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Do churches want leadership and ideas from young women?

Do churches want leadership and ideas from young women?

Archive photo from PBS, African-American Women Pastors

Washington Post’s Wonkblog explores a growing disinterest in church attendance among young women. The writer suggests that this is because women have been relegated to support positions, while men have been encouraged to leadership and authority.

From the blog:

The trend is especially pronounced among girls and young women. They are still more likely to say they go to church or pray than boys and young men. But the gender gap in religious participation has in recent years significantly shrunk.

Over the last four decades, the number of 12th-grade girls who reported never attending church has surged 125 percent. The increase among their male peers was 83 percent. In the late 1970s, 12th-grade boys were 50 percent more likely than girls to say they never go to church, Twenge said. By 2010, that difference had dwindled to 22 percent.

The writer relates the experience of Hannah Hunt, who grew up attending a non denominational church in southeastern Indiana. She remembers seeing women in the background throughout her childhood, and her takeaway was that her church only wanted women to provide support, not to lead or direct.

Historically, The Episcopal Church has denied ordination to women; in April, we reported on statements from two of the Philadelphia 11 that said TEC is still a struggle for women. In 2013, we reported on the prevalence of women in associate, not rector, roles.

Do you think it’s getting better in TEC? Would you want to be a part of a church where you had a strong feeling you’d never be welcome in an important role, regardless of your abilities or the need of the church?


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Eric Bonetti

Most parishes want diversity in terms of who fills a particular position. But few parishes welcome true leadership, regardless of the source, the age of the person involved, or the gender. That’s because true leadership often involves making tough decisions, while what the average Episcopal parish wants is to climb the stained glass tower, bar the door, and keep change at bay.

Jerald Liko

There is no doubt in my mind that we suffer from a lack of women in primary leadership roles. Although we are seeing an increase in the number of women in the priesthood, my experience has been that women often serve as assistants at multi-clergy parishes, or as rectors of smaller parishes. The top jobs (speaking in the worldly sense, of course) leading large parishes are still predominantly occupied by men. I believe this problem is also reflected among bishops, where men tend to occupy the role of bishop diocesan and women tend to serve as suffragans or assistants. Not to imply that assistant priests, small-parish rectors, or suffragan bishops do not provide essential leadership, because they do – I simply believe that many of the women in those roles would be a blessing to the church in primary leadership roles.

I believe this problem is one of both supply and demand. On the supply side, women are still a minority of the overall pool of qualified candidates for ministerial jobs. I hope our bishops and commissions on ministry will take an active role in seeking out and nurturing the calls of women candidates – not to the exclusion of men, of course, but making a prayerful and deliberate attempt to open doors that have traditionally been closed and pathways that have traditionally been blocked.

On the demand side, I think there is still a largely innocent tendency for members of a parish search committee to envision a man in a primary leadership role. I believe this is a generational issue that will gradually subside as search committees become more diverse and gender-balanced, and as more members are exposed to the experience of female leadership.

I have recently observed a handful of cases of women who were previously relegated to support roles being called to primary leadership positions, which gives me hope for the future. Still, our progress is slow and painful – how long, O Lord?

Sandra Kirby McLeod

I was ‘called’ to seminary at the ripe age of 62! My priest ‘heard’ my call; the committee from the church, using a Mennonite listening process, ‘heard’ my call; my family heard my call; my friends heard my call; and, finally, my Bishop heard my call! My prayer is that other women will be surrounded by listeners.

Sandra Koenig

This really resonates with me, and I am by no means a young woman. I’m in my sixties, a cradle Episcopalian, and I have always seen women in support positions. It has been rare to see a woman in a real leadership role where she wasn’t immediately supervised and more likely micromanaged by the man who was actually in charge. I have had my ideas twisted by men in leadership in the church to meet their own private agendas. I have been blown off when expressing a calling to the diaconate, and offered no help except to be told I should go to a seminary a thousand miles away. This is TEC as I know it.

Donna Gerold

How about leadership from women. Age is not a qualifer.

Cynthia Katsarelis

The article is a bit convoluted. But I think it is saying that the lack of women leaders of any age is a turn off to young women attending and participating in church. That resonates with me, having grown up in the Greek Orthodox Church. Most of my life as an Episcopalian has been spent in churches with female rectors. In general, I prefer women priests as my pastors and spiritual director for the same reasons I prefer women doctors. But I have met plenty of male priests and doctors who are perfectly fine too. I simply had enough of the all male church growing up.

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