Numbers of Women Clergy Increasing Dramatically

Women, who have long supported and strengthened the mission of The United Methodist Church, are stepping into the pulpit in ever greater numbers. The number of clergywomen who serve the church has seen a dramatic increase at every level, from local pastors to bishops. As of December 2006, nearly 10,000 United Methodist clergywomen made up about 27 percent of the church’s total active clergy. That is up from just 15.8 percent in 1995.

Clergywomen represent 21.5 percent of more than 26,000 pastors-in-charge, but only about 1 percent of senior clergy in churches with 1,000-plus members are women, compared to 6 percent for men. About 15 percent of female elders are district superintendents, and more than 1,000 are racial-ethnic. The UMC was the first mainline Christian denomination to have a woman bishop, and in total, has elected 21 women bishops, 16 of whom are active.

According to the Association of Theological Schools’ 2002-2003 Fact Book on Theological Education, the number of women seeking seminary degrees more than tripled between 2002 and 2003, from about 10,000 to almost 32,000 (31 percent of all students). In 1995, the total was only 7,602. In the 13 United Methodist theological schools, women enrolled in master’s programs in fall 2002 totaled 1,442 (52 percent), compared to 1,270 men (48 percent).

History

Clergywomen in The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies have a rich history, dating from John Wesley’s mid-eighteenth century pronouncement of women’s call to preach as “extraordinary.”

In 1847, the United Brethren Church commended the first woman to preach, approving licensing and ordaining women, and granting conference membership in 1889.

The Methodist Protestant Church ordained its first woman deacon in 1866, and its first elder in 1875, although Anna Howard Shaw, ordained an elder in 1880, is perhaps the most well-known.

In 1920 the Methodist Episcopal Church granted women the right to preach, and, in 1924, decided to ordain women as local deacons and local elders.

The 1956 General Conference of the Methodist Church’s approved full clergy rights for women, commemorated in 2006 by The United Methodist Church’s year-long celebration of the fiftieth anniversary.

Firsts for United Methodist Clergywomen

  • Maude Jensen became the first woman full member of an annual conference soon after the 1956 General Conference;
  • Sallie Crenshaw became the first African-American woman to be ordained in The Methodist Church in 1958;
  • Margaret Henrichsen was the first woman district superintendent, appointed in 1967;
  • Marjorie Swank Matthews was elected the first woman bishop in 1980;
  • Leontine T.C. Kelly was the first African-American woman bishop, elected in 1984;
  • Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher was the first woman president of the Council of Bishops, serving one year beginning May 2002;
  • Rosemarie Wenner was elected bishop for the Germany Episcopal Area in 2005, becoming the first woman bishop to serve outside the United States.

The Rev. Roslyn Lee and her son, Joel, 4. Lee serves Dix Hills United Methodist Church in the New York Annual (regional) Conference. Photo by Won Tack Lee.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: A second-generation Korean American, I was born Aug. 15, 1982, in Flushing, N.Y. I grew up aware of the cultural differences around me. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, we moved to the New York suburbs. A teacher told me I had three things against me: 1. I was a girl. 2. I was an Asian girl. 3. I was an Asian girl in a white man’s world.

But even at that young age, I was quite proud of my Korean heritage and culture. Luckily, other teachers, role models and mentors encouraged and supported me and, most of all, gave me an opportunity to define and embrace myself.

I believe this still to be true. I’ve been told that I have an attitude that challenges the status quo. Why accept what is without trying out what could be? Why go with what people determine for you when you can create and live up to your own expectations? God calls us to live each day as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I choose to live as if I know what it means to be a beloved child of God. 

I didn’t always know this. I heard the call to ministry while in high school. I prayed and questioned what that could mean. My parents prayed with me and suggested I speak with the pastor of the church I then attended. I was told that ministry was for the ordained and ordination was for men. Then I was told I could not be a pastor’s wife, as I did not have the personality of a pastor’s wife. Apparently, there was a mold to fit into and I did not fit into too many molds!

Much of this understanding changed as I met and married my husband, Won Tack Lee. He began his seminary education at Drew University, The Theological School. I became a seminarian spouse, only a step away from being a pastor’s wife. Three female deans at Drew, where I received my bachelor’s degree, challenged my longtime understanding of an individual called to ministry. They were all called by God, and they didn’t fit into a one-size-fits-all model of a godly woman! 

Long story short, I found myself in seminary just after my husband graduated. I began exploring and discerning my call when I was three months postpartum with our son, Joel Lee, who will be 4 in April. (Our daughter, Sophiel Lee, is 9 months old.) I received my M. Div. from Drew in May 2012. My seminary education at Drew was life-changing as I met some amazing, God-loving people who not only sought justice, but lived justice. 

