- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Part three of five

And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. Genesis 2:22


NEW YORK — What do women of God want?
Three female students, sitting in the refectory at General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, explain how they felt called to be Episcopal priests.
"I was almost in tears when I first saw a woman celebrate the Eucharist," says Laurie Brock, 31, from Alabama. "It gave me a whole different view of God."
A different view of God that is the stumbling block for proponents and opponents of female preachers some 25 years after women first were ordained as ministers in the nation's Protestant churches.
Opponents such as Baltimore writer Leon J. Podles, author of the book "The Church Impotent," blame the decline of male attendance in mainline churches on "feminized" worship services and female clergy.
"If men see something as feminine," he says, "they'll stay away from it."
In a society where women hold parity with men in education and in many occupations, they make up just 10 percent of the clergy who lead the nation's congregations. Still, women wield great influence in denominational structures, national assemblies and in many theological schools, where they make up a third to half of all students.
In the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, a more liberal and fairly urban church district, women fill 25 percent of the priestly work force 86 of 343 clergy. Twenty-nine of the 96 parishes and missions are led by female pastors.
Why female ministers are so plentiful here is a topic of debate. The Rev. Ted Karpf, until May the clergy development officer for the diocese, says women accept lower salaries.
"I watch 25-year men get passed up five-year-experience women," Mr. Karpf says. "I'm 30 years out of seminary, so I'm too expensive for most churches. It's driven by economics. Parishes in search of clergy will tend to follow their wallets."
The Washington office of the more conservative American Anglican Council (ACC) rejects that explanation.
In an open letter dated March 29, the ACC cites parish testimony that the diocese used "pressure tactics" on the vestries, or governing boards, of five churches to make them accept female or non-celibate homosexual clergy. The diocese did so, the council says, by intimidating male heterosexuals into withdrawing as candidates in the parish search process.
For example, an official at St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Laurel says that after the older, heterosexual male priest preferred by the church mysteriously withdrew his application, the diocese presented the names of two female candidates as the only alternatives. When the church hired the Rev. Elizabeth Carl, who is openly a lesbian, two vestry members quit.

Calling for women
In Washington, at least, women clergy are here to stay. Of the six Episcopal priests-in-training from the diocese who graduated from seminaries this spring, five are women.
"Many young men going through college say they can't afford ," Mr. Karpf says. "For the same level of training, they can be a doctor or go into computers."
Women account for half of the students at General Theological Seminary, in Manhattan's Chelsea district. And with the more aggressive recruitment of seminarians seen in all U.S. theological schools, the Manhattan seminary just welcomed its largest entering class in 15 years.
"The demand for our sharp women is very high," says General's dean, the Very Rev. Ward Ewing. "They can easily get on as an assistant rector of a large congregation. But where do they go from there?"
Though General's female graduates have no problem getting entry-level jobs, it is hard to move up. For female clergy, the market is shaped like a hat: a large plateau of lower-paying jobs with a narrow peak of better-paying positions.
Their supporters worry that this kind of economic "feminization" may swell.
They don't want the call to become one of low wages and no mobility, typical of traditionally female occupations such as nursing, teaching or secretarial work.
Women may hit this "stained-glass ceiling" five years down the career path. Finding they can go only as far as assistant or associate pastor, many turn to seminary professorships, large church staffs or national and diocesan offices.
Women also have begun "reinventing ministry, refusing the old definitions and expectations," says one pioneer, the Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, a United Church of Christ minister who was ordained in 1964.
Her study, "Clergy Women," notes a surge of female seminarians in the 1970s and 1980s who entered the field. Then came a slowdown in recruitment of women and second thoughts by ordained women. Many opted for specialized ministries such as working as hospital chaplains or with unwed mothers or battered women.
Now, more and more women "say they don't want to be head pastor," Mrs. Zikmund says. "But is that because they hit a brick wall or because their innate interest was not on the senior pastorate?"
In her generation, she says, "There was a sense that, 'We're going to go into this church and we're going to change the system.' Some have tried and said it can't be done and gone their own way. Others say there are other important goals besides the top job."

A personal decision
Her words ring true at Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., where 307 of 828 students in the master's of divinity program are women. Several women interviewed there had geared down their desires for a top pulpit job.
"My interest is much more having a focus and working with a smaller group or specialty ministry," says Melissa Keeble, 25, who is sponsored by her First Presbyterian Church of Danville, Calif. "A senior pastor has so much on his or her plate."
Classmate Lisa Huber, an American Baptist from Michigan, says she would love to run a church but will begin as an associate pastor for women's ministry.
"One of my primary gifts is preaching and speaking, so I hope to move into a pastorate," she says.
But Miss Huber lost a boyfriend to follow that call.
"My calling stressed him out," she says. "He just did not think women should be in a place of teaching authority over men. He was a very conservative Christian. So we ended our relationship."
Both Mrs. Keeble and Miss Huber take a New Testament course taught by the Rev. David Scholer that explores the role of women in Jesus' day and during early Christianity. Mr. Scholer argues that culture, not Scripture, puts that stained-glass ceiling over women.
"Women pick up the attitude of the culture," he says. "They probably think, 'Well, I can do better in other forms of ministry. It's better to be chaplain.'"
Those opposed to the ordination of women cite 1 Timothy 2:12, in which the Apostle Paul says: "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."
Scholars have debated for the past century whether that verse should apply only to the first century, when women largely were unlearned and illiterate, or whether it includes the educated women of the 21st century. Since 1982, female college graduates have outnumbered men.
And in the first century, it was assumed women had husbands and were at home taking care of children. Today, 45 percent of all American women are not married.

