Women pastors break the stained-glass ceiling

It’s a typical Sunday at a church in Harlem, New York. Except with Reverend Kim Anderson at the pulpit, this house of worship is part of a small, but growing minority of churches led by female preachers.

“I think the church has always been run by women,” senior pastor of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church Rev. Kim Anderson said. It’s just that the pastor has always generally been men. Women are beginning to mount the pulpit but we’ve always been running the church. You take women out of the church, you don’t have a church.”

Rev. Anderson is the first woman pastor to lead the Metropolitan A.M.E Church in it’s 107-year history.

According to US Federal Labor Statistics from 2006, one in every eight clergy members is female.

“For the amount of women that you’ll see in a congregation on a morning, the amount of women still who are called to participate in the church at large, are still not being ordained and called to pastoring positions,” Rev. Dionne Boissiere, associate director of development at Union Theological Seminary said.

Some denominations believe that a woman’s place is not in the pulpit.

Reverend Lillian Allen remembers being treated differently when she served in a Baptist church before coming to Metropolitan A.M.E.

“A lot of times we were not allowed to stand in the pulpit,” Rev. Allen told theGrio. “If we had to preach, we had to preach from the ground floor. We couldn’t be in the pulpit with the men. There were times when we were able to preach, people would get up and walk out as we were preaching.”

Roots in the anti-slavery movement have led the A.M.E. Church to take a more inclusive approach to women in ministry.

But having more women in top positions doesn’t mean they are always welcomed with open arms.

“People think that now that because there are a lot of women, ‘Oh you got what you wanted,’” Reverend Kimberly Detheridge said. ”’You’re ministers now,’ [they say]. When in reality, we didn’t even begin to have the right to be ordained elders in the African Methodist Episcopal Church until the year 1960. That’s not that long ago.”

Earning respect from their male peers can also be a struggle.

“Sometimes when you go to another church, you find there’s an old boys network,” Rev. Erika Crawford, senior pastor of Allen Temple A.M.E. Church in Mt. Vernon, New York said. “In my particular community, all the men pastors seem to have this little fellowship. They get together and they do things. But as a female, you don’t get the same level of respect.”

But some of the strongest voices of opposition come, surprisingly, not from the men.

“The woman of the church challenged me,” Rev. Crawford said. “The church I pastor has a significant number of West Indians and their culture is that women don’t lead. Women run the home and men run the church. And so I really had to prove myself, which meant I had to avail myself to being hurt and still being rejected.

Leading women pastors, like Rev. Anderson, to set their own boundaries.

“It was all deconstructing what you grew up understanding, and trying to fit into that place, even as a female,” Rev. Anderson said. “I have to be comfortable sitting in this place because I’m so used to seeing a male in this place.”

But for some in Anderson’s congregation, a female pastor offers something that male counterparts don’t.

“Her being female, she has a more tender side in knowing how to use her motherly instinct,” Metropolitan A.M.E. Church congregational member Harrison Lewis said in regards to Rev. Anderson. “So she does that very well.”

As acceptance for them grows, female preachers agree that progress is being made.

“Now I think that it’s where the culture is going – period – across America,” Rev. Anderson said. “I think that there is finally a season for us and we are making a way.


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