Q: In what church did you grow up and with what local church are you now affiliated? Are you lay or clergy?

A: I grew up in the Hyo Shin Bible Presbyterian Church. I often joke that I married into Methodism, but the reality is The United Methodist Church welcomed me and helped me to live into my call. I serve as a licensed local pastor at the Dix Hills United Methodist Church in the New York Annual (regional) Conference. I am pursing ordination as an elder. 

Q: What are your gifts and how do you share them with the church?

A: My gifts are in creative worship, bridging gaps and delegation. I understand the value and importance of being in ministry together. Having experienced cultural dualism, I strive to create an open and encouraging space for all God’s people. Once we step back from the dualism, we experience freedom in the wonder of God and how God continues to lead us.

Further, I understand that both lay and ordained ministries are critical in the life of the church. It is important to find places for all to serve. As the body of Christ, we all have a place at the table.

Q: How do you nurture others, especially girls and women, through the church and in other aspects of your life?

A: At Drew, I taught English to the spouses of international students. Most of the spouses were women. I am a firm believer that language is power. It was a way for me to encourage and enable the women to find the words and voice to claim the most basic information. I had the great honor of being present for the birth of several babies as I translated and provided support for some of the women during delivery.

I have been able to share my experiences to encourage, listen to and mentor girls in their struggle with identity. One particular way that I have nurtured women is through Bible study. Women are often thought of as gossipy. In our study group, we reclaimed the gossiping and looked at how gossip is a form of storytelling. We wrote narratives to claim who we were, are and desire to become. We built our storytelling into a history of where we came from and who God calls us to be. We learned from one another, breaking down the stereotypes and prejudices that often stand in our way of living into being disciples of Christ.

Q: Why is Women’s History Month important to you?

A: Women’s History Month encourages me as I stand on the shoulders of the amazing women who came before me. I am, in the same breath, reminded of the work that remains for us to carry on for a brighter future for our daughters and our granddaughters. I can’t possibly know who I am if I don’t know where and who I come from. As a Korean American, I need to know my heritage and culture. Likewise, as a woman, I need to know where women have been and where we strive to go.

Women’s History Month is not only about history. It is also about me and my identity and how I claim my identity. I am ready and willing to work for justice and to “pay” the cost for others to claim their identities.

This interview was conducted by Barbara Dunlap-Berg, internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Contact Dunlap-Berg at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

UMC Clergywomen Still Face Many Challenges

The United Methodist Church grants women equal access to God’s call to full-time ministry and is committed to inclusiveness and increasingly diverse theological perspectives. According to the Rev. HiRho Park, director of continuing formation for ministry at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the church’s itinerancy appointment system “gives congregations the opportunity to experience female clergy leadership.”

Even with positive track records as congregational leaders, and the opportunity for continuous education without gender discrimination, clergywomen still face challenges.

A clergywomen’s role in the church is often marked by overload, confused perceptions, and unrealistic expectations, Park says. Many experience discouragement from other clergy in their home church and are hampered by the overriding male paradigm of ministry leadership. “Although the appointment system may lessen initial resistance, a local congregation may still fear church tension, decreased membership, and conflict,” Park says.

Only about 1 percent of female clergy serve congregations of more than 1,000 members.

A United Methodist Women Lead Pastors Project, being conducted by Park’s office, is examining ways to address this phenomenon.

The project will:

  • establish an online learning, continuing education, and support network for female lead pastors in large-membership churches;
  • research their leadership styles;
  • facilitate a mentoring program between lead women pastors and women who are potentially lead pastors by communicating with bishops and cabinet;
  • open wider discussion around findings from the project.

The United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study conducted by the Anna Howard Shaw Center at Boston University School of Theology in 2000, showed that nearly one-third of United Methodist clergywomen in full connection were not serving local churches and were leaving local church ministry at a 10 percent higher rate than male clergy. Of the participants in the study, 25 percent said they were leaving “to look for another type of ministry” within religious organizations. Many planned to serve as hospital chaplains, campus ministers, or in other extension ministries.

Racial-ethnic clergywomen face additional challenges. The retention study showed that when racial-ethnic women leave local church ministry, their exit is often permanent. A 2004 study,  CW_RACIALETHNICSTUDY2004.PDF, examined issues of lower- to mid-level appointments and limited upward career mobility, with lower salary and job insecurity, regardless of the changes of social perception of women in ministry.

Park says the increasing number of clergy couples has also become an issue for clergywomen, who often receive less desirable appointments than their clergy spouses. Others are forced to leave parish ministry to keep their families together in the same geographical areas.

Need More Information?

Connect with us via email or phone for any questions or concerns you might have. A full listing of staff is also available.

English French German Korean Portuguese Russian Spanish Swahili