United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study

Chapter Two: Calls, Commitment, and Cries

Intention to Serve in a Local Church Setting

If the clergywomen leaving local church ministry did indeed intend to serve in the local church, then investigations such as this study should be considered quite seriously. Did the participants in the United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study intend to serve in the local church?  The study data clearly disclose an intention and commitment on the part of a large majority of the study participants to enter local church ministry.

Among the overall study population, approximately 81% of the participants indicated they entered ordained ministry because of a non-specific call to ministry, a specific call to the local church, or a specific call to preach (see Table 1).  While a large majority of the participants indicated a non-specific call to ministry, their intended appointment after receiving their elders’ orders indicates their commitment to local church ministry. Eighty-two percent of all participants intended to serve as local church pastors after receiving their elders’ orders (see Table 2).

Additionally, the reasons participants felt the local church was the best place for them to serve, found in Table 3, confirm this commitment to local church ministry.  The leading reason given for the local church being the best place of service was “I am doing what God called me to do.”  Enjoying the local church, finding it a comfortable place to serve and feeling at home there, was the second but less frequent reason these participants found the local church to be the best place of service.  The intentions of these women and their sense of divine calling regarding the local church support their desire and intent to serve in the local church.  Twenty percent of the participants did not respond to this question, approximately the same percentage that chose options other than “local church pastor” in Table 2.

When certain demographic factors are also taken into account, only a few differences emerge.  Similar proportions of ethnic minority women and white women indicated a non-specific call to ministry, while more white women indicated a specific call to the local church and more ethnic minority women indicated a specific call to preach (see Table 4).  Similar proportions of women in both groups (81% of ethnic minority participants and 82% of the white participants) intended to serve in the local church as their primary appointment type after elders’ orders (seeTable 5).  Consistent with the overall sample population, the leading primary reason the local church is the best place of service for both ethnic minority women (70%) and white women (61%) was “I am doing what God called me to do” (see Table 6). The reasons for a nine-percentage point difference between the two ethnic groups are unknown.

The reasons with the second highest frequency given by these two groups differ.  Nine percent of ethnic minority women selected “committed to the Church as an institution” as the second reason the local church was the best place of service.  Thirteen percent of white women chose the reason of enjoying the local church, finding it comfortable and like home.  While small, this particular difference may highlight possible racism and discrimination ethnic minority women may experience in the local church.  John Wesley’s view of the world as the parish must also suggest that the world can be found in the parish.  Thus, the institution of the local church is probably not free of societal ills such as racism.  White women, despite possible sexism, may find acceptance somewhat easier in local churches than women from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The second demographic factor is marital status.  Regardless of marital status, the participants indicated a non-specific call to ministry, a specific call to the local church, or a specific call to preach as the primary reason for seeking ordination (see Table 7).  Eighty-three percent of those participants who were currently married and the same proportion of participants who had ever been separated, divorced, or widowed indicated one of the three types of calling to ministry.  Eighty-three percent of both groups also intended their primary appointment after receiving their elders’ orders to be a local church appointment (see Table 8).

Smaller proportions of the clergywomen who had never been married (76%) and the clergywomen who were in committed relationships (but were unmarried) (75%) indicated one of the three types of calling as the primary reason for seeking ordination.  Seventy-eight percent of the clergywomen who had never been married intended their appointment after elders’ orders to be the local church pastorate.  Seventy-one percent of the women in committed relationships intended to be in local church appointments after elders’ orders.  With the exception of the women in committed relationships, the majority of women in the other three marital status groups gave “I am doing what God called me to do” as the primary reason the local church is the best place of service for them (see Table 9).  It is important to note that a relatively large proportion of women in each of these groups did not give a reason why the local church was the best place of service.  These findings as well as the discussion about the committed relationship group will be considered later in the discussion of women leaving local church ministry.

Related to marital status is the factor of clergy partners.  Eighty-two percent of participants with clergy partners, as well as 82% of all other participants, gave a non-specific call to ministry, specific call to the local church, or a specific call to preach as their primary reason for ordination (see Table 10).  This proportion is similar to the data presented thus far.  Women with clergy partners seem to have a slightly higher proclivity toward local church ministry as the intended appointment after elders’ orders (85%) compared to the women without clergy partners (80%) (see Table 11).  Regardless of this slight difference, however, both groups of clergywomen were committed to serving the local church after receiving their elders’ orders.  There are some differences in the primary reasons the local church is the best place of service (see Table 12).  A slightly smaller proportion of women with clergy partners, 57%, gave “I am doing what God called me to do” as their primary reason, whereas, 65% of all the other women did.

