors [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lyle E. Schaller
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Women in ministry--the call, the opposition, the successes, the failures, the limitations, the effect on their families--it's all here in these encouraging, sometimes touching testimonials from women who are now experiencing life in the ministry. Each story stands alone in its impact and implications; each is a success story affirming the role of women as effective pastors and challenging others to follow their example.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2004
"Should we seek a woman as our next pastor?"
"What would happen if we did and she got pregnant? What would we do if that happened?"
"Does God really call women to the ministry?"
"Can a church grow if it has a woman pastor? Our congregation is shrinking and we need to reverse that trend. Doesn't that mean we need a man?"
"What would we call her.?"
"What would the people in this community think if our church had a woman pastor?"
"Do you think our church is ready for a woman pastor?"
"Can a woman do the job?"
"What if she is not married?"
"What if she is married? What would we do with her husband?"
These are a few of the questions that come up repeatedly when a congregation is contemplating the possibility of calling a woman as the next pastor.
The chances that a Protestant church on the North American continent will have a woman serving as its next minister have increased very rapidly during the past dozen years. One indicator of the pace of that change is the increase in the number of women enrolled in theological seminaries. According to data collected by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, there were 3,358 women enrolled in seminary in 1972. Eight years later this number had more than tripled to 10,830, and women accounted for twenty-two percent of the total enrollment, double the proportion in 1972. Scores of seminaries report that between one-fourth and two-fifths of the candidates for the Master of Divinity degree or the Doctor of Ministry degree are women. It is interesting to note that more than half of the women enrolled for either of those two professional degrees have chosen the in sequence Doctor of Ministry program in preference to the more traditional Master of Divinity. These facts will provide an answer to some of those who wonder, "If we chose a woman for our next minister, what would we call her?"
The pace of change can be illustrated by looking at a few examples. In 1977, for the first time in that denomination's history, women could be "regularly" ordained in the Episcopal Church. That year 90 women and 96 men were "regularly" ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church.
The Lutheran Church in America began to ordain women in 1970 -- and during the next seven years, 57 women were ordained. During the following three years, that number increased to 163, and four out of five are serving as parish pastors.
There are more than a thousand ordained women ministers in The United Methodist Church and over five hundred in the several Presbyterian denominations.
Approximately one-half of the clergy in the Salvation Army are women, and several denominations, such as the Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church, and the General Council of the Assemblies of God, have a long history of the ordination of women as ministers.
From a historical perspective on American Protestantism, two generalizations stand out that merit consideration when this subject is discussed. First, the greater the sensitivity of a denomination to the oppressed and the downtrodden, and the larger the proportion of the membership that is drawn from among those at the bottom of the social class scale, the greater the probability that that denomination has a long history of accepting women as ministers. With only a few exceptions this basic pattern prevails among both white and black denominations in the United States.
Second, the earliest and the greatest acceptance of women as ordained or commissioned workers in the churches has been on the foreign mission field. In 1910, for example, one third of all missionary physicians were women. As recently as 1929, two thirds of all foreign missionaries under the care of the six largest Protestant denominations in the United States were women. These figures suggest that the possibility that God does call women to full-time Christian service is far from a new concept.
Two of the larger American Pentecostal denominations, the Apostolic Faith and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, were founded by women. The revelations of Mrs. Ellen G. White have been central to the Seventh-day Adventists, one of the fastest-growing religious bodies in the world. The Congregational Church authorized the ordination of women in 1853. Several denominations have been ordaining women as ministers for approximately a hundred years, including the American Baptist Churches, the Salvation Army (1880), the Church of God of Anderson, Indiana (1881), the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ, 1888), the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (1890), and the United Brethren in Christ (1889).
There is a long and complex background behind the current increase in the number of women serving in the pastoral ministry, but that will not be discussed here. The central purpose of this book is to provide a resource for the laity who are contemplating the possibility that their next pastor may be a woman. This volume is an attempt to offer real-life responses to the questions that naturally will be raised when that possibility surfaces.
What is the beginning point? There are many. Mary Sue Gast describes how a couple from a church in Michigan came to Iowa to visit, and that was the beginning of that call. Dorothy Fowler was asked by the District Superintendent to serve a church in west Texas. Anne Rosser describes the long period of time she and her husband lived through while seeking a call. Ansley Coe Throckmorton spells out in some detail the anatomy of a call.
Won't there be opposition? Won't some people object to having a woman as their pastor? The answer is, "Yes, certainly!" The content and the nature of some of that opposition is described by Mary Miller-Vikander, who is a pioneer in a denomination that only recently authorized the ordination of women. Anne Rosser shares a similar experience as one of the first women to be ordained in the Southern Baptist Conference. The opposition can be real, but it need not be the controlling factor. These women explain how God's love can melt that opposition.
What if she has a baby? That is one of the most frequently raised objections to women's being in the pastorale. Maribeth Blackman-Sexton tells how one of the older members, after hearing the news that their recently arrived preacher was pregnant, asked, "What do you suppose she'll do now?" Another long-time member replied, "I suppose she'll have a baby in a few months." Janet Gifford-Thorne explains how a minister's pregnancy can be a real asset to a congregation. Mary Sue Gast shares her experiences and points out that she was able to lead the devotional period for the Martha Cirde the day before her baby was born -- although it might have been more difficult if the Circle had met in the early morning.
"But will a church grow in size and vitality with a woman as the pastor?" I hat also is a frequently heard question from those who fear that the only churches with women in the pulpit are small congregations. In two radically different situations, Barbara Jurgensen and Janet Gifford-Thorne point out that a woman can help expand the evangelistic outreach of a struggling congregation.
