United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study II in the U.S. Context

Introduction

In 1994, the Anna Howard Shaw Center started United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study I Project out of a necessity to understand the experiences of clergywomen and their ministry. This project was finished and presented in a full report in 1997. Clergywomen within the United Methodist Church struggled long and hard for ordination, which did not exist until 1956. However, when the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church merged to form the United Methodist Church in 1968, women’s ordination was fully recognized and clergywomen began their ministry with full clergy status; one such example is Anna Howard Shaw.

Our first United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study was conducted after 38 years of women’s ordination in 1956. It attempted to understand what clergywomen’s experiences were and how clergywomen participated in ministry. This research project was to specifically “identify reasons why large numbers of clergywomen were not serving local churches and to propose possible interventions by the connectional structure of the Church intended to retain clergywomen in local church ministry.”[1] The findings of our first retention study were remarkable. Many clergywomen confirmed that the reasons to leave local church ministry were “lack of support from the hierarchical system, being unable to maintain one’s integrity in the system, rejection from congregation/parishioners, and the conflict of family and pastoral responsibilities.”[2] This study revealed the difficulties of clergywomen’s experience in ministry, the personal complications encountered, and structural factors of church life.

This study recognized critical discriminations against clergywomen and their struggles in both personal and communal contexts and made strong suggestions to support clergywomen systematically and constructively. However, even though women’s rights and situations improved in our society over several decades, and even though we believe women’s status in the church has improved economically and politically, still we have heard constant struggles and incessant ordeals that clergywomen had to bear. Clergywomen reported that their painful reality of ministry without proper support has continued despite modern societal changes. These findings were discovered through the Anna Howard Shaw Center’s annual conference, Women n the World, other programs and research. Many of them raised their voices that they were suspicious about the stated progress or improvement work being done in regard to clergywomen’s ministerial experience.

With long consideration and discussion, the Anna Howard Shaw Center decided to investigate the experiences of clergywomen in the twenty-first century. In 2010-2012, the Anna Howard Shaw Center, co-sponsored by the Clergy Life Learning office, Division of Ordained Ministry at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry conducted the research of the United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study II. The purpose of this research is to investigate the changes of clergywomen’s reality in ministry for two decades after our first research and to recognize their voices again. As we acknowledge, we believe it is necessary to examine the current status of clergywomen in the twenty-first century and pay attention to urgent needs of support for clergywomen and their ministry.

In order to compare our findings with United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study I, we used the same questions that United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study I used and compared both data for our analysis. With great support and assistance of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, especially from Director Rev. Dr. HiRho Park, amazing numbers of clergywomen voluntarily participated in our research survey. After seventeen years of United Methodist Clergywomen Retention study I,[3] there are 10, 231 clergywomen in 2010 (7,531 active clergywomen and 2,700 retired).[4] Of the 18.6 percent of United Methodist clergywomen, 1,906 clergywomen, responded to the survey, several of them provided additional support through detailed comments. Their active engagement in this research amplifies its depth.

While this research was conducted, the Anna Howard Shaw Center also participated in another research project, Salaries for United Methodist Clergy in the U.S. Context in 2010.  This study was sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry in collaboration with the Anna Howard Shaw Center, the General Council on Finance and Administration, the General Commission on Religion and Race, the General Commission on Communication (United Methodist Communications), the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, and the General Board of Discipleship. The result of Salaries for United Methodist Clergy in the U.S. Context project revealed that salary difference in 2010 in terms of gender and race still existed especially in some Southern Conferences. However, this report proposed that the salary gap between clergymen and clergywomen would be decreased as clergywomen gained their seniority.

“This stage accounts for 6.5 percentage points of the gender gap, or two-thirds of

the total change. This suggests that differences in the seniority between males and females account for most of the gender gap. The percentage of female pastors in the UMC has increased by about 50% over the study period (from 19% in 1997 to 29% in 2008), and the mean seniority of female pastors has also increased by about 30% over the same period (figure 5). These changes indicate that new female pastors are entering the pastorate, and suggest that the gender gap will diminish over time as these female pastors gain experience. In fact, allowing the gap between males and females to change over time suggest that the raw gender gap has diminished by 3 percentage points over the study period (from 15% in 1997 to 12% in 2008).” [5]

It showed that the situations of clergywomen in the United Methodist Church improved over the years. Without considering factors like seniority, congregational size and appointment status, there is a 13% difference of salary between clergywomen and men. However, considering all factors, these differences can be decreased over time as clergywomen gain seniority.[6] It seems that the salary gap between clergywomen and men finally would disappear over the years. However, as the Salary study indicates, the situations for racial ethnic clergywomen have not improved. The salary differences among races clearly exist. Furthermore, this report uses existing data collected by UMC General Agencies, The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and The General Board of Finance and Administration, to analyze variation in the average salary level for pastors across a number of factors and groups. It means that only full-time pastors or pastors who received pension and health benefits were considered in this study. As we considered the financial crisis, many pastors have made a transition from full-time to part-time because of serious financial difficulties in the church. We suspect that many clergywomen are affected by this situation.

While Salaries for United Methodist Clergy in the U.S. Context in 2010 obtained invaluable information, like that listed above, the United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study II sought to obtain information regarding how clergywomen deal with their call and struggle in the ministry.

Next Page: Answering the Call


[1] Margaret S. Wiborg, and Elizabeth J. Collier, United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study, (Anna Howard Shaw Center: Boston University School of Theology, 1997), Chapter, 1, 1.

[2] Margaret S. Wiborg, and Elizabeth J. Collier, United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study, (Anna Howard Shaw Center: Boston University School of Theology, 1997), Chapter 3, 29.

[3] In United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study I research project, the actual data gathering process was in 1994. Our current project, United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study II collected and finished our data gathering in 2011.

[4] This data was provided by the United Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church.

[5] General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, Salaries for United Methodist Clergy in the U.S. Context, 2010. p. 22. http://www.bu.edu/shaw/files/2011/02/GBHEM_SalaryStudy.pdf or http://www.gbhem.org/site/apps/nlnet.

[6] General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, Salaries for United Methodist Clergy in the U.S. Context, 2010. http://www.bu.edu/shaw/files/2011/02/GBHEM_SalaryStudy.pdf or http://www.gbhem.org/site/apps/nlnet