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Shattering the stained glass ceiling

Gender gap still prevails in the PC(USA)

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

ST. LOUIS – Participants attending the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2017 Big Tent event “What if the Women Left? Shattering and Reframing the Stained Glass Ceiling” waited expectantly to hear what presenters had to say about gender discrimination within the denomination.

The Big Tent workshop and panel discussion started with an invitation for the audience to participate in a brief survey to learn if the women in the room had firsthand knowledge of any of the same experiences the denomination’s gender and leadership study exposed.

The findings of the PC(USA) study on Gender and Leadership were originally released in 2016. Women and men of all ages and roles in the church participated in the survey. Female and male deacons, elders, pastors and volunteers were surveyed. The goal was to include every position of the church. However, it was determined that the study did not provide data to ascertain how these issues impacted women of color. And, while the denomination began ordaining women as Ministers of Word and Sacrament in 1956, it did not ordain the first African American woman until 1974.

Angie Andriot, research associate for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, pointed out that although women represent a larger percentage of the population of the church they are under represented as ministers. Furthermore, the study highlighted the fact that as many as 84 percent of the female ministers feel they have experienced some form of sexism. Currently in the PC(USA) only 38 percent of women serve as ministers of Word and Sacrament, although they make up nearly 60 percent of the denomination’s membership.

The panel discussion included the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, professor of theology and chair of the Department of Theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky; the Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, author and professor at Earlham School of Religion; and the Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter, director of Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries. Panel participants addressed two questions following the data presentation:

  1. What do you perceive are the challenges clergywomen face when they serve in parish ministry or in academic/theological institutions?

Hinson-Hasty said, “There is a concept I like to think of as the ‘11th commandment’ and the sin of erasure, which says, ‘Thou shall not diminish or erase the fullness of someone else’s humanity. I think of this commandment as embedded in the stories of the Bible; particularly those people who are unnamed, the immigrants and the women.’ If we listen for their stories we can challenge the sin of erasure because God is always present with the most marginalized.”

Hunter said, “We have been holding women’s listening visits across the country, and we found that the number one issue clergywomen have said they face is isolation and loneliness. They also say that they want to connect with women peers. For women of color, though, there are different issues and concerns, so we have reopened the survey to gather more responses from women of color. For African-American women, for example, their number one issue seems to be that they cannot find calls or that they are in their church and cannot find their second call.”

  1. What words of wisdom can you share with women who are seeking to survive and thrive in ministry positions in the church?

Kim said, “Women need to find other women to mentor or find a mentee. … It is particularly important for women of color to embrace one another and develop a community of support and encouragement.”

In response to the question where does the Presbyterian Church go from here, Hunter replied, “We held a women’s theological consultation then we engaged in the research part of the study. We are currently in the phase of sharing the research with the church. And, we plan to work on next steps, answering the question, now that we have this data, what do we do next?”

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To take the survey click here or go to pcusa.org/gendersurvey.


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