Lead Women Pastors Make Recommendations
The Lead Women Pastors’ Project, an effort begun in 2008 that aimed to increase the number of United Methodist clergywomen appointed to large churches, has completed both the research phase and a mentoring program. Those involved in the project are making a number of recommendations to bishops, cabinets, and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
“The Lead Women Pastors Project provided the church and society permission to celebrate and honor women's strong leadership in ordained ministry in tall-steeple churches, which has largely been the domain of male pastors,” said the Rev. HiRho Park, GBHEM’s director of Continuing Formation for Ministry. “The women appointed to lead large churches have in a sense broken through a stained-glass ceiling.” Park said she will be sending the recommendations to the Council of Bishops and the cabinets in early September.
Park said the project offered opportunities for networking and building relationships among lead women pastors and younger generations of clergywomen. “That provided them a breath of fresh air so that more women may rise up boldly as spiritual leaders with hope," she added.
In 2008, when the project began, there were 82 women who were senior pastors of churches with membership of more than 1,000. In 2010, there were 94 women leading large churches.
The project began in 2008 with a survey of women pastors who had already cracked the stained-glass ceiling. That survey found that 9 out of 10 lead women pastors of large membership churches were the first woman to lead that church. The survey of the lead women pastors of churches with more than 1,000 members and 300 randomly-selected male lead pastors of United Methodist churches with more than 1,000 members asked the pastors to answer questions about how they see their own leadership style and how they perceived the different styles of male and female pastors.
After the survey results were analyzed, bishops nominated 25 women with the potential to lead large-membership churches for a coaching program. Each woman was paired with a coach among the current lead women pastors who could help nurture the needed skills for a large-membership church.
Recommendations for follow-up efforts include:
- Requiring that the annual new district superintendent/directors of connectional ministry training include a component to facilitate pastoral appointment transitions involving clergywomen and racial ethnic clergy. That should include intervention for sexism and racism.
- That the district superintendent offer congregations and the Pastor Parish Relations Committee an orientation prior to a clergywoman being appointed to that church for the first time.
- An annual pulpit exchange for all UMC congregations. The exchange would be with a clergyperson of different gender or ethnicity, beginning in 2012.
- Exploration of the possibility of group coaching for clergywomen in general and women pastors of large churches in particular.
- Hold a gathering every other year of lead women pastors and potential lead women pastors.
- Ask GBHEM to produce a resource for the development of clergywomen’s leadership for the large membership churches by 2013.
The Rev. Trudy Robinson, one of the leaders of the project, said the project grew into how women already serving in large churches might resources each other, as well as mentoring others.
“Our time together was holy. It was not just people attending a meeting. Although there were meetings and tasks got done. None of us were going through the motions, checking off a list. All of us had a sense of doing something important, powerful and faithful to our place in God’s church. Our time was holy because there are times when I, and I imagine others, get bogged down in the tiny details of daily life in a large church that I lose sight of the larger activity of God in the world, pushing, coaxing and inviting us into a new and better day. Our meetings reminded us of this continual movement of God and it was holy to behold,” Robinson wrote in a reflection about the project.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.