From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ELCA Gathers 'Power-Filled Women for a Power-Filled Church'

Date Mon, 1 Mar 2004 14:00:45 -0600


March 1, 2004

ELCA Gathers 'Power-Filled Women for a Power-Filled Church'

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- "Glass ceiling" is a metaphor for the
invisible barrier that keeps women from holding top corporate
positions in the United States.  "Stained glass ceiling" refers
to a similar barrier in churches.  The Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America (ELCA) Commission for Women hosted an academy
in January that inspected the ELCA's "ceiling" and ways God is
leading women through it.
     About 62 female pastors of the ELCA gathered Jan. 25-29 for
the Clergywomen Head of Staff Academy at the Duncan Conference
Center, Delray Beach, Fla., to share their experiences, learn and
     The Lutheran churches that merged in 1988 to form the ELCA
began ordaining women as clergy in 1970.  Now, about 2,760 of the
ELCA's 17,703 clergy are women.  Seven of the church's 65 synod
bishops are women.
     "There is a very real stained glass ceiling in the church
regarding clergywomen in leadership, and there is much to do to
facilitate progress and change," said the Rev. Carol J. Tomer,
Pilgrim Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn.
     The academy "energized me for working as an advocate for
getting more clergywomen in positions of leadership in the ELCA,
particularly in senior pastor positions," Tomer said.  "And the
conference filled me with gratitude for the amazingly gifted
clergywomen who are in leadership in the ELCA," she said.
     "Synods need to have proactive strategies for breaking down
the barriers, clergywomen need to get together regularly to name,
with one another, both the joys and the challenges -- sometimes
very subtle challenges -- of being in senior pastor positions,
and clergywomen need to continue to work together on developing
and claiming our own unique approaches to holding power and
authority," Tomer said.
     "The theme of the academy was 'power-filled women for a
power-filled church,' and that was the ethos of the event," said
the Rev. Paula V. Mehmel, Martin's Lutheran Church, Casselton,
     "The academy was an empowering experience because it allowed
me to spend time in the midst of amazing women who were breaking
through the stained glass ceiling," Mehmel said.  "These were
women who are filled with the Spirit of God and who are seeking
to share that Spirit with others," she said.
     "It was the most positive, joy-filled group of clergy I have
ever been with -- none of that bitter edge or complaining that
sometimes pervades clergy gatherings, but neither a naive
ignoring of reality -- laughing, sharing, and growing together as
we navigate the uncharted waters as heads of staff, supporting
one another as we built a network to make a difference in the
church by working together," Mehmel said.
     The ELCA's 10,721 congregations staff their ministries in
about as many ways, making it difficult to identify clergywomen
who head the congregations' staffs purely by their titles, said
the Rev. Michelle Miller, director, women for leadership in
ministry, ELCA Commission for Women.
     Miller asked the bishops of ELCA synods to identify "women
who lead large congregations with multiple staff and who
supervise at least one other person in professional ministry."
Miller gathered the names of 120 clergywomen and invited them to
the academy.
     "We wanted to make sure they were able to network with other
women.	Many of these women come from places where they don't
know other women doing the kind of work they do," Miller said.
The academy was a place for the women to meet role models,
mentors, colleagues and rookies.
     "I don't fit into the category of head of staff. I am an
associate pastor who has had to function in the head of staff
role since my colleague's stroke," said the Rev. Andrea L.
Walker, St. John's Lutheran Church, Summit, N.J.  "The academy
was a wonderful learning opportunity, and my ministry will be
strengthened because of the experience," she said.
     The academy "did not turn into a 'gripe' session.	The
group, for the most part, expressed joy in their ministries,"
Walker said.  "While there was the acknowledgment that things
were at times difficult, overall I saw laughter and joy."
     "This academy will have a lasting impact on my ministry.  As
the most recently ordained person in the group and as an African
American, this Clergywomen Head of Staff Academy has changed the
perception I had of women pastors, being of one type or fitting
into a particular mold," Walker said.
     "I understand authority and leadership in a new way," Walker
said.  "It was also good to see women who are survivors and
'thrivers,'" she said.
     "The academy was an opportunity to meet with other women who
had more experience in supervising staff than I have had," said
the Rev. Karen A. Cluts, Elim Lutheran Church, Marshalltown,
Iowa.  "I connected with several women who had parish nurses and
since my parish nurse and I are trying to restructure her job
description, that conversation was very helpful," she said.
     "I was inspired in my own creativity by hearing the creative
ways that other clergywomen head-of-staff are leading their
congregations.	I had been looking for a different model than
what I see modeled by my male colleagues and this was it," Cluts
     "The worship and preaching were also renewing.  I had
forgotten what it was like to hear someone else's preaching that
included feminine images," Cluts said.
     "The Head of Staff Academy sponsored by the Commission for
Women was the most helpful continuing education piece I've
attended," said the Rev. Paula Maeder Connor, Trinity Lutheran
Church, Lakewood, Ohio.  "It combined prayer, encouragement of
one's person and ministry, practical idea sharing, and promise of
a future," she said.
     "As one of the longest-ordained women there, it was
wonderful to see a few beyond my years and tens of women younger
in service years but with major congregational responsibilities.
I was energized by their power and conviction of faith," Maeder
Connor said.
     "We know the women bring a lot of wisdom to these
conferences," Miller said.  "So, we had a session where they
could share their best practices."
     Another interactive session, "If you didn't laugh, you'd
cry," was "a time to share stories about things that we've done
well or not so well, funny times, things that have happened in
our lives as female clergy, maybe the weirdest question we've
been asked or 'rites that went wrong' or just funny stories,"
Miller said.
     Dr. Celia A. Hahn, former director of the Congregational
Spirituality Project and former editor-in-chief, Alban Institute,
Herndon, Va., presented sessions on "How Women Grow in Authority"
and "Uncovering Your Church's Hidden Spirit."
     Dr. Martha Stortz, professor of historical theology and
ethics, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif.,
contributed sessions on "Women's Ways of Seeing: Looking with
Spirit!" and "Women and Power: Promise -- and Pitfalls."
     The Rev. M. Wyvetta Bullock, executive director, ELCA
Division for Congregational Ministries, led Bible studies titled
"Claiming Servant Leadership, From the Inside Out."
     "Worship was woven into each day," Miller said.  "There is
something really empowering about having all women singing
together."  Some women said that at clergy conferences their
voices are usually drowned out by male voices.	"I feel like my
voice isn't being heard at all," she related.  "To be here and
have all women's voices singing together was really a moving
spiritual experience."
     The academy was funded in part by a grant from Thrivent
Financial for Lutherans, a fraternal benefits society based in
Minneapolis.  The money provided some scholarship assistance for
-- -- --
     The Commission for Women has a home page at on the ELCA Web site.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or

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