The final demographic factor investigated in relation to intention and commitment to the local church is whether or not participants were reared in Methodist denominations (United Methodist, Evangelical United Brethren, or other Wesleyan denominations) or in non-Methodist denominations.  Again the proportions of women reared in Methodist traditions and those reared in other denominations are consistent with the overall proportion of 82% in regard to reason for seeking ordination.  Eighty-one percent of participants reared in Methodist denominations and 84% of participants reared in other denominations gave nonspecific call to ministry, specific call to the local church, or specific call to preach as the primary reason for seeking ordination (see Table 13).  Similarly, 81% of participants reared Methodist and 83% of participants reared in other denominations intended to have a local church appointment after being ordained elder (see Table 14).

Once again, those women who believed the local church to be the best place of service for them, named the sense of fulfilling a divine call as the primary reason (see Table 15).  Fifty-nine percent of women reared in the United Methodist denomination and 66% of women reared in other denominations indicated this response.  The reasons some participants did not believe the local church to be the best place of service are discussed later in the analysis of reasons the clergywomen in this study left local church ministry.

Despite some nuances between groups of women based on certain demographic factors, the overwhelming majority (81%) of the clergywomen in this study sought ordination out of a sense of calling.  An overwhelming majority (82%) of these women intended their primary appointment after receiving their elders’ orders to be to the local church pastorate.  And those women who considered the local church to be the best place of service for themselves did so because they believed they were called to do so.  Therefore, as the exit of women from local church ministry is considered, the findings that an overwhelming majority of the clergywomen in this study were committed to the local church ministry, and were committed because of a sense of calling to that ministry, raise grave concerns by suggesting that these women did not intend, and quite possibly, did not prefer to leave local church ministry.

Some of the sadness of clergywomen who have exited local church ministry can be heard in their comments as they discuss those aspects of the local church they now miss:

I think the joy of local church ministry is living the life with people from birth to death; I sense that’s probably the most attractive part of what pastoral ministry is about is that you have an infinite entre into people’s lives that nobody else has.  And to me that is the richest part of it all.

[N]ow that I’m not in the local church . . . I don’t have the continuity of doing the liturgical year in one place, and that sort of flow, and the cycle of life in the church.  I really miss that.

So I miss that sense of going through the year with folks . . . going through life with folks.

[I] sometimes long for the rhythm of the life there in local church ministry with people’s births, deaths, other important events in their lives as well as the mundane part of life, the ordinary tasks we face.  Sometimes I really long for that again.

The sadness these women feel should be the grief of the entire Church over the loss of these women.  Many of the participants in this study desired to serve the local church, but at some point in their careers decided to leave local church ministry.  Unfortunately, the local church has lost clergywomen who wanted to be in ministry at that setting and who appreciated and respected the life and relationships found in the local church.  Indeed, these are the women who should be in ministry in the local church, but are not.

The Clergywomen Who Have Left the Local Church Jurisdiction

The intent of 82% of the clergywomen in this sample to carry out their ministry in the local church has been established.  As illustrated in Table 16, women in this study who have left local church ministry hail from all five jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church in the United States.  The North Central and Western Jurisdictions have greater proportions of study participants in local church ministry than the Northeastern, South Central, and Southeastern Jurisdictions.  The South Central Jurisdiction appears to have the greatest proportion of study participants who are not in local church ministry.  In any jurisdiction, the highest proportion of women clergy (participating in this study) in local church ministry is seventy-five percent (Western Jurisdiction).

Ethnic background

Clergywomen from various ethnic backgrounds have left local church ministry.  A larger proportion of ethnic minority women is out of local church ministry as compared to white women.  In this sample, 37% of ethnic minority participants were not serving local churches at the time of the questionnaire, whereas only 29% of white women were not in local church ministry.  This eight-point difference points to some definite trends along ethnic lines regarding clergywomen in and out of local church ministry.

