by Jenna Whalen
I am not in a leadership position in The United Methodist Church. Nor am I in seminary, and I have no plans to become a deacon, elder, or local pastor within the church because I do not feel that is my calling. However, I have grown up in The United Methodist church and now have friends that are in seminary which has given me more of an inside look of how churches operate.
Churches have been going through changes in modern times. The core of church has stayed the same – coming together to worship with one another – but as society becomes more modern and technologically focused, the church must become so, too. The role of women in the church has changed. As women have gained a bigger role in society, they have also gained bigger roles within the church.
Personally, I think it’s great that women are being given more opportunities in the church and are taking them, but not everyone feels this way. Some still feel that only a man should be in the pulpit and women should remain in the pews. These individuals use everything from their own personal opinions to quoting scriptures they claim support why men should be the only church leaders. While it is frustrating when men are against women’s empowerment in the church, it’s even more hurtful and harmful to the cause when women are against their fellow women holding church leadership positions. It astounds me when there are women who don’t want to see other women climb up the leadership ranks in a church. If we as women don’t even support each other, how can we expect men to support us?
As I said in the above paragraphs, I am not trying to gain a leadership position in a church so I have not experienced not having support, but I have seen and heard of many other women not having the support of their fellow female parishioners as they try to climb the church ranks.
Many women in seminary have said they feel church leaders are tougher on them than the male seminary students. They are made to feel as if they have more to prove when it comes to why they should be ordained. The situation becomes even more frustrating when the older women who are already leaders aren’t encouraging and empowering the younger women. Some female seminarians have told me they sometimes feel as if the older women try to make them look bad.
While there are those unsupportive in the church, there are many supportive women, too. The difference in impact these women have on younger girls is like night and day. One of my friends remembers the struggles a woman pastor in her home church faced. This pastor did not have the help of the pastor before her or the support of many people in the congregation. She heard members of the church say she was not fit for the pulpit because of her gender, and then watched them leave for the same reason. My friend recalls how this female pastor bounced back from every setback thrown at her and continued preaching. This female pastor is one of the main reasons why my friend credits wanting to go through seminary and become an ordained elder.
Women have come a long way when it comes to leadership positions in the church, but there is still a long way to go until they are treated the same way as men in the church. It is disheartening to see some women choosing not to support each other and not fight for equality for women participating in the full life of the church. While many women are supportive and this makes me hopeful for the future of women leaders in the church, women will not reach equality in the church until ALL women are supportive and encouraging of each other.
Jenna Whalen is a lay member of the Indiana Conference. She is the Member Services Associate at the Indiana CPA Society. She loves all things public relations, coffee and Indianapolis. You can find devotions and other blogs written by Jenna on Daughter of Delight.