Women in clergy becoming a growing trend across the US

WEST BEND, Wis. (AP) — Cristy Schoob is grateful and blessed, maybe even a bit lucky, she got the message when she did.

At the end of her sophomore year, she handed her yearbook to her pastor and asked him to sign it. He did so and left a note that set up the rest of her life:

“What a minister you would make.”

That was in the mid-1970s, which at that time, a woman in clergy was rare.

In October, The Rev. Eileen R. Campbell-Reed, an academic entrepreneur, seminary professor, author, consultant and mentor/coach, released a 20-page report looking at the state of women in clergy, spanning 40 years (1977-2017). She has published several articles on the practice of ministry, women’s leadership and research method.

In the report, it said mainline denominations, such as Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and Assemblies of God, combined to have 32 percent of its clergy be a woman. The denominations of UU and UCC have either more women than men or are even. The clergy is 57 percent women in UU and it’s 50 percent in UCC.

In 1977, that was nowhere near the case.

The denomination with the most women in clergy at that time, according to the report, was Assemblies of God — 11 percent. With other mainline denominations, UU had 6 percent, UCC had 8 percent, Disciples had 9.5 percent. And, on the extreme low end, Episcopal, ELCA, Brethren and Free Methodist were less than 1 percent.

Combined it was 2.8 percent.

The report pointed out that Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist don’t permit women in clergy. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and Missouri Lutheran Synod are the same, but not noted in the report.

That didn’t bother Schoob. Rather she was motivated and inspired. And it appeared she got the all-important message at the perfect time.

According to the report, women in clergy have been steadily increasing since the late 1970s. Schoob graduated from high school in 1976, thus putting her right in the middle of a transition period where it was appearing to be more accepted for a woman to lead a church, be a leader in anything for that matter.

“I think, even for the people coming from mainline denominations, we remember we all go back to Catholic roots, that idea of Jesus being a single male; that was ingrained in people’s minds,” Schoob told the Daily News. “For some people it was wrong; for others it was odd.”

Women got the right to vote with the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Still, in the decades that followed, women often struggled to separate themselves as valuable members of society. Schoob said women that pursued clergy in the 1950s and 1960s and plenty of battles for acceptance. Then there was the passing of Title IX, often referred to in sports as the gender equality law, in 1972.

Thus, that’s one reason she is grateful she was in the time period she was. Otherwise, clergy may not have been in her future.

“It was a fight, while I glided through,” Schoob said. “I wasn’t going into the ministry to prove that a woman could do it. I knew I wasn’t going in alone.”

As she worked through the schooling, she noticed women were sitting in faith education classes and that appeared to be OK, which was, in a way, refreshing.

“By the time I got to seminary in 1980, it was almost half of the people studying were female for the clergy,” Schoob said. “If it wasn’t half and half, it was probably 60-40.”

Schoob has been co-pastor Trinity Lutheran Church with her husband, David, for more than 20 years. Overall, she’s been in clergy for 34 years. Their first call was, she said, a “four-point” parish, serving four parishes in western Kansas. Those four parishes were in four towns, two time zones, four zip codes and four school systems.

“We were in the part of Kansas where we thought everything fell off the end of the world,” Schoob said with a smile. “That’s where we were.”

She grew up in Fox Point and religion was a part of her life, going to church when she and her family could. Going into ministry wasn’t something she considered for much of her youth.

“I knew I wanted to do something to help people,” Schoob said. She thought about being a veterinarian or a teacher.

When she reached her teen years, she went through youth ministry and confirmation classes. She remembered the pastor at her church, who was fresh out of seminary.

“He just jumped in with both feet and I saw him make a huge difference,” Schoob said.

That, coupled with the message he left in her yearbook, Schoob had settled on a career path she hasn’t regretted.

“It felt right,” she said referring to her early studies in pursuit of leadership in faith.

“I’ve never regretted following the call,” Schoob said. “I love what I do. We’ve been blessed to end up in fabulous places, working with fabulous people.”

The report shed light on a growing trend, which Schoob said is a hopeful sign of the future with faith.

“The church is needing to change; we’re way behind,” she said. “It must be 30 years ago that a book came out called ‘The Frog in the Kettle,’ it talked about the Christian church in general being oblivious to the world changing around it and how to structures have to adapt and change.”

Schoob said, “Here the idea is that this is an important thing and we use our gifts to the best of our ability and we empower the people of our congregation to do that so that it is part of their central, who they are. Women and men both do that, but they come at it different ways and I think it’s good for people to hear both voices.”


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