Durham News: Community

On Faith: Women clergy hitting ‘stained-glass ceiling

By Flo Johnston

Even as American churches become more diverse, female clergy seeking leadership positions are hitting a glass ceiling, a Duke University study finds.

Women still hold just a small minority of leadership posts in American congregations, according to the newly released National Congregations Study report.

The study found essentially no overall increase in the number of congregations led by women since 1998, with about 11 percent of congregations being led by women.

“That’s one of the most surprising non-changes in our data,” said Mark Chaves, a Duke professor of sociology, religious studies and divinity who directs the study. “When I first saw this result, I thought it had to be wrong. But it’s accurate. The ‘stained-glass ceiling’ is real.”

There are several contributing factors, Chaves said. The proportion of female master of divinity students appears to have peaked in the early 2000s and has declined slightly since, and some with those degrees are less likely to seek pastor positions than men. Moreover, several major religious groups don’t permit women to lead congregations, and even those that do ordain women still contain congregations that are reluctant to have a woman to lead them.

Many women are assistant pastors and fill other secondary leadership roles in churches across the spectrum, especially in Catholic and mainline Protestant churches, the study notes.

Published on Wednesday, Dec. 9, the study is based on a 2012 survey and builds on two previous waves of data collected in 2006 and 1998.

Other study findings include:

▪ The larger the church, the smaller the donation it receives from each of its members. Across the board, smaller American churches receive larger financial gifts than larger churches. For example, an evangelical Protestant congregation of 100 adults receives an average annual gift of $1,750 per adult, while an evangelical congregation of 400 receives $1,480, and an evangelical congregation of 1,000 receives $1,140, according to the study.

▪ Gay rights has split churches like no other social issues has. When churches engage in activism on hot social issues of the day, they tend to fall almost entirely on one side of the argument. For example, most churches take a pro-life stance when engaging in the abortion debate. But on the same-sex marriage debate, there are roughly the same number of churches on either side of the argument, the study finds.

▪ Clergy are aging. Fewer young people are going to seminary right out of college, and more clergy come to that vocation as a second career, creating a church leadership population aging quicker than the American public. In 1998, the senior leader in an average congregation was 49 years old; in 2006, it was 53 and in 2012 it was 55, the study finds.

‘Blue Christmas’

A holiday service called “Blue Christmas” is offered today, Dec. 16, at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 4907 Garrett Road.

This is a contemplative way to explore holiday themes for those experiencing grief or who prefer a less traditional expression of the Christmas season. The gathering at 7 p.m. will include reflective readings, an altar for mementos of loved ones and a low-key fellowship time.

The celebration of Solstice from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, will mark the return to light and the New Year. This inter-generational service includes songs, poetry and ritual for the turning of the year. This festive reception and potluck will be held in the fellowship hall. All are welcome.


An Advent Communion service Wednesday, Dec. 16, at First Presbyterian Church, 305 E. Main St., will be preceded by 15 minutes of caroling by candlelight on the church’s front steps, beginning at 5:45 p.m. Then at 6 p.m. a procession of light will move into the sanctuary.

In anticipation of the church sanctuary’s 100th anniversary, the communion service will reflect an earlier worship style (circa 1915) to prepare hearts toward the coming of the Christ child. Mary Dance Berry, a student at Duke Divinity School, will give the meditation.

A family dinner for all ages will feature dishes that may have been served in 1915 will begin at 6:30 p.m. A donation will be received to offset the cost of the meal. All are welcome.

The 11 a.m. service on Sunday, Dec. 20, will include a pageant presentation by the children and youth of the church.

Hope and comfort

A Service of Hope and Comfort will be held today, Dec. 16, from 7 to 8 p.m. at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, 1320 Umstead Road in northern Durham.

This service is designed to provide healing for anyone suffering from grief and sadness and find it difficult to feel the joy of Christmas.


The Vocal Arts Ensemble of Durham, directed by Rodney Wynkoop, will present its annual Christmas concert at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, in the sanctuary at First Presbyterian Church, 305 E. Main St.

The concert is free but voluntary donations will be accepted at the door.

Extended hours

One World Market, 811 Ninth St., Durham’s only non-profit Fair Trade store, has announced extended hours from now through Dec. 23: Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 7 p.m.

Because of ongoing construction in offices in the market’s shared building, parking directly beside the store is often full. However, after 5 p.m. and on weekends, there are more open spaces.

Also, there is free 2-hour street parking directly in front of the store usually available except during the lunchtime rush.

One World Market, which supports thousands of artisans in more than 70 developing countries, offers handmade gifts to customers along with the satisfaction of knowing that gifts bought here can help change the world.

Contact Flo Johnston at fjohnston314@gmail.com or call 910-361-4135.