Our Vision

Make the Vision Plain! Habakkuk 2:1-3

by Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton

“We’ve already done that,” people often say when I mention that I’m working on equity for clergywomen. “We’ve been ordaining women for decades, and women almost equal the number of men enrolled in seminaries and theology schools.” Although it is true that many denominations have been ordaining women since the 1950s and 60s and that the number of women in theological education has increased to almost 40%, only about 10% of pastors of all Protestant churches are women. The percentage of women of color who find places to fulfill their call to pastor is much lower. In many denominations the percentage of women pastors of all ethnicities is lower than 1%. The average compensation of female pastors is much lower than that of male pastors, although clergywomen are more likely to have seminary degrees.

The ecumenical, multicultural Equity for Women in the Church Community, birthed by the Alliance of Baptists, intends to change these inequities. We intend to tap all this unused talent and training of culturally diverse women ministers. The stated purpose of this Community is to advocate and network for clergywomen across denominations and cultures to facilitate access and congregational receptivity so that they have opportunities to fulfill their call. Our big vision is to facilitate equal representation of clergywomen as pastors of multicultural churches in order to transform church and society.

Working to make this vision a reality, the Equity Community held a strategy meeting at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, October 25-26. Clergypersons, denominational leaders, and seminary/divinity school leaders across the country from various races, genders, occupations, and 10 denominations participated in this Access and Equity for Women Clergy Strategy Conference.

Participants worked together to accomplish the goals of this historic meeting:

(1)  Assess the progress of women clergy in gaining acceptance in the profession;

(2)   Review issues hindering job placement and career advancement of clergywomen;

(3)  Propose strategies to ensure fuller access for women to more senior leadership roles in congregational ministry;

(4)  Address the interlocking injustices of sexism, racism, and classism that impede women’s career advancement.

Conference participants formed 5 activist groups to implement the proposed strategies to increase access and equity for clergywomen:

(1)  Resource development to support women pastors;

(2)   Biblical scholarship supporting women pastors;

(3)  Creation and support of new models of faith communities for women to pastor;

(4)  National forum for clergywomen for networking, support, strategy, and mentoring;

(5)  Think tank for examination of power issues                    underlying barriers for clergywomen, looking especially at the intersection of race, gender, and class.

Christine Smith, a member of the Resource Development Activist Group, expresses her enthusiasm for this work: “I am excited about our plans to ‘make the case’ for salary support for female clergy senior/solo pastors. Statistics show that only approximately 10% of all Protestant churches call females to serve as their senior/solo pastor. The churches that do call them are predominantly elderly, economically strapped and on the verge of closure. Women serving these congregations rarely earn a living wage. Although efforts are being made to increase opportunities for women clergy to gain acceptance into more stable congregations, the process for that endeavor is a long-term project. Our team hopes to cultivate resources in the short term through major grants to provide matching funds for churches that call women to serve as their senior/solo pastor.”

As you can see, this gathering was historic not only in the accomplishment of big goals, but also in the exuberant, hopeful, open spirit of all the participants. The gathering engaged hearts as well as minds. The gathering was inspiring beyond my highest expectations! The participants not only brought amazing gifts and experience, but also deep passion and commitment for the work. Cheryl Dudley did an outstanding job of facilitating so that every voice was heard, respected, and valued. She set the atmosphere through a Power of Circle exercise that evoked honest sharing of feelings about being included, being excluded, and being included in a group but still isolated and marginalized.

Marvin McMickle, Virginia Marie Rincon, Isabel Docampo, and Cari Willis inspired and empowered us through their worship leadership, and Molly Marshall (who could not attend) challenged and encouraged us through a video. “The spirit was indescribable…it is so hard to find adequate words to describe the spirit,” conference co-chair Sheila Sholes-Ross says. “There was energy, love, and covenant commitment proclaimed by participants. Even during the challenging aspects of discussion, love and commitment were evident. Facilitator Cheryl Dudley kept us on point and the charge we received from Marvin, Isabel and Molly invoked more energy into an already energized group of activists.”

Virginia Marie Rincon expresses gratitude to all the conference participants: “I continue to be moved, energized and full of ‘awakenings in my heart,’ from our time together. I want to thank all of you for being there with truth, spirit and Sophia wisdom; with Holy Spirit wisdom! I can’t thank you enough for the healing, the liberating moments and my new sense of hope. I realize that the work has just begun but I feel confident that these groups of strong and justice-oriented women and men will follow through.”

Judith Liro, another conference participant, also expresses gratitude for the experience: “I want to thank each one of you who participated in this enlivening, hope-filled experience and beginning of our work together. I am in awe of the talents and gifts and humanity present. I feel so blessed to be a part of this important work and amazed at what Christ-Sophia might be up to here.”

Participants left with renewed energy and greater passion for making reality the big vision of equal representation of clergywomen in multicultural churches in order to transform church and society. Since recent religious history shows that 2 or 3 committed people meeting and planning can take over a denomination and move it backwards to exclude women called to ministry, surely 30 committed people meeting and planning can move denominations forward to open doors for women called to pastor churches. These Equity for Women in the Church Activists intend to do just that!

