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Survey considers gains for women in the church

By Linda Bloom*
Sept. 25, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO (UMNS)

The Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss

The "glass ceiling" for United Methodist clergywomen seems to be senior pastor positions at churches with 1,000-plus members.

That was one finding of the 2007 local church survey conducted by the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

The percentage of female senior pastors in the denomination’s largest churches was 7 percent, up slightly from 5 percent in 2003 and 2 percent in 1999.

The Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss, who prepared the survey results, acknowledged the small increase, but noted that "social change is slow. I think that (percentage) is actually good news, despite the small number."

Murphy-Geiss, a United Methodist clergywoman and staff member of the Department of Sociology at Colorado College, presented the survey findings during COSROW’s Sept. 20-22 annual meeting in San Francisco. The agency has conducted a local church survey every four years since 1970 in preparation for the United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body.

This year, COSROW received a 26.29 percent return rate on questionnaires sent to a random sampling of 1,035 United Methodist churches – similar to the return rate in 2003. Murphy-Geiss believes the returns are representative of the larger church, particularly because the percentage of female bishops and district superintendents indicated in the survey responses match with those currently serving annual (regional) conferences.

Survey results show a "statistically significant correlation" between the size of the church and the gender of its senior pastor. Men and women are equally likely to serve medium-sized churches, but women are more likely to serve smaller churches and men to serve larger churches.

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • One in five churches has no women ushers at all, particularly churches with less than 100 members;
  • Women more often serve as chairpersons of church committees, but men dominate leadership positions for administrative councils and boards of trustees;
  • Inclusive language is more likely to be used in larger churches, in larger communities, in churches with women pastors and, regionally, in the denomination’s Western Jurisdiction;
  • Church members tend to consult women pastors on pastoral care issues – ranging from depression to work or family problems to child abuse – more often than male pastors.

Since 1996, The United Methodist Church has required that each annual conference and local church adopt a sexual harassment policy. In her report, Murphy-Geiss noted that more churches have done so.

"The very smallest churches continue to have the longest way to go toward the goal of 100 percent, but in every other category, at least six out of 10 churches are in compliance, and in the largest churches, that number is almost nine out of 10," she wrote.

"One way to get at the churches that are lagging behind is to train the pastors," Murphy-Geiss told COSROW directors.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


The Rev. Gail Murphy-Geiss

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