Analysis of specific ethnic groups discloses additional differences among clergywomen who are out of local church ministry (see Table 17).  Thirty-five percent of Asian women in the study were not in local church ministry at the time they completed the questionnaire.  Among Black participants, 41% were not serving in local churches at the time the questionnaire was completed.  The small sample of women from other ethnic backgrounds makes it difficult to draw any conclusions about their likelihood of leaving the local church pastorate.  Further investigation is needed to make determinations about women from other ethnic backgrounds.

Ethnic minority women appear not to leave the local church temporarily as much as white women (see Table 18).  Only 12% of the ethnic minority women in the sample left local church ministry to return later, while 17% of all white women in the sample did.  When ethnic minority women cease service in the local church, their exits are more often permanent.

Marital Status

Analysis according to marital status also provides some interesting results.  There are no substantial discrepancies between women who had never married, women who had ever separated/divorced/widowed, and women who were currently married (except for a slightly higher percentage of clergywomen who had never married who are not serving local churches).  Sixty percent of the women in committed relationships were serving outside the local church (see Table 19).  The high percentage among the women in committed relationships requires serious attention because 71% of the women who identified themselves with the committed relationship category intended to have an appointment in the local church after receiving their elders’ orders.  These women are leaving at a greater rate than are the women in the other marital status categories.

As illustrated in Table 20, there are only minor differences between women who had never married (13%), women who had ever separated/divorced/widowed (14%), and women in committed relationships (15%) for the temporary leave from local church ministry item; but 18% of the women who were married at the time of the questionnaire had left local church ministry and later returned.  Even though this difference is small in relation to the other marital status groups, its existence suggests that family responsibilities may prove to be one of a number of reasons married participants have a gap in service with local churches.

Clergy Partners

Although relatively small, the comparison of the clergywomen with clergy partners and clergywomen who did not indicate a clergy partner also showed some differences (see Table 21). A slightly higher proportion of women without clergy partners was not in local church ministry.  Thirty-one percent of participants without clergy partners were out of local church ministry compared to 27% of women with clergy partners.  Conversely, women with clergy partners were more likely to have left local church ministry and returned than women without clergy partners (see Table 22).  Twenty percent of women with clergy partners had left temporarily, whereas only 15% of women without clergy partners had.

Denominational Background

Analysis of women who were reared in a Methodist denomination, rather than in other denominations before being ordained in The United Methodist Church, showed no real differences between these two groups in terms of being in or out of local church ministry (see Table 23).  Nor were real differences found between these two groups regarding temporary leave from the local church (see Table 24).

Primary Reason for Seeking Ordination

Analysis of the primary reason for ordination given by these clergywomen, found in Table 25, also helps to paint a picture of who the women leaving local church ministry are.  Not surprisingly, 68% of the clergywomen who sought ordination because it was required for ministries other than the local church were not in the local church at the time of the questionnaire.  However, 16% of the women who selected “call to the local church” as the primary reason were not in local church ministry when they completed the questionnaire.  Seven percent of the women who selected “call to the local church” had left temporarily (see Table 26).

Other reasons for seeking ordination also provide some interesting results and give some indication of the different models of ministry these clergywomen have.  Forty percent of the women whose primary reason for ordination was “it is required for priestly duties” were not in local church ministry at the time of the questionnaire and twenty-one percent of them had left temporarily.  This unexpected finding is important since the local church is a prime setting for carrying out priestly duties.  Of the women who sought ordination because of a natural or logical progression in their experience, 37% were not serving in the local church at the time of the questionnaire and 18% had left temporarily.  Thirty-one percent of the women who experienced a call to preach were not in local church ministry and 19% had left temporarily.  Women who feel specifically called to preach may have a model for ministry that does not necessarily require that preaching occur only in worship in the local church. Twenty-eight percent of the women with a non-specific call to ministry were out of the local church and 17% had left temporarily.  The temporary exit of the women with a non-specific call to ministry may suggest that these women struggle with the form their ministry will take since it was not so clearly defined from the start.  An interesting study would look at the models of ministry women use and how that relates to leaving local church ministry.