 


MAKE THE VISION PLAIN: EQUITY AND ACCESS FOR WOMEN CLERGY CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS

by Rev. Christine A. Smith

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.[a]
The LORD’s Answer
2 Then the LORD replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald[b] may run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it[c] will certainly come
and will not delay.

Habakkuk 2:1-3


October 25-26, 2013 history was made as leaders from approximately 10 Christian denominations came together at Wake Forest University School of Divinity to plan strategies for increasing equity and access for women clergy, spearheaded by Rev. Sheila Sholes Ross and Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge Clanton, (Conference Co-Chairs).

Conference Purpose Statement: To advocate and network for clergywomen across denominations and cultures to facilitate access and congregational receptivity so that they find clergy positions in order to transform church and society.

Vision Statement: To facilitate equal representation of clergywomen as pastors of multicultural churches.

The goals of this historic meeting were to:

(1) Assess the progress of women clergy in gaining acceptance in the profession.
(2) Review issues hindering job placement and career advancement of clergywomen.
(3) Propose strategies to ensure fuller access for women to more senior leadership roles in congregational ministry.
(4) Address the interlocking injustices of sexism and racism that impede women’s career advancement.

Jann and Sheila hope that “after the Conference, participants will serve as an activist group with the Equity for Women in the Church Community to implement recommended actions to be taken in denominational organizations, local congregations, and academic institutions.”

The conference opened with a moving challenge message from Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, President Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. Using Isaiah 58 as a basis for his message, Dr. McMickle, quoting another source declared that

“Inequities exist because (1) We allow it (2)We condone it because of our silence and (3) We treat as second class those who are not like us.” He further stated, “You cannot use the same Bible to decry racism but oppress women.”

He passionately testified that his first pastor as a child was a woman, Rev. Dr. Mary G. Evans, Senior Pastor of Cosmopolitan Community Church in Chicago.

Our main facilitator, Rev. Cheryl Dudely, Global Religious Director (Arcus Foundation) led us in a thought provoking exercise called the “power circle.” Current senior/solo pastors, organizational heads and presidents were asked to come forward and form a circle on the stage. We were instructed to link arms so that no one could get into our circle. She then invited a few others to come and try to get into the circle. Members of the audience were instructed to remain silent and only to observe. Interesting things occurred… A few “weak links” let some in. Some went underneath to squeeze in, some pushed their way in and some remained outside. The audience was asked to reflect upon what they saw happening. Although we laughed about the experience, several major insights emerged.

Although one or two were easily “let in” they stood isolated in the middle of the circle – in, but not “apart.” One participant who pushed her way in talked about how she felt physical pain in the process. Another talked about the need to gain entrance by any means necessary. All of these observations reflect the reality women in ministry face as they seek to gain access to some very tightly guarded “circles.”

Rev. Dr. Isabel Docampo, Professor of Supervised Ministry, Perkins School of Theology shared a moving reflection, challenging us to see the movement of God through various models of ministry and diversity. She cautioned us not to embrace a spirit of “It is what it is…,” but to believe God for new possibilities, big dreams and seemingly impossible realities.

We also broke off into small groups to consider the following…

Small Group Facilitators:

Rev. Dr. Isabel Docampo
Rev. Christine Smith
Rev. Dr. Mitzi Ellington
Rev. Dr. Christine Wiley
Dr. Christopher Hutson

Questions for Facilitators to Use in Small Groups

(prior to conference, groups were organized to reflect diversity of race, gender, and denomination) Cheryl Dudley set the background for this time with the Ruth and Naomi story.

1. Reflect on a time you had an ally of another ethnicity, gender, and/or generation. How did you work together to accomplish goals? What went well and how did you do this work?

2. How might this experience encourage solidarity among cultures in working for increased opportunities for clergywomen?

3. What are incentives for reaching across cultures in our work for clergywomen?

4. How do we avoid transactional encounters where one group feels it's being used by the other?

5. What are moral challenges when we decide to take stands not popular in our affinity groups?

Afternoon Small Groups…

1. How do we see the intersection of gender and race creating challenges for clergywomen in finding pastorates?

2. How can we work ecumenically and cross-culturally to accomplish our goals for clergywomen?

3. What local and national initiatives can we engage in together? Identify at least 5 local and 5 national initiatives.

We reassembled to discuss emergent ideas from each group. The following groups were birthed from our discussions…

Five activist groups: (1) resource development; (2) biblical scholarship supporting women pastors; (3) creation and support of new models of faith communities; (4) a national forum for clergywomen for networking, support, strategy, and mentoring; (5) a think tank for examination of power issues underlying barriers for clergywomen, looking especially at the intersection of race, gender, and class.

There’s so much to share about this phenomenal strategic planning conference! Stay tuned for additional highlights and progress on the work!