By Jessica Brodie
God’s call is a tremendous influence on our lives. His call led Moses into the wilderness, led Jonah from the belly of a whale back to Nineveh, led three magi—after seeing the baby Jesus—to go home by another route and not to report back to King Herod.
It was His call I answered when, nearly six years ago, I found myself applying for a position as editor of the Advocate and moving my children, ages 2 and 4, to a brand-new state and a bold new world.
It is God’s call that leads thousands into a life as clergy, that leads people to mission work and foster care and homeless ministries and more—“Here am I, Lord. Send me.”
One of the things I like best about The United Methodist Church is its emphasis on heeding God’s call when it comes to who’s in the pulpit. Some denominations ban women from the pulpit, but our denomination recognizes wisely that when it comes to who gets to preach the word of God, the right choice is whomever God commands.
But a new study of Duke University’s National Congregations Study has found that women serve as senior or solo pastoral leaders of just 11 percent of U.S. congregations. In a United Methodist News Service article by Heather Hahn, “How Thick is the Stained-Glass Ceiling,” Hahn details the latest analysis by Mark Chaves, professor of sociology, religious studies and divinity at United Methodist-related Duke University and Duke Divinity School.
“A woman’s place can be behind the wheel of racecars, at the front of corporate boardrooms and along the U.S. presidential campaign trail. But for many U.S. congregations, a woman still has no place in the pulpit,” Hahn’s article begins, noting that women hold only a small minority of faith communities’ top leadership positions. And of women-led faith communities, these contain only about 6 percent of the people who attend the nation’s religious services.
“When I first saw this result, I thought it had to be wrong. But it’s accurate. The ‘stained-glass ceiling’ is real,” Hahn quotes Chaves as stating.
The UMC, Hahn reports, has seen its ranks of clergywomen grow: 27 percent of the denomination’s 54,262 active and retired clergy in 2014 were women, more than double the 11 percent of women clergy the denomination had in 1992. But that number has now stalled, Hahn wrote.
“Of The United Methodist Church’s 66 active bishops, 13 are women. Female senior pastors also remain rare. Of the 100 largest United Methodist congregations in the U.S., only one—Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco—is led by a woman,” the article reports.
Why is this? Is it because women truly are not hearing God’s call on their lives to become clergy—or because the multitude of society’s voices is drowning out the sound of that call? Is it because so many obstacles, from lack of childcare to adequate funding to proper mentoring, stand in the way?
Let’s make 2016 the year when we smooth out the path for women everywhere to be in a better position to answer God’s call, whether it is in the pulpit or wherever else He is steering us.