June 3, 2010

The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same

Googling "umc guaranteed appointment female minority" just now, I came across the most fascinating article that ran in Christian Century in 1979. Titled "UMC’s Women Clergy: Sisterhood and Survival," it was primarily remarkable for how unremarkable it was. If not for the reference to the upcoming 1980 General Conference and the use of the word "retarded" to refer to a special-needs child, the piece could easily have been written this year--more than 30 years later!

There are more female clergy in the UMC today, and more of them are appointed to senior pastorates and large membership churches than in 1979, but the issues they face are all the same. Challenges to advancement. Concerns over acceptance in certain congregations. Lack of support or flexibility in pregnancy and childcare situations.

For our purposes on this blog, as clergy spouses, consider this paragraph:

“Clergy couples” -- with both husband and wife being ordained -- “are beginning to find their label oppressive,” said one workshop participant. It causes them to be regarded as an entity rather than as two pastors, and to be stereotyped as a placement problem. Coordinating the career moves of a couple -- whether they desire to serve a joint pastorate or separate parishes -- can be difficult. But cabinets have been slow to acknowledge the seriousness of the two-career couple problem when one of the members is clergy and one is nonclergy. When both are ministers, the church bears responsibility for placing them both in jobs -- generally within driving distance of their shared parsonage. But when only one partner is ordained, the church has no control over the other partner’s career, and often fails to take it into consideration. The assumption has been that when the minister must move, the spouse must follow. The system worked well for many years with men who had nonworking wives, or wives whose careers as nurses or schoolteachers were regarded as transportable from one town to another. The two-career-couple crunch often forces a wrenching decision: “Which career is more important?” The assumption that the male’s ambitions always take precedence is being questioned, and couples are wrestling with the sacrifices required when career goals conflict.

Thirty. Years. And yet so little seems to have changed.


  1. Thanks for posting. Which career is more important? It is a question that I wrestle with daily. I have a great career, and am paid very well. Without my income, we would not be able to support our family. Yet, the institution says that I must go wherever he goes. It has put considerable stress on our relationship. I sometimes wonder if we are the only ones in this position? I secretly wonder if dual career couples choose other denominations.

  2. I imagine many do. Itineracy is built for another time, as the article said, when most pastors' spouses were women who either stayed at home, or were teachers or nurses.

    When my husband was appointed 50 miles from our old church and my job, so many people asked me if I would be quitting my job. I found that so offensive! Why should I give up my career because my husband was "transferred" and in a couple years could be "transferred" right back here?

  3. Thanks for posting Jessica. I too believe itineracy was built for another time. With such a large percentage of people in seminary as second career students, that usually means there is a working spouse behind the scenes. It is good to know there is at least one other person out there!