Withdrawn or Surrendered Credentials

Among the women who had withdrawn from the ordination process or surrendered their credentials, few real differences (in some cases none at all) emerged between samples according to marital status, clergy partners, and ethnicity (see Tables 27, 28, and 29).  The only substantial difference was found among the women in committed relationships, in which 10% of those women had surrendered their credentials or withdrawn from ordained ministry.  Only 2% to 3% of each of the other marital status groups, including women with clergy partners, had surrendered their credentials or withdrawn from ordained ministry.

Summary

The women in this study who have left local church ministry have served in all five jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church and were raised in a variety of denominations.  They are from many ethnic backgrounds, but women of Black and Asian ethnic backgrounds are less likely to be in local church ministry than they intend.  Some of the women who have left local church ministry have never been married.  Some have been separated, divorced, and/or widowed.  Some are currently married.  Others, who seem to be particularly at risk of leaving, are in committed relationships that are not marriage partnerships.  Some of the women in this study who have left local church ministry have clergy partners, while others do not.  The clergywomen in the study who have left local church ministry have entered ordained ministry for a variety of reasons, including divine calling, a desire to perform priestly duties, and the natural result of a culmination of experiences.  The participants in this study who have left local church ministry have a rich complexity of life. The loss of their wealth of diversity in the local church is part of the tragedy found in the exit of these women from local church ministry.

Reasons the Clergywomen Left

Appointment Status

For those women who had ever left local church ministry, either permanently or temporarily, the primary reason listed for leaving local church ministry was to follow a call to another type of ministry (25%; see Table 30).  The second most frequently given reason was “other”  (20%), and the third most frequently given reason was lack of support from the system (15%).  ”System” here refers to the structures through which The United Methodist Church is organized and operates.  These structures would primarily include (but are not limited to) the appointment process and relationships with district superintendents and other judicatory officials within The United Methodist Church.

For the clergywomen who left local church ministry temporarily compared to clergywomen who were not serving in the local church at the time of the questionnaire, family responsibilities and rejection from congregations were of greater concern (see Table 31).  Therefore, one may conclude that, for the most part, concern with family responsibilities and rejection within particular congregations are not keeping clergywomen out of local church ministry for a significant amount of time.

Some clergywomen who have left local church ministry have withdrawn from the ordination process or have surrendered their credentials.  These women have completely left ordained ministry.  The reasons these 43 participants had for leaving were compelling for them and are revealing for this study.

Twenty-five percent of the women who were no longer in ordained ministry at the time of the study left because they believed they could not maintain their integrity in the system (see Table 32).  Another 25% left due to “other” reasons.  Twenty-two percent left ordained ministry because of a perceived lack of support from the system.  These three reasons for leaving local church ministry are the primary factors influencing the exit of almost 75% of these women from ordained ministry.  Only a small percentage of the women who have withdrawn or surrendered their credentials listed “lack of opportunity to use their gifts,” “too much rejection by churches,” “to follow a call to another kind of ministry,” or “health reasons” as their reason for leaving ordained ministry.  None of these women listed family responsibilities, a dislike for local church ministry, or financial reasons as the reason they left.

A quarter of the women who have ever left the local church indicated they did so to follow a call to another kind of ministry.  But the exits of the women who selected this reason were not necessarily because of a desire to leave local church ministry.  Additional reasons for leaving local church ministry were often given (see Table 33). Family responsibilities were of secondary concern for 18% of these women.  Health and financial reasons were issues for 11% of them.  Integrity was a secondary concern for 12% of the women who indicated following another call as their primary reason for leaving.

Negative issues within The United Methodist Church structure and within local churches account for 50% of the secondary reasons selected by the women who indicated they left primarily because of a call to another kind of ministry.  If integrity issues relating to the system are added into that figure, as much as 60% of the reasons selected by these clergywomen were related to systemic issues within The United Methodist Church.

Interview data from participants support these findings, with effects observed relating to institutional factors in clergywoman’s lives accounted for 44% of all the observed effects in the interviews (see Table 34).  Sixty-percent of the institutional effects observed were coded as negative effects for women leaving local church ministry.  Interview observations concerning the appointment system and district superintendents were particularly negative.  Seventy-four percent of the observed effects about the appointment system and 50% of the observed effects about district superintendents were negative (see Table 35).  Congregational effects observed in the interviews accounted for 28% of the total observed effects with 48% of the congregational effects coded as negative.  Obviously, the United Methodist system, as institution and as local churches, is of great concern to the clergywomen, whether they have exited local church ministry at some point or not.  As primary reasons for leaving local church ministry are examined in relation to specific sample populations, reasons related to systemic issues within the United Methodist system may continue to emerge.

