Today's NYT has an interesting, sad article about the state of women in Ministry. You can read it here , but the upshot is that in most denominations women's ministry is truncated; women can serve in small churches but not large ones, can teach but not preach, can serve as staff ministers but not as senior ministers, can be spiritual leaders to women, not men, and so on. That's in spite of more than 100 years of ordaining women by most Liberal Protestants. That letter to Timothy which says that women can't preach, and how it trumps Jesus' evident attitude towards women seems to be the cause, but we all know that the cause is much deeper than that, and that Timothy is only an excuse. It's a sad and depressing article.
The writer looked into the history of the ordination of women, so she must have come across the fact that the Universalists and the Unitarians paved that particular way in the 1880's and 90's, and seem to be thriving while having a vastly larger proportion of women in religious leadership, serving as senior ministers to women and to men, and in larger congregations than other liberal denominations. Our pioneering and our success don't figure into that article about Christian clergy, but I just want to say that I feel very lucky to be where I am. (But it does make me wonder what the percentage of women clergy in our larger congregations is. I know I'm not alone, but the review of large pulpits I just completed in my head suggests that I'm one of 10%. I will check on this matter and report.)
Of course, UU women, while we never get beaten with Timothy, get regularly beaten with the deeper issues that depress gender equality, so all is not well. There's a never absent static for women in ministry that just makes things a little harder all the time and hugely harder during storms. And it's all the worse for being invisible and forgotten.
For some reason lately I said in a group that my predecessor in this ministry was a man who, while he worked for the American Unitarian Association in the 1960's, refused to place the few women clergy in pulpits, and a bright and competent (male) student at an extremely progressive UU theological school overheard and expressed his shock that this could have happened in our always progressive denomination. Can it be that UU schools are teaching about systemic oppression without reference to women these days? (judging by my glance over our current intern's coursework, it seems to be all about race, class, sexual expression minorities and the third world now). That bodes ill for the next generation of women in ministry, who had better be prepared to deal with those deeper issues or they'll drop like flies in the bugspray. And those deeper issues don't just effect women and men who work with women, (that would be all of us) they are a bedrock of the human psyche and have everything to do with other kinds of oppression.
It would be sad and depressing, except that it also gives just a little extra boost of meaning to my own ministry, a visible success for women in larger churches, proof that it is possible, even if sometimes too hard.