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Women clergy: Always an associate?

Women clergy: Always an associate?

The Young Clergy Women Project, Fidelia, discusses the costs and promises of being an associate:

A part of me hates that men with whom I went to seminary are now established rectors well on their way to “big steeple” churches. I see so many of my women friends dropping to part time, or dropping out altogether, and I worry that somehow we are missing our turn on an ecclesiastical conveyor belt that won’t wait for us. Even the most powerful, dynamic women rectors in my Diocese tend to be rectors of small parishes. I haven’t been trained to be a rector of a small parish. All my expertise is geared towards how large, multi-staff parishes function. Will anyone hire me as a rector if I have a dozen years an associate under my belt, but not one as a rector?

Secondly, during my national job search, I was disheartened to find that as an associate I made much more than many small churches were offering. I had to lower my asking salary by a third just to be considered for these positions. I had listed my diocesan minimum on my application, and it was sobering to realize how many churches struggle to pay their rectors. Larger churches can often pay even an associate well. Am I willing to sacrifice income in order to be a rector?

All of this ignores the more spiritual questions of call, of course. I feel very much at home in my current congregation and absolutely believe God meant me to be here. I trust that God will continue to lead my discernment, but an uneasiness remains.

How about you? Are you an associate? What are your joys and struggles?

Read more here.


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Donna McNiel

I agree with you Br. Tom and I do think our expectations as clergy need to change.

HOWEVER, the OP was raising the issue of gender in this setting. The evidence suggests that women, on the whole, will have to make this shift more quickly than men, who are more likely to find positions in the old model. The need for a new model doesn’t eliminate the need to address sexism in the Church.

Brother Tom

It concerns me that this discussion seems to accept the unspoken proposition that full-time clergy who are entirely supported by the parishes they serve is the only/standard/best model for ministry.

Is it just possible that the model itself is the problem? That paying clergy salaries, instead of letting them support themselves as Peter and Paul did, may perhaps no longer be a sustainable model? That the problem described here (stained-glass ceiling and falling salaries) makes assumptions that need to be changed fundamentally?

I do see that seminaries, rather than going broke and closing, are finding that online training for locally-ordained clergy is offering them a reason to exist for the future.

I think that JC Fisher is right – change WILL come, and is already arriving in more and more places. However, a cadre of clergy who are well-prepared for their ministries, and also well-prepared to support themselves without relying on the parish to provide salary, housing, and benefits, may be what we need now.

[Brother Tom – please sign your full name when posting– thanks, editor]

Eric Bonetti

LaRae’s comments underscore a larger issue with churches generally, which is that they often are not good at hiring and HR. How often, for example, do search committees recommend a young priest, in the hopes that they will bring energy to a parish, yet fail to ask if the priest is proficient in social media? How often do we ignore performance management issues, instead hoping that somehow they magically will fix themselves? And how often do we make hiring decisions based on a “finger to the wind?”

I also am concerned at our propensity to fail to pay a living wage. Yes, in some cases a parish simply cannot afford to do more, but I too often see cases in which money flies in all directions, without considering the welfare of staff and clergy.

Eric Bonetti


I have been an interim rector for nearly 20 years and I have served large and small parishes (17 if we are counting). I’ve been loved, hated and respected in all of those places most of which have wanted to call me as their rector–but I have refused. I have felt called to other places, but the other places just don’t see women in the Rector’s chair or as Bishop either. What I have done for the church is give them a vision for women as rectors of their large parish. Over half have called a woman rector during my time with them. The new trend in the church is to call very young, inexperienced male rectors to large churches with the hope if energizing and renewing the parish. I don’t see the young women being considered in the same way.

LaRae Jordan

Mary Anne Chesarek

I am a lay person, so I can’t speak to the reality of the stained glass ceiling. If the author wants a “big steeple” church position, I hope she finds it. However, with median average Sunday attendance at 65, more and more new seminary graduates may have to serve yoked or cluster parishes or stay in an associate’s position at a large parish. Surely it should not come as a surprise that “many churches struggle to pay their rectors.”

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