|United Methodist project develops clergywomen|
A UMNS Report
By Vicki Brown*
April 16, 2008
A new United Methodist project aims to support clergywomen who lead
churches with more than 1,000 members, research their leadership styles,
and establish a mentoring program for women who have the potential to
serve such churches.
The Rev. HiRho Park
"After having a great celebration of 50 years of full clergy rights of
women in Methodism in 2006, I believe that now is the time to reflect on
something new and creative," said the Rev. HiRho Park, director of
continuing formation for ministry at the United Methodist Board of
Higher Education and Ministry.
"Many clergywomen have been thriving in a context where the congregation
and the surrounding community are accustomed to male lead pastors,
while others have experienced difficulties as the first female lead
pastor in their church," she said.
Of the 44,091 clergy in The United Methodist Church, 9,749 are women,
and 64 have been identified as serving churches with membership of more
than 1,000. A retreat for lead women pastors of large churches will be
held Sept. 14-16 in Nashville, Tenn.
The Lead Women Pastors' Project has tremendous potential to increase
understanding of the growing edge leadership for the church, thereby
benefiting the whole denomination, said the Rev. Susan Willhauck,
associate professor of Christian Formation at United Methodist-related
Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington D.C.
"I think we are approaching a time when rather than focusing solely on
how female clergy are different, we can move the discussion to how
clergywomen are effective and what they are contributing to the
denomination in terms of leadership," Willhauck said.
The Rev. Patricia Farris aaaaaaaaa
The project will ask: How is the increasing presence of female pastors
changing the church? How are clergywomen redefining leadership
The Rev. Patricia Farris, 56, who has been senior pastor of the
1,500-member First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica, Calif., for
10 years, says like many women leaders, she is accessible, collegial in
style, and relational in approach. She highly values partnership with
"This can sometimes be misinterpreted as lack of clear leadership for
those more used to a more hierarchical approach," Farris said. "I find
greatest support from the oldest members of our congregation and our
new, younger singles and families.
"Many of our children and youth now assume the senior minister will be a
woman!" Farris said. "I think people my own age are often still
wrestling with their own life choices, traditions of marriage and family
roles, and a desire for a male in leadership––though time together has
helped mitigate that a great deal."
Developing new research
There has not been much research on clergywomen’s leadership styles, Park said.
"Is there a certain vocational path for United Methodist clergywomen
within The United Methodist Church structure? What is the uniqueness of
women's leadership in large churches and how can this information
benefit the church at large?" Park said.
“We hope to promote the appointments of
more clergywomen to lead pastor positions in larger membership churches
and to establish ways that less experienced clergywomen can be mentored
–The Rev. Susan Willhauck
Willhauck is convinced that lead women pastors are an untapped
resource for the formation of leadership for denomination. "We are
trying to get at what they do, ways they lead. Rather than measuring
pastoral effectiveness against already established criterion, usually
male-defined, we are looking at ways lead women pastors are re-defining
pastoral effectiveness on their own terms," she said.
Ten years ago, a study done by the Hartford Institute reported in The Christian Century
revealed perceived differences in leadership styles between male and
female clergy in various denominations. The United Methodist project
will study the leadership styles of the church's 64 clergywomen of large
congregations to see if the differences identified in the Hartford
study and other studies are still valid.
"We want to learn if and how gender matters in pastoring a
large-membership church in The United Methodist Church today," Willhauck
A recent report from Michelle Fugate, director of research and data
management for the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, points out
that although the number of female clergy in the denomination has
increased significantly in recent years, they are less likely than their
male counterparts to be appointed as senior pastor of a
The Rev. Susan Willhauck aaaaaa
"We hope to promote the appointments of more clergywomen to lead pastor
positions in larger membership churches and to establish ways that less
experienced clergywomen can be mentored in order to accept the
challenges of pastoring a large-membership church," Willhauck
Forum for ideas
Farris is excited that the Lead Women Pastors' Project will provide a
place to exchange insights and information, as well as "a platform from
which to share our gifts more widely with the larger church."
She found great support in her ministry from lay women and clergywomen
across The United Methodist Church, other faith communities, and other
professional women, as well as from her family. "My bishops and
superintendents have always been unfailingly supportive as well," Farris
“I think it's hard for women to find the kinds of leadership positions that demonstrate our gifts and skills.”Like many
women leaders, Farris said she is intentional about building communities
of support and friendship. But she does see barriers for women clergy
who aspire to lead large churches.
–The Rev. Patricia Farris
"I think it's hard for women to find the kinds of leadership positions
that demonstrate our gifts and skills. Some of us have not had specific
experience in administering large budgets and leading large staffs,"
Farris said. "And I think there is a peculiar balance in combining a
collegial/team style with the kinds of leadership required in a large
"A large membership church is not just a bigger small or medium-sized
church. It's its own peculiar animal, and few women have the opportunity
to learn or experience those dynamics."
To read the study of clergywomen’s local church appointments, click here.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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