Huffington Post just released an article that gives a run down of religious denominations that ordain women or invite women to be religious leaders. The yes column is almost double the no column. And yet, they also report:
About 11% of individuals in a 2012 National Congregations Study identified their head clergy member as a woman. It’s a figure that hasn’t changed since 1998.
In other words, the issue for women in ministry is quickly changing from being ordained to finding a position in which they can serve and answer their call. Personally, I know that’s true as I was advised that I would not find a job as a pastor as a woman coming out of seminary, which makes my being able to introduce myself as the pastor of a church unique and elicits comments like, “I love the fact that you are a woman and are the pastor!” I don’t take these sort of comments as insults nor as an invitation to question or challenge the people who make these comments and yet who attend churches that don’t ordain woman or invite them into leadership roles in the church.
Because the only way for that 11% to change the next time that the National Congregations Study is taken is for churches and congregations to decide to call woman pastors. And let me be clear here, considering calling a woman pastor is not the same as calling a woman pastor. I can name way too many woman who have ended up in the final two people for churches again and again and each time were not called because their male counterpart was called. Think about the ramifications of that for these women. Not only is the hurt compounded for each rejection, but by making it to the final two numerous times only to lose out to a candidate of the opposite gender multiples the weight gender plays on finding a position in a church. In these situations, pastor search committees are making the gender issue even more prominent by considering a woman and not calling her again and again. I’m not alone in asking congregation who weren’t ready to call a woman pastor to not even consider women as candidates. The hurt would then come before you knew the person rather than getting to know the person and then her being reduced to her gender.
The issue is not for me as a woman and my call. It’s about congregations stepping into their own call to be who they are called to be. Unfortunately, calling a woman pastor is still considered “brave” and “risky” in 2014. As congregations work out whether they are ready to take on those identities, many, many ordained woman are finding positions outside of the ministry not because they want to, not because they are no longer called by God, but because they have to for the sake of their families.
We don’t live in a world where it is common for households to be able to function with solely one income, nor do we live in a world where seminary students come out of that 90-hour journey debt-free, so for the woman who have made that investment, whose family has sacrificed again and again for 3+ years, they can’t wait for congregations to get ready to be brave and risky by calling a woman. They need to find communities where they can answer their call and begin to give back to the people who have sacrificed so heavily, so that they could answer the call to ministry by attending seminary.
I know that for my congregation at Emmanuel, there was a lot of work done before I was even in Columbia. They were ready to be brave and risky before I even knew about the church. I am extremely thankful that they were brave and risky and had these conversations long before I showed up. They had these conversations because they believed so strongly that God calls men and women to serve and that they believed that who God calls guides and directs who they as a congregation would call, not the other way around. They give me hope.