Women in the pulpit:
Numbers, acceptance increases
WOMEN'S ROLE IN THE CHURCH As with many male-dominated professions in the secular world, the path to the pulpit for women has been paved with resistance. Historically, churches have struggled with questions surrounding the proper Biblical role of women in church leadership. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY PAULA MERRITT / THE MERIDIAN STAR
By Ida Brown / religion editor
May 31, 2003
Each Sunday morning, Harriet Simmons and her husband, Bill, drive more than 40 miles to morning worship services at a church in Philadelphia.
Afterward, they usually grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant and then drive for more than an hour to a church in Enterprise.
During both worship services, the two sit apart. Simmons usually catches a glimpse of her husband among the congregation from her seat in the pulpit.
The path to the pulpit for women has been paved with ridicule from religious leaders, as well as congregants who staunchly believe they should not serve as ministers.
Historically, churches have struggled with questions surrounding the proper Biblical role of women in church leadership. There is scriptural debate that Phoebe, Aquila, Priscilla and Deborah were in fact ministers, and a woman is credited with founding the International Foursquare Church.
Nevertheless, men continue to command the pulpit a nationwide survey conducted in 2000 by Barna Research Group shows men are the senior pastors of more than nine out of 10 Protestant churches (and all Catholic churches).
Though no more recent studies were available, the number of women ministers is increasing. This is even evident in the Meridian area as an increasing number of women are serving as clergymen.
As there are different faiths, so are there different callings to the ministry. And while none of the women ministers interviewed doubted the command or their faith, some were concerned how it would be accepted by others.
Maust said she first felt the call to be a missionary at the age of 12. But a personal experience many years later further defined her role in the ministry.
For Sister Andr Burkhart, pastoral associate of St. Joseph's and St. Patrick Catholic churches, the calling evolved after years of teaching in the Catholic school system.
Simmons said while undergoing the discernment process to determine if she was called, she had some doubts.
While people are more accepting today of female clergy than 20 years ago, there still is a lot of opposition from both men and women.
Simmons said she has experienced some reluctance from others, but notes that change of any type is difficult at first.
As a pastoral associate, Burkhart performs many ministerial duties lecturing, distributing communion, scriptural reflections at Masses (at Father Elvin Sunds request) and visiting the sick in the absence of the churches' two priests. But she does not retain the title of priest. Does it bother her?
Burkhart has on several occasions conducted Sunday services for another denomination, First Christian Church, and she has spoken at several local churches. She said she is content with her ministry.
In the right place
While there are frustrations as with any job all three women say they are fulfilled in their ministries.
Maust said working as a team with her husband has strengthened their ministry. But it is her belief that she had been called by God that confirms her ministry.
When asked if she thought there would ever be a female priest, Burkhart was optimistic.