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Women's Path into Ministry: Six Major Studies

by Edward C. Lehman, Jr.

In a review of six major studies on clergywomen, Edward Lehman argues
that women's ordination is one of the most significant recent developments
in American religion, fostering change in churchgoers' attitudes toward
women in leadership and expanding the concept of ministry beyond the local
congregation. Drawing upon research conducted between 1982 and 1998, Lehman
sketches the broad outlines of a woman's "career path" into
ministry, from seminary and ordination through parish placement, and examines
such factors as collegiality, ministry style, and the influence of female
pastoral leadership on congregants, denominations, and culture.

Chapter 1, "Studies of Women in Ministry," identifies and briefly
summarizes the six studies, which are the primary source of current knowledge
about women clergy and their experiences in the American church. In addition,
Lehman offers a short overview of the women-in-ministry movement, along
with some current statistics on the status of clergywomen.

Chapter 2, "Seminary and Ordination," finds that the available
research presents a relatively coherent, and even optimistic, situation:
women have successfully navigated seminary education, and, at the same
time, have introduced many changes in theological education. Despite female
success in seminary, however, some denominations still resist or refuse
to accept women as pastoral leaders. The major factor distinguishing various
churches' acceptance or rejection of women's ordination appears to be
their response to modern secular humanism and its emphasis on the intrinsic
value of the individual, whether male or female.

Chapter 3, "The Placement Process," offers a detailed and often
bleak assessment of clergywomen's continuing struggle to find positions.
Research shows that it takes women longer to find a job, and that men
still command higher salaries than women. In addition, women are rarely
offered "high steeple" churches, serve as assistants longer,
receive fewer benefits, and rarely rise to executive levels. Consistently
more men than women are placed in jobs that offer more prestige, autonomy,
and remuneration.

Chapter 4, "Getting Along on the Job," demonstrates that women
experience more role strain than do men and continue to struggle against
negative attitudes from laity regarding their call. Surprisingly, clergywomen
report general satisfaction with and support from their male peers and
denominational executives. Since, however, clergywomen have greater daily
contact with resistant church members than with supportive colleagues,
they are apt to feel more discouraged and embattled in ministry than are
male clergy. Lehman calls upon male clergy and denominational administrators
to do a better job of educating lay church members and validating clergywomen's
call to ministry.

Chapter 5, "Differences in Ministry Style," assesses research
on a controversial question: whether distinctive masculine and feminine
styles of ministry exist. Lehman's survey suggests that the data gives
"a split verdict" on the issue and no "simplistic answer"
can be offered to the question of sex difference in pastoral ministry.
In general, some evidence exists to suggest that some men and women conduct
ministry differently in terms of power, ethics, and decision making. But
no evidence has been found to support the existence of gender differences
in terms of authority, status, preaching, interpersonal style, and dealing
with social issues.

Chapter 6, "The Impact of Clergy Women," presents Lehman's conclusions,
a discussion of "setbacks and backlash," and an overview of
"possible futures" for both clergywomen and the denominations
they serve. Lehman contends that the position of those who discriminate
against women in the church is incompatible with core Judeo-Christian
values of justice, freedom, and other-centered love. Ironically, secular
institutions such as politics, industry, business, law, education, and
sports, are doing a better job of applying those values than are churches
that subordinate women as a matter of policy. As more church members recognize
that discrepancy between Christian values and exclusionary policies, church
structures will continue to open up to women, Lehman predicts, though
that may take a generation or even a century to occur.

Lehman's report also includes four responses from clergy.

The Rev. J. Elise Brown, a Lutheran pastor in New York, focuses on (1)
the distinction between personal failures and systemic roadblocks and
how to help women clergy distinguish between the two (2) the need to train
the laity to respond to women clergy theologically, emotionally and practically,
and (3) the need to rethink assumptions that equate a large church with
a successful pastorate.

The Rev. Dr. Mary Jane Hitt, a Presbyterian pastor in Pennsylvania, argues
the church should not ground the debate over gender equity in terms of
the larger secular society. Instead, the church should reexamine and rethink
the whole notion of successful ministry by drawing upon the uniquely Christian
gospel of "a world turned upside down by Jesus Christ."

The Rev. Charlene Kammerer, Bishop of the Western North Carolina Conference
of the United Methodist Church, points out among other things the need
for women clergy to stay connected with one another in order to serve
effectively in ministry. She notes that once unimaginable changes have
occurred, but that important challenges continue, particularly in breaking
through the glass ceiling that blocks women's elevation to senior pastor
positions.

Rev. Dr. C. Jeff Woods, a judicatory executive with the American Baptist
Churches of Ohio, praises Lehman's review for providing a comprehensible
framework for understanding the status of clergywomen in America and offers
comments, critiques and suggestions in five areas: calling, justice, pastoral
care, and the future of clergy women.

Pastor Speaking to Ladies
African - American Male Speaker