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Study: Clergywomen of color need better support

Sept. 20, 2005

By Linda Bloom

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (UMNS) — Despite challenges particular to their race and gender, racial and ethnic minority clergywomen do not have a “substantive support system” within the United Methodist Church.

In fact, these clergywomen feel their work is unappreciated by the denomination, according to a study conducted for the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry and its Division of Ordained Ministry.

The study’s authors, Jung Ha Kim and the Rev. Rosetta Ross, presented their data during the Sept. 15-17 annual meeting of the denomination’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women in Cambridge.

Kim is a sociologist at Georgia State University and chairperson of “Women and Religion” for the American Academy of Religion. Ross, an elder in the South Carolina Conference, is associate professor of religion and chairperson of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Spelman College in Atlanta.

Research for “The Status of Racial and Ethnic Minority Clergywomen in The United Methodist Church” included a denominationwide survey questionnaire to all clergywomen of color, face-to-face interviews with a representative sample, observations of participants at selected annual conference and caucus meetings, and analysis of written documents.

The point of the study was to see how the clergywomen “experience” United Methodism. Surveys were mailed to some 700 clergywomen of color in the summer of 2001, and 214 usable surveys were collected by mid-2002. A small representative sample of the 91 women who volunteered underwent further interviews.

Respondents to the written survey included 125 African Americans, 41 Asian Pacific Islanders, 25 Hispanic, 2 Native Americans, 9 multiracials, 11 “other” and 1 unspecified. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents were over 45 years old, indicating “no systemic ways of recruiting younger women in various communities,” Kim said.

Respondents tended to be single and highly educated. More than half originally came from religious backgrounds outside the United Methodist Church, including non-Christian backgrounds.

A key complaint from the survey was about inadequate salary support. “This topic comes up again and again. … A lot of clergywomen say, ‘I don’t get paid enough,’” Kim said.

Three out of four respondents “reported that they lacked proper financial support from their current appointment,” regardless of geographic location or type of church, she said.

According to the study report, racial and ethnic clergywomen are “highly mobile and economically conscious” and more likely to change denominations over the issue of fair salary support.

“At this point, it is sufficient to stay that clergywomen of color’s denominational affiliation and loyalty seems to be in flux, depending largely on how long and how far they can sustain themselves in their own ministry, often all by themselves,” the report said.

Other types of support, such as mentoring, also seem to be lacking for clergywomen of color. At the extreme, they face hostile men — from a bishop who refused to acknowledge the comments of women in a meeting of clergy to a conference board of ordained ministry that required a Korean-American clergywoman to go through speech therapy for accent reduction even though her male counterpart received no such requirement.

Kim and Ross specifically recommended to COSROW that a comparative study on denomination-wide salary support be done, along with other specific actions related to the status of racial-ethnic clergywomen.

Other recommendations for the denomination on clergywomen of color include:

Encouraging participation in race- and gender-specific caucuses and activities.
Developing formal mechanisms supporting women in ministry in general and racial and ethnic clergywomen in particular.
Sensitizing United Methodists to the issues of racial and ethnic minority clergywomen.
Developing consistent transition and follow-up training and support practices to attend to the well-being of clergy and congregations in cross-racial appointment processes.
Increasing the number of women of color participating on the denomination’s boards and agencies.  
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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