Ethnic Background

A larger proportion of ethnic minority women are out of local church ministry than are white women, particularly among Black and Asian women.  Particular attention must be paid to the reasons given by these women for leaving the local church (see Table 36).  Almost twice the proportion of ethnic minority women as white women list “lack of support from the hierarchical system” as their primary reason for leaving local church ministry.  With the exception of the women in committed relationships in the marital status category (which will be considered later in this chapter), this instance is the only occurrence of a choice other than “follow a call to another kind of ministry” as the primary reason for leaving the local church in all the analysis of this item.  According to the reasons for claiming the local church as the best place of service, a larger proportion of ethnic minority women in the study are committed to the Church as an institution than the white women in the study.  These data are interesting since ethnic minority participants feel such a lack of support from the hierarchical system that governs how the institution operates.  Further investigation is necessary to explore the relationship between these two items.

Approximately one-fifth of the ethnic minority women did claim to leave ministry primarily to follow a call to another kind of ministry.  However, this statistic probably should not be taken at face value, since the previous analysis of the “follow a call to another kind of ministry” item demonstrated that in many cases there were additional factors influencing a clergywoman’s decision to leave local church ministry.  Ten percent of ethnic minority women indicated that rejection by congregations was their primary reason for leaving local church ministry.  Difficulties for ethnic minority women may on occasion result from cultural expectations within ethnic minority communities and churches.  One Korean clergywoman commented that one of the reasons she would never serve a Korean church was because “women pastors are not very welcome as much in Korean churches.”  Another 10% of ethnic minority women indicated family responsibilities as the reason for leaving the local church.  Nineteen percent of these women listed “other” reasons for leaving local church ministry.

Since more ethnic minority women seem to be leaving the local church and perceive more of a lack of support from the hierarchical system than white women do, issues of racism arise.  Further investigation into how The United Methodist Church works with and supports its ethnic minority clergywomen and how cultural differences as well as issues of ethnic identity affect the appointment process is needed.

Marital Status

Following a call to another kind of ministry was selected by a quarter of the married women (formerly and presently) and never married women as the primary reason for leaving local church ministry (see Table 37).  On the other hand, only 17% of the clergywomen in committed relationships listed following a call to another kind of ministry as a primary reason, while 36% of them chose “cannot maintain integrity in this system” from the list of primary reasons, a proportion six times higher than that of the other groups.  Only 8% of the women in committed relationships listed “lack of support from the hierarchical system” as a primary reason for leaving local church ministry.  Married and never married women cited this reason twice as often, while 20% of the women who had ever been separated, divorced, or widowed chose this as the primary reason.

In the interviews (see Table 38), married women for whom negative effects were observed regarding the appointment system were statistically significantly more likely to have left local church ministry.  Unmarried women for whom negative effects were observed regarding district superintendents and/or bishops were statistically significantly more likely to have left local church ministry.  Once again, systemic issues arise from the data indicating discontent with the system on the part of these women.  Lack of opportunities to use gifts was in the top four reasons for leaving the local church in each marital status group except for the women who were in committed relationships.

A higher proportion of clergywomen who have never been married seem to leave local church ministry due to rejection and negative experiences in their congregations, and a slightly higher proportion of them are out of the local church.  The rejection some of these women experience when they are placed in isolated communities and churches that have never had a woman pastor contributes to these women leaving the local church.  During the interviews, some women commented about the isolation and rejection they experienced in their churches and communities:

After three years out in the country with two parishes running back and forth, you know, eight hospitals in four counties, and we have those little country parishes, they’re all old and sick.  I just . . . had nothing in common with anyone there.  It was a very lonely place to be.

There was a man in one of the churches who was convinced I was demon-possessed and spread that around.  There was a Baptist church in that county that prayed, had a covenant service in which they decided to pray without ceasing until I left the county. . . . And I did!”

It was very isolating, personally, as a single woman living in a small town in [state] . . . my lifestyle was such that it was generally lonely.  I mean, I never socialized with anybody, because my day off was Monday, and everybody else was working.