"Well, I guess I can see women serving some churches, but there must be limits on how far they can go." That male chauvinist comment has been heard from both men and women who have reservations about women's being in the ministry. The irrelevance of the observation can be illustrated by Ellen Brubaker's account of the pilgrimage of Marjorie Swank Matthews, the first woman to be elected to the episcopacy in The United Methodist Church. The career of Ansley Coe Throckmorton suggests the ceiling is an imaginary one created by human beings, not by God.
"But do you really think people ever will come to accept a woman as their pastor?" That may be the most widespread reservation about women in the ministry. It is a reservation held by many women as well as by men, by clergy as well as by the laity. In different ways, each of the contributors to this volume has responded to that issue. Dorothy Fowler shares her experience as a bivocational minister who has had to deal with this question in both the high school and the parish. Jane Krauss Jackson, Ansley Coe Throckmorton, and others note that the congregation that is open to having a woman as its next pastor also has some other characteristics that may facilitate acceptance -- and that being a woman has some unique advantages.
Perhaps the most perplexing issue for a few is, "What about her husband? If she's married, what kind of expectations do we have of the husband, and what will he expect of us?" One congregation talked about the need to schedule a reception or some similar type of welcoming, "We're glad you're here with us!" event for the new minister's husband, but they couldn't decide whether that was "women's work" or "men's work," so it never happened.
There is no standard response to these questions about the role of the minister's husband, and the variety of men who fill that role may be almost as great as the differences among women married to pastors. Mary Miller-Vikander, Mary Sue Gast, Maribeth Blackman-Sexton, and Anne Rosser speak very directly to this subject for the benefit of those who want to pursue it.
A point that seldom is raised, but is extremely significant, is that many of the women in the pastorale are pursuing a second (or third) career. Many of them bring a wide array of experiences with them when they move into their first pastorale. Dorothy Fowler and Carolyn Jones explain how their experiences in other professions have been a very useful asset for the pastoral ministry. Three-quarters of the writers represented in this volume are in their second or subsequent careers. This list includes Fowler, Throckmorton, Rosser, Matthews, Jones, Jurgensen, and Jackson. They also represent a growing movement in society in general as well as among the people, both male and female, who are entering theological seminaries.
As was pointed out earlier, approximately fifteen percent of the women in the pastorale are in a co-pastorale with their husbands. Two of these experiences are represented by Anne Rosser and Mary Sue Gast.
Five of the eleven contributors to this volume also have served or are serving as associate ministers in a multiple staff arrangement. Jones and Miller-Vikander are now serving in that role.
In one way and another all of the eleven contributors to this volume have been pioneers. Each has been "the first" in her present situation. Carolyn Jones identifies some of the feelings and other experiences that are a part of being first.
One of the questions that does come up frequently (but some people are hesitant to raise it openly), is the issue of divorce. The latest projections from the United States Bureau of the Census suggest that forty percent of the married women born during the decade of the 1940s will be divorced at least once during their lifetime. Women going into the ministry are not an exception to that phenomenon. While precise figures are not available, estimates suggest that one third of the married women in the pastoral ministry have been divorced. One third of the women contributing chapters to this volume have been divorced. Is this a handicap?
Several males with responsibilities for ministerial placement have observed that a disproportionately large number of the most effective women in the pastorale (a) are mothers, and (b) have been divorced or widowed. Certainly neither is a requirement for a woman to be an effective pastor, but apparently neither is the handicap that some assumed it would be.
How do the laity respond to a woman? Here are two of the responses from the laity in the churches served by the women represented in this volume.
"Your spiritual guidance and style as pastor has been one that has helped us to mature in our faith and ministry. You have been gentle when gentleness was required, firm when firmness needed, and always consistent in your relentless quest to move us toward the fulfillment of our potential."
"When Jane came to us five years ago, our church was 'dying.' I don't believe any of our members really believed we could keep the doors open another year. She brought new life into a small congregation of elderly people."
These are representative of the scores of comments that have been received from lay people as they reflect on their experiences with their first woman pastor.
There are many threads that run through the chapters in this work. These include the experience of being the first woman pastor, the reflections on the structural sexism in the institutional expression of Christianity, and the sense of being on a pilgrimage.
The most impressive common thread, however, is the repeated references to the women's conviction of a call to the ordained ministry. These women express very clearly their Christian convictions, their sense of a call, and their commitment to ministry. Those are the criteria that should dominate any discussion about who our next pastor should be. This book offers brief glimpses into the life and vocational response of eleven women who have heard God's call and have responded. That is the central thread that ties all these chapters together. That call also should be the basic criterion whenever the discussion turns to the qualifications of our "new minister." Yes, women are called by God to the pastoral ministry! Finally, one cannot help but ask what kinds of responses a book such as this will evoke. The first response we hope to arouse is an increased openness among the laity and the clergy to the idea that women both are called by God to the parish ministry, and, as a group, are at least as effective as men in that vocation. Second, we hope to affirm and reinforce the call of women in seminary to the pastoral ministry. Third, we believe this volume can be both informative and freeing to those laywomen, including many mature women contemplating a second career, that a genuine call to the ministry is not only a possibility, but also could be a very fulfilling and satisfying vocation. Fourth, we expect that many women now in the pastorale will find this to be a means of sharing in the experiences of their sisters. Finally, we know we will provoke letters and telephone calls from those who are convinced women should remain in the place they believe God made for them as second-class citizens in a world that was intended to be dominated by men. These letters and telephone calls simply prove that every change worth making carries a price tag.
Copyright © 1982 by Abingdon Press