Even though Women’s History Month just ended, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the promising trends in the United Church of Christ over the past ten years regarding female ministers. In that short time period, the role of women in ministry has changed dramatically.
I was reminded of this fact while recently attending a boundary training for clergy. One of the facilitators was a retired clergy person, and she used statistics produced fifteen years ago to illustrate that very few females were in senior pastoral leadership positions in local churches. While this is still true in many ways, it is less pronounced than it used to be and gains have been made in this regard (I did speak with her after the session about this).
The Fall 2013 UCC Statistical Profile (using 2012 data) demonstrates that over one-third (35.6%) of all solo / senior pastors are female, compared with over one-fourth (26.8%) just ten years ago. Female ministers represent 53.4% of all co-pastors, almost two thirds (64.4%) of all associate / assistant pastors, and 48.0% of all interim / supply pastors. With older male ministers retiring and more females attending U.S. seminaries, female ministers are quickly closing the gap in solo / senior positions, as well as in the areas of co-pastor and interim / supply pastor.
At the same time, it is a mixed blessing that the percentage of associate / assistant female pastors has increased in the last decade. While it is positive that female ministers have increased their presence in all areas of local church leadership, the fact that female ministers are 64.4% of all associate / assistant pastors (while only comprising 35.6% of all senior or solo pastors) is still an imbalance in local church leadership. So, men are still about twice as likely to serve as a solo / senior pastor, and women are almost twice as likely to to serve as an associate / assistant pastor.
Still, it is hopeful that the overall statistics in this area have changed. About 38.9% of all active, non-retired ordained ministers are female. In 2002, only 27.1% of active, non-retired ordained ministers were female. The figure below demonstrates the actual numbers of male and female authorized ministers in the UCC in 2012, including licensed, commissioned, dual standing, ministerial partner, and Congregational Christian Church. Overall, 46.3% of all active, non-retired authorized ministers are female.
I expect the numbers to become increasingly equitable each year. At the current rate of increase, female clergy will be serving as solo / senior pastors as frequently as men in about 15 years. It will be interesting to monitor the changes in associate / assistant pastors over time as well. (NOTE: Clearer versions of graphics in this post can be found in the UCC Statistical Profile.)