This sense of rejection may be intensified if these women do not have established support networks and are not receiving the necessary support from their district superintendents and bishops.

A seven to 15 percentage point difference between currently married women and the other marital status groups exists for the family responsibilities reason.  A larger proportion of married women indicated family responsibilities as reasons for leaving.  The interviews showed that women for whom coders observed negative effects of marriage and children were statistically significantly more likely to have left local church ministry (see Table 39).  These women may feel conflicts between cultural and gender expectations around the role of mother and the expectations around the role of local church pastor.  As mentioned, lack of support was an issue for currently married women, and family responsibilities and systemic issues were important issues for some women who listed “to follow a call to another kind of ministry” as their primary reason for leaving local church ministry.  Women who find themselves in the sometimes-competing roles of wife/mother/daughter and pastor sometimes have difficulty negotiating time for those responsibilities with their congregations.  One woman commented:

I think that women are going to continue to leave until they are allowed to take their families seriously–to be called to a clergy role to ordained ministry does not mean to be called away from our families. . . . I’m not saying there aren’t times that you aren’t able to be with your family and you need to go do something else. . . . I’m saying there’s a balance. . . . [A]nd unless conferences, local congregations, D.S.’s, bishops, people in leadership positions take family seriously . . . women are going to have to take appointments beyond the local church that set some boundaries on time, part-time appointments in the church, that type of thing.

In order to negotiate those important roles of mother, wife, daughter, and pastor effectively, proactive support from annual conferences is imperative in helping congregations understand those competing demands.  Additionally 86% of the effects observed among the women interviewed regarding congregational expectations were negative, thus suggesting that congregations have unreasonable expectations for their female pastors (see Table 40).

Given the questionnaire data and interview observations, women do not seem to be getting the support they need from the hierarchy or their congregations.  Flexibility on the part of churches and the appointment system is in order and could be beneficial to both the clergywoman and the congregation.  One woman juggling family and appointment pressures suggested a more flexible situation, but she was denied that due to an inflexible appointment system that does not necessarily take into account all aspects of a clergyperson’s life:

[W]e’d been battling this thing with my mother’s strokes for the last year um, you know, the church is up and starting to thrive, it’s taken a great deal of work.  Just give me six months, I’ll move in six months, and the answer came back ‘No.’  And so I moved, and seven days later my mother died.  And I don’t know if you’ve ever been in process of moving, um, the energy that it takes to pack, and say good-bye to the church at the same time that you’re trying to take care of family business.

The Christian church, including The United Methodist Church, has a double standard for clergywomen in its theology of marriage and family.  As mentioned previously, married women do not seem to be out of local church ministry at a higher rate than other marital status groups.  In fact, while 37% of the observed effects among interview participants regarding marriage were negative, 57% of the observed effects regarding marriage were positive (seeTable 41).  Thus, the marital relationship must be a space where some clergywomen find support.  However, the family responsibilities that come with having children do seem to have a negative effect; 55% of the observed effects in the interviews regarding children were coded as being negative to staying in the local church.  The relationship between the roles of being a local church pastor and being part of a family must be examined to analyze conflicting expectations and systemic means that reinforce them.

Analysis of the clergywomen who identified themselves in the questionnaire as being in a committed relationship and of their reasons for leaving local church ministry raises serious concerns. The proportion of women in committed relationships leaving the local church to follow a call to another ministry is lower than for the other groups.  These women are more often found in other kinds of ministry; however, they are not necessarily leaving local church ministry because they feel called to another ministry situation.  Being unable to maintain their integrity in the current system was the primary reason for leaving local church ministry, with 36% of the women in committed relationships indicating integrity as their primary reason for leaving.

Given that some interview participants identified themselves as lesbian, the overall study sample does include a lesbian population, although the size of that population cannot be quantified given the study design.  Some women in the lesbian population in the study may have identified themselves with the committed relationship marital status category.  For the women in committed relationships, then, the predominance of integrity concerns in the reasons for leaving local church ministry item may partially reflect the painful and controversial debate within The United Methodist Church regarding sexuality.   “Unable to maintain my integrity in this system” can be interpreted as being unable to live authentically.  All clergywomen are trying to live out their vocation in ordained ministry as authentic, whole human beings.  Lesbian clergywomen may have a particularly difficult time living as authentic persons in a system that denies them that possibility.

