In Spirit and Truth is the blog of the General Assembly Committee on Representation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It will feature content written by the sixteen members of the committee, who are teaching and ruling elders from across the country, and our staff person in the Office of the General Assembly, as well as links and articles of particular interest. These blog entries are intended to prompt reflection and dialogue on aspects of expanding representation and supporting full participation in the PCUSA, especially at the assembly level. The ministries of advising, consulting, advocating, reviewing and recommending are vital to the life of the whole Body of Christ. Committees on Representation and/or their functions exists at all councils above session so from time to time we may highlight activities and insights from our sister committees on representation at smaller councils throughout the church. From time to time, guest contributors will provide content. Any views or opinions presented in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Presbyterian Church USA or the General Assembly Committee on Representation.
Author/Facilitator Molly Casteel is an Assistant Stated Clerk and the Coordinator for Representation and Inclusiveness Services. She is a teaching elder (a.k.a. Minister of Word and Sacrament) in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary.
On January 24, 2013, Leon Panetta, Defense Secretary made an astounding announcement that will change the course of history for women in the military announcing the elimination of ground combat exclusion and suggesting a plan to move forward to eliminate all gender based barriers. The announcement, in my opinion, is a wake-up signal to the church and calls the church to also re-examine it's stance on women in ministry.
Ironically, this announcement came between the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday celebration and the beginning of Black History Month. What a more appropriate time to raise the issue considering the journey of black clergywomen within the PC(USA). As we look to Committees on Representation for answers to why more black clergywomen are not being called to serve congregations within the PC(USA), a few troubling questions arise for me. How are Committees on Representation working with local judicatories to assure equal consideration of women in congregations and, particularly, black clergywomen or does that fall beyond COR boundaries? Has the time come for the church to pay more attention to the increasing number of black women in ministry who never receive a call? Why is it still an issue in these critical times in the life of our congregations to see a black women called as Senior or Associate Pastor?
The stakes are still high for black women who make the choice to be in ministry within the PC(USA) structure. While some noticeable change has occurred, the disproportionate presence of black women in senior pastor positions is still quite evident and the number of women who have completed all the requirements for ministry and have been rejected time and time again is astounding. In many cases, local PNC's (Pastor Nominating Committee's) eliminate women before they even have a chance based on the outdated and unreasonable bias that only men should be head of a church. Churches are willing to let women serve as Associates, Interims, and pulpit supply but when it comes to being the Senior pastor, forget it. If a woman is called it is usually the case that the church is hanging on for dear life and barely able to meet mandatory operational expenses, including paying a pastor. Because most Presbyteries do not interfere with the congregations choice for a pastor, the practice of not selecting or even considering a woman continues, even as I speak.
As President of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus and having served two different Presbyteries in a leadership position, I have witnessed first-hand the challenges for black Presbyterians and, particularly, black women in ministry. Noteworthy is the continued struggle of black women clergy to receive a call. As significant is the lack of youth and young adults in the life of our congregations and the seemingly disinterest in even considering a seminary education anymore. The struggle of clergywomen to remain in ministry with limited and insufficient salary packages has caused many to go into other fields. In other cases, women have been forced to take administrative positions rather than be placed in the church where they have a sense of call. Others have simply made the decision to depart from the PC(USA). The sacrifice, struggles and financial obligations of seminary education for black Presbyterians in these times is discouraging. Additionally, local judicatories through their Committees on Preparation for Ministry have discouraged and delayed, for whatever reasons, the journey toward ordination for many black clergywomen. The failure of pastor nominating committees to choose or even consider black women clergy for calls remains an issue that Committees on Representation must find a way to address.
The most recent test for black clergywomen comes with the focus on multiculturalism. Some would perceive the multicultural agenda as an old process of elimination all over again? I wonder if the new Book of Order intentionally leaves the discretion to implement Committee on Representation policies to local judicatories so that, essentially, they can ignore the policy. As we strive toward becoming one family of God, it is important that we not erase the plight, problems and successes related to our various cultures but instead make our legacies evident to future generations in the hope that they will learn and thrive from it.
The PC(USA) offers a wide variety of opportunities to be in ministry and mission that are exciting and enticing. However, the lack of persons in leadership as black clergywomen presents a difficult effort to encourage new leadership. CORs needs to find ways to encourage persons to want to be a part of an organization that still needs to work on and press the dialogue on many issues including calling black women as Senior Pastors?
Committees on Representation must continue to identify discernible indications that PC(USA) is striving toward more inclusive participation in its life and mission. This calls for a need to go beyond collecting statistical data to providing ways that all churches welcome the variety of gifts among its constituency. Black clergywomen's presence and perspective offer a source of enrichment in the life of the PC(USA). It beckons the whole church to move beyond stereotypes, prejudice, boundaries and limitations in order to see God's plan as reflecting the Body of Christ and clergywomen are included in God's plan. Therefore, black clergywomen expect Committees on Representation to continue to be the entity that encourages and supports an inclusive community of Presbyterians working together for the betterment of our whole church.
The Time has come!