The nurturing role
Women seeking a leadership position in the church often meet their husbands at seminary and are ordained at the same time. The two then market themselves as a clergy couple.
But the husband and wife on such a team don't always get equal billing, says Kathryn Van Brocklin, 24, a first-year ministry student at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond.
After Mitch and Sue Trigger arrived as husband-wife pastors at her church in upstate New York, the female pastor said she often was referred to only as Mrs. Trigger or "the pastor's wife."
Even supportive churchgoers tend to pigeonhole a female minister. "The woman is given the nuturing role, like Christian education, and the man does administration," Miss Van Brocklin says.
Whatever the role, some enthusiasts for women in ministry say such "feminization" of the church is exactly the point: Women bring a leadership style that is more democratic, more tolerant and less competitive.
Mrs. Zikmund puts it this way: "There's a relational emphasis among women's lives. It's a luxury in a way. You have time for friendships because you are not so goal-oriented."
Some goals may suffer, she says.
"But I think it strengthens ministry. The Christian faith and religious and spiritual issues are often relational, like your relationship with others and with God, the two great commandments."

What women bring
This "relational" leadership quality often is the kind that Episcopal churches search for, says the Rev. Alon White, director of student placement at General Theological Seminary.
The irony, she says, is that churches seek it in a "family man" as pastor.
Such parishes are fairly upfront about wanting to be led only by a married male, preferably one with children. They definitely do not want a single person, even though half of General's seminarians are single, as were Jesus and the Apostle Paul.
However, smaller churches with limited budgets typically will accept a woman as senior pastor, she says.
"For their money, they get women with a degree or commensurate experience, versus a younger man or a harder-to-place man."
General's dean is rankled that more women aren't reaching the big pulpits.
"I don't see feminization as hurting the church," Mr. Ewing says. "I see it as empowering the church, moving us closer to the crucified Lord. I'm close to being a crusader to balance a church that has been masculine for too long. We need a feminine voice."
But many churches aren't rushing to hear that feminine voice.
Besides churches that formally bar women as clergy Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Latter-day Saints, or Mormon other theologically conservative congregations decisively frown on the idea.
Since none of these churches except Roman Catholic is experiencing a clergy shortage, there is little pressure to loosen requirements. Many church leaders echo Mr. Podles' theory: The moment a church allows women into leadership, it ceases to grow.
Realizing this, seminaries such as Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, N.Y., post recruitment ads in the journal Christianity Today that picture only men.

No sellers' market
Just 5 percent of white, conservative churches are led by women, according to the 1998 National Congregations Study of 1,236 houses of worship, conducted by University of Arizona sociologist Mark Chaves and several other researchers.
Female pastors who lead churches showed up even less often 1 percent in historically black denominations. Black churches that are independent of denominational structures, however, are more likely to have female leaders. About one in 10 do.
The highest rate of female ministers occurs in the so-called mainline Protestant denominations.
The United Methodist Church has been preferred by women who want to lead churches, some clergy say, because bishops can appoint women as senior pastors no matter what their congregations want. The church has ordained 5,202 women, by far the largest segment in the mainline.
Within the whole of mainline Protestantism, women lead 21 percent of churches. Nearly half of all women-led congregations are in the West: 20 percent in the Pacific region and 24 percent in the mountain states. The Middle Atlantic hosts 17 percent of congregations headed by women, the Deep South 7 percent.
Women lead only 4 percent of Catholic parishes, the study found. Typically they are nuns or ecclesiastical ministers put in charge because of a shortage of priests.
Women's leadership, moreover, creates more of a female culture on Sunday mornings. For example, the study says, women are senior pastors in 18 percent of all congregations in which at least 65 percent of regular attendees are women. A woman in charge is much less prevalent in congregations that include many two-parent families, typically in the suburbs.
Mrs. Zikmund's study looked at how three different kinds of churches appoint clergy. Those doing most to promote women were the congregation-centered churches (where a local council rules) and the institution-centered churches (where a synod or bishop dictates policy).
The third type, "Spirit-centered" churches, are Pentecostal or charismatic in governance. Although women play a major role in Pentecostal denominations, the Zikmund study found these churches today produce few women in top posts.
The Anglican Communion, which includes 63 million Anglicans worldwide, produced its first female bishop in 1989 from its American branch, the Episcopal Church. But the debate over women in the Episcopal tradition goes back to 1974 and remains one of its more dramatic stories.

