Cracks in the “Stained Glass Ceiling”
Case in point, this article, which tells the story of three women now leading three prominent churches, Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner in Chicago, Rev. Amy Butler in New York and Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli in Washington D.C.
As the article recounts, and as you would expect, each of these women have faced significant hurdles in arriving in their current roles:
In June, Butler used the hashtag “nevergetsold” when she tweeted about how a funeral director didn’t believe she was a minister. She once had to get an emergency room security guard to log on to her former church’s website to show him her photo there so she could pay a late-night visit to a sick congregant.
“Look, I know you’re his girlfriend,” the guard told her before she convinced him otherwise.
Kershner said that early in her ministry when she was a hospital chaplain, she often entered rooms where she was rebuffed because she wasn’t a “real minister.”
In every place she’s served as the first woman pastor, Gaines-Cirelli has heard a variation on this theme: “I was so worried that we were getting a woman, but I think that you’re going to be just fine.”
In light of the obstacles, I say good for these three for overcoming Tertullian.
As you might expect, the article also sounds a down note. After all, three pastors is good, but they represent the proverbial drop in the bucket.
Sociologist of religion Cynthia Woolever said the movement of first-career women to these significant sanctuaries is occurring in the isolated realm of mainline Protestantism, where about 20 percent of congregations are led by clergywomen.
“If you look at conservative Protestant churches you find very few; in the Catholic church: zero,” said Woolever, editor of The Parish Paper, a newsletter for regional offices of mainline denominations.
“It’s wonderful that women are being given those kinds of opportunities to serve in those very large churches, but it’s a very small slice of the pie.”
To be sure, there remains plenty of work to be done.
Yet on this Labor Day, let’s acknowledge that at least in pockets of the church, we seem to be moving in the right direction.