Sexual Harassment, Less Pay Cited : Church Slow to Employ Women Pastors

December 20, 1986|JOHN DART | Times Religion Writer

Although they are part of a denomination that pioneered in ordaining women, female clergy are finding it hard to get pastoring jobs in the United Church of Christ, according to survey results released this week by the New York-based church.

Sixty-one percent of 138 women clergy responding to a denominationwide survey said they have been turned down for jobs because of their gender. The survey also found that 72% believed they were paid less than their male counterparts and that 43% reported sexual harassment on the job, either by colleagues or parishioners.

In Southern California, however, church officials said that half of the available ordained women are in the pastoral ministry--compared to one-third nationally--and that the acceptance of women ministers has been growing.

First to Ordain Women

Officials of the United Church of Christ, the product of a 1957 merger, noted that one of their predecessor bodies was the first U.S. Protestant church to ordain a woman, in 1853. The United Church of Christ was also apparently the first Protestant church to have women outnumber men as seminary candidates for the master of divinity degree, a standard requirement for the ministry.

The United Church of Christ has more women clergy than similar denominations--14.4%, compared to 13.4% for the Christian Church (Disciples), 8% for the United Methodist Church, 7.1% for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and 5.5% for the Lutheran Church in America.

The United Church has had only average success, compared to others in that group, in placing women in church jobs. Officials said the reason is partly that United Church congregations select their own pastors, whereas some other denominations give appointing authority to regional bishops.

Mixed Results

The Episcopal Church, which approved women's ordination 10 years ago, has also had mixed results placing women in pastoral jobs. Nevertheless, the Rev. Geralyn Wolf, 39, who ministers to a mostly black mission congregation in Philadelphia, was recently chosen after a yearlong search as dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Louisville, Ky.--the first woman to be selected a cathedral dean in the Episcopal Church.

United Church statistics show that only about one-third of its women ministers are employed in local churches, and many of them are in associate or Christian education positions. When both men and women clergy ranks are considered together, officials said, more than half of all ministers serve local churches and only 11% are in jobs other than senior pastor.

Things are a little better in the denomination's Southern California Conference, according to the Revs. Fred Register, conference minister, and Carole Keim, associate conference minister, whose offices are in Pasadena.

Gifted Candidates

"The very gifted women are doing all right," Register said. He said that one church, Arcadia Congregational Church, at first wanted a male pastor to fill a vacancy this year. But when the church hired the Rev. Madelon Wheeler-Gibb, she was one of three top candidates--all women--for the position.

Of the 42 United Church women ministers in Southern California, "27 are serving in positions where they can fulfill their ministerial functions," said Keim, whose job is to assist congregations in pastor placement. Ten are the sole pastors, two are co-pastors with their spouses, nine are in assistant staff positions, three are chaplains and three are in other church-related positions, she said.

"The trend has been positive," Keim said. In contrast to the survey results, she said, "No one has complained of sexual harassment on the job."

The number of ordained women pastoring churches in the 136-church Southern California Conference has been growing. "In 1978, there were four women serving as pastors, by 1982 there were nine and in 1986 there are 10," Keim said.

She said "significant" steps were taken when two ethnic congregations broke with their own tradition by hiring women pastors--the Revs. Bienvenida Sevilleja at the Filipino American United Church of Christ of Los Angeles and Maria Falber at El Buen Pastor in Pomona.

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