Mandating female priests
The ordination of women has put Episcopal Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth in a bind. Since last summer, he has been on notice that his insistence on an all-male priesthood no longer is acceptable.
During the Episcopal General Convention in Denver a year ago, delegates adopted a resolution to create a task force to "assist" prelates like Bishop Iker, 51, with a plan for "full compliance" with church policy by 2003. The velvet-gloved threat referred to women legally being ordained since 1976, but not being allowed to function as priests in every diocese.
On July 29, 1974, 11 women were ordained illegally by three Episcopal bishops in Philadelphia, creating a furor. Some church members believed the time long since had arrived. Others thought the practice violated Scripture.
Bishop Iker graduated from General Seminary that year. At the time, nearly everyone he knew opposed women in the priesthood.
"We said in 1973 and 1974 that if the church accommodates the feminist movement, it'll be a matter of time before we must accommodate the lesbian-gay movement," he says. "Today, name me one woman bishop who is opposed to the gay agenda."
Twenty-five years ago, the majority of Episcopal bishops opposed ordination of women, so the 1976 General Convention made provisions for those who disagreed. As the years passed and the number of dissenting bishops shrank to three, the vise tightened.
When Jack Iker was elected bishop in 1993 at age 43, ordination of women was still optional. However, it was plain which way the current was running.
"Sometimes I weary of it," he says. "I get labeled as if that's the only thing I'm concerned about. When I got elected bishop of Fort Worth, I got known as an 'outspoken opponent' of women to the priesthood."

'Slower and gentler'
In 1997, the Episcopal Church's canonical law was changed at the triennial convention in Philadelphia to make women's ordination mandatory. Left in limbo were the dissenters: the bishops of the dioceses of Quincy (based in Peoria, Ill.); San Joaquin (based in Fresno, Calif.); and Bishop Iker's Fort Worth, a medium-sized Texas diocese of 55 parishes and missions in one of the country's fastest-growing regions.
"They aim to have women priests in every diocese no matter what," Bishop Iker says. "If is of the Holy Spirit, why do you have to have task forces enforcing it?"
In February, the task force's mission was modified to simply "gather information." Episcopal Church spokesman Jim Solheim said the 40-member executive council decided to use a "slower and gentler process" to work with recalcitrant dioceses.
"I've always been open to the Holy Spirit," Bishop Iker says, "but you don't get someone to listen to the Holy Spirit by putting a gun to their head."
He has an arrangement with the neighboring Diocese of Dallas where Fort Worth women who wish to be ordained four in the past decade are overseen by Bishop James Stanton in Dallas. Congregations that ask for a female priest none to date also would be overseen by the Dallas bishop.
When asked whether he has received any understanding or sympathetic treatment from female priests, Bishop Iker barely hesitates.
"Well," he says, "there's Alison Barfoot."

Advocating tolerance
About 500 miles away in a Kansas City suburb, the Rev. Alison Barfoot occupies a spacious office in Christ Church, a 2,000-member Episcopal congregation in Overland Park, Kan. She well remembers meeting Bishop Iker in the summer of 1997 at the Episcopal General Convention in Philadelphia.
Now 41, Miss Barfoot, a conservative evangelical, was a rarity among theologically liberal female priests. A native of Alexandria, she reluctantly began considering the priesthood in 1977 at the urging of friends at nearby Virginia Theological Seminary.
Miss Barfoot attended a more theologically conservative seminary, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., to get her master's of divinity degree in 1986 and moved to Manassas in the early 1990s to head a parish there. In 1997, she accepted a position as associate rector at Christ Church.
Earlier that year, Miss Barfoot heard about Canon III.8.1, the proposed resolution to mandate ordination of women in all 100 of the nation's Episcopal dioceses. She consulted several friends who are female priests.
"We didn't feel this was the way to go about bringing the last few dioceses in line," she recalls. "It felt like the first time we were enshrining coercion into the canon. That is thoroughly un-Anglican."
Miss Barfoot's networking produced 91 out of 1,995 female priests in the denomination who agreed the proposal set a bad precedent. They signed a letter she drafted, saying that to force women's ordination on opponents would be "to indulge in the sin of impatience toward those who clearly differ from us."
The letter attracted plenty of media attention. But that year's General Convention ignored it, approving Canon III.8.1 overwhelmingly.
"Obviously we want all dioceses to ordain women," Miss Barfoot says. "But the letter was an appeal to let the Holy Spirit work in people's lives."
Then Bishop Iker asked her and three other conservative female priests to visit Fort Worth at his diocese's expense. The four women flew there in October 1998 for eight hours of discussion with diocesan officials.
"They'd had 25 years of something being shoved down their throats which in their opinion lacked theological reflection and biblical foundation," Miss Barfoot says.
Does she like Fort Worth's arrangement with the Diocese of Dallas?
"Not really. But you can't force someone to change. And one eight-hour meeting was not going to heal 25 years of pain."

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