I don’t know how I could be in a local church and live in the closet again. . . . [I]t almost destroyed me in terms of my emotional and psycho-social well-being. . . . If I were single, I might be able to manage it, but because I’m in a relationship, you know, so just cut that whole part of my life out and try and be in ministry and be authentic and genuine.  My nature is to be an authentic person, and I can’t do that if I’m in a closet.

For some of these women The United Methodist Church’s policy on homosexuality may prevent them from living as whole persons in their churches and communities; thus, they are unable to maintain integrity given the current system.

Clergy Partners

Previous analysis has shown that 27% of the women with clergy partners were not in local church ministry at the time of the questionnaire.  Women with clergy partners temporarily leave local church ministry at a higher rate than women without clergy partners. Twenty-two percent of the women with clergy partners indicated they left the local church to follow a call to another kind of ministry (see Table 42).  Another 22% left for reasons other than the choices presented in the questionnaire.  Family responsibilities seemed to be of greater concern to women with clergy partners than women without clergy partners.

Lack of support from the hierarchical system, however, was of less concern to women with clergy partners compared to women without clergy partners.  This decreased concern is surprising as interview participants commented on negative attitudes on the part of district superintendents towards clergy couples.  Interview data for participants with clergy partners suggest that when negative effects of the appointment system were observed, clergywomen with clergy partners were statistically significantly more likely to have left local church ministry (see Table 43).  The observed effects for the clergy couple item in the interview were somewhat ambiguous as 40% of the observed effects were positive, 10% were ambivalent, and 50% were negative.  For some women, having a clergy partner with whom they can share their struggles is a support, while others find separating work and home to be difficult when both spouses have the church as a predominant aspect of their lives.

When the secondary reasons for leaving local church ministry are examined for those women with clergy partners who indicated another call as their primary reason for leaving the local church, other concerns emerge (see Table 44).  Consistent with the overall population who gave the same primary reason, about one-quarter of the women with clergy partners left primarily to follow a call to another ministry.  Among those women indicating more than one reason, however, 25% indicated a lack of opportunity to use their gifts in the local church.  Lack of support from the hierarchical system was a concern for 19% of these women.  Some conferences are not very welcoming of clergy couples and do not try to work with the couple during the appointment process.

Women and clergy couples are seen as problems instead of challenges or opportunities.  I’ve heard that in California that some of the conferences think clergy couples are the greatest things that are happening. . . . And yet, in our conference, clergy couples are seen as a problem. . . . [E]very time there’s another appointment, it’s a big problem.  ’How are we going to handle this, who’s going to live in what parsonage, and where are the kids.’

The difficulties in the appointment process for clergy couples probably is one reason for the concerns about support and being able to use one’s gifts.  One or both members of a clergy couple may be placed wherever the Cabinet can find two appointments in close proximity.  Such appointments seem to be based more on geography than on matching gifts and graces of pastors with particular congregational needs.  Some women in the interviews also indicated that the Cabinet usually considered their husband’s appointment the primary appointment.  Once a place had been found for their husbands, the appointments of these women were selected, apparently at random, from the remaining appointments.

Family responsibilities were a concern for 19% of the women who indicated that their primary reason for leaving was a call to another kind of ministry.  Fifteen percent of the women with clergy partners indicated family responsibilities to be the primary reason for leaving.  A higher proportion of that group selected family responsibilities as the primary reason than did the group of women without clergy partners.  Once again the double standard concerning family and clergywomen must be revisited.  The stress of family responsibilities on clergywomen has already been discussed, but the particular difficulties of being part of a clergy couple, especially if children are involved, must be acknowledged.  Some women commented about the stress of never being able to worship together as a family, or splitting the children up between the churches.

[O]ne of the things that drove me to pursue the position [outside the local church] was that I missed my children in the Christmas pageant last year, and I was tired of that. . . . I finally said to myself I can either be bitter and depressed about missing these facets of our life as a family, or I can do something and be proactive about it.

And I think being good parents was one of the main reasons I’m not in the parish anymore.  I mean, when the second one was born, and I was taking her with me, and [child's name] was going with [husband], and the whole family was split up on Sundays, that’s when it, you know, was like, ‘Okay.  Maybe we better go with our strengths . . . because this is no way to raise a family or be a family.’

