I am a woman priest, 28 years post ordination. I have more than 20 years of parish experience, mostly serving small, struggling parishes that have been victims of clergy misconduct. I have a PhD in Practical Theology, with a concentration in Spirituality. I have 4 books published. In addition, I am a spiritual director, have worked as a congregational consultant, and long-time trainer in the Education for Ministry program. In a church in which there is a trumpeted scarcity of priests, more experience should stand me in good stead, but actually I cannot find a permanent position.
Lest you think that I am somehow the problem: let me assure you that every time I have mentioned this publicly, I have had other experienced women priests come to me, usually privately, to admit they are the same situation. I know scores of experienced women priests who have left employment in the Episcopal Church for that very reason. Experience and age are major handicaps in women being called to any position in the Episcopal Church in any part of the church. I can testify to that as I have applied for all kinds of positions across the church.
Last spring, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry visited our diocese and came to our clergy conference. During an open question and answer session with him, I told him of my experience and that of many other women. I mentioned that I had been in a search that had been terminated because allegations were made against one of the favored candidates, and rather than deal with the problem, those in charge decided to cast aspersions on the lack of qualifications of all the candidates and cancel the search to protect the accused person. I asked him what hope he, as Presiding Bishop, could give to me and other women who had given our lives to this ministry and could not find jobs. There was a long silence, before he responded, and his response was to tell us to endure our oppressions as did his slave ancestors, as well as an aunt who nobody appreciated, believing that some time, after our death, the church will realize our worth.
I cannot tell you how many women clergy approached me after that session to share their stories and to indignantly proclaim that he did not answer my question. Unfortunately, he did answer it: there is no hope in the Episcopal Church at the present. Experienced women clergy need not apply.
The Rev. Dr. Tara K. Soughers
Interim, Church of Our Saviour, Somerset, MA