Denominational Background

Denominational background was analyzed because the investigators wanted to determine if there were differences in the reasons for leaving local church ministry between those who were reared in Methodist traditions and those who joined The United Methodist Church from another denomination.  Indeed this suspicion was correct (see Table 45).  Differences were observed, particularly among those who left because of lack of support from the system and among those who left due to reasons of integrity.  Like most of the other analyses, the largest proportion of women reared in Methodist denominations and those reared outside Methodist traditions left to follow a call to another kind of ministry.  Of course, these data are somewhat ambiguous as has been discussed previously.

Women who were not reared in Methodist traditions were more likely than women who were to indicate they left local church ministry because of lack of support from the system.  Twenty-one percent of participants from other denominations left because of system support issues, whereas only 13% of participants reared in Methodist denominations left for the same reason.  This difference leads to speculation about the possibility of a bias in The United Methodist Church against those who were not reared in Methodist denominations.  Perhaps clergywomen reared outside Methodist traditions did not receive adequate training about how The United Methodist Church is organized.  Perhaps those clergywomen reared inside Methodist circles know and understand the system better because they grew up in it.  Better education and training are necessary during adult confirmation and the candidacy process for those women joining The United Methodist Church from non-Methodist backgrounds.

Integrity was also an issue for women who were not reared in Methodist denominations.  Eleven percent of the women from non-Methodist backgrounds left local church ministry because they felt they were unable to maintain their integrity in the system; 6% of the clergywomen who were reared in Methodist traditions left for this reason.

Primary Reason for Seeking Ordination

Most of the clergywomen (84%) who chose “call to the local church” as their primary reason for ordination were in that ministry at the time of the questionnaire (see Table 17).  Thus, only 19% of those women selecting “call to the local church” indicated primary reasons for leaving the local church (see Table 46).  Perhaps those women with a specific call to the local church remain in local church ministry because of their specific sense of call.  The predominant reasons for leaving were “lack of support from the hierarchical system” and “following a call to another kind of ministry.” This sample is so small, however, the findings cannot be considered conclusive.  As expected, the primary reason for leaving indicated by participants who sought ordination because it was required for ministries other than the local church was to “follow a call to another kind of ministry.”

Participants who sought ordination because it was required for priestly duties evoke some intriguing questions.  Only 46% of all participants who indicated priestly duties as the primary reason for seeking ordination responded to the primary reason for leaving local church ministry item.  Still, forty-two percent of those responding indicated lack of support from the system, lack of opportunity to use gifts, or too much rejection by congregations as their primary reason for leaving the local church.  Thirty-two percent of this group left primarily to follow a call to another kind of ministry.  The participants who entered ordained ministry primarily because of the priestly duties are an interesting group, because 40% of them were out of the local church and 21% had left temporarily and later returned, at the time of the questionnaire.

Since 45% of the participants in this group were reared in non-Methodist traditions, it is possible that the models for ministry provided in their denominations prior to being affiliated with United Methodism exert a greater influence on their ideas and attitudes about ministry.  For example, if some of these women came from denominations such as the Roman Catholic or Episcopal churches where the sacraments are visibly a central part of the role of priest and the denomination’s theology, it would be expected that these women would carry that model with them into The United Methodist Church.  In some United Methodist local churches, these women may have found that the sacraments and other “priestly duties” had a different emphasis. They may be leaving local church ministry, in part, because it did not meet their expectations, or the model for ministry needed in United Methodist local churches did not fit with their own model of ministry as influenced by another denomination.  Further study on models of ministry of women reared in non-Methodist traditions is necessary.

Participants who entered ordained ministry out of a logical/natural progression were more likely to leave local church ministry because of family responsibilities than any other group selecting a different reason for ordination.  Perhaps these women have a certain personality or typology out of which they make decisions.  If raising a family or attending to other familial responsibilities is the next logical step in their life, then that may be what they did.  Family responsibilities also were an important issue for participants who expressed a non-specific call to ministry.  With the exception of the group of participants whose ordination was the result of a culmination of experiences (natural/logical progression group), lack of support was one of the top three reasons all the groups gave for leaving local church ministry.