Saturday, December 1, 2007

Thank God You're Not a Woman

“Thank God, you’re not a woman!” were the words that met me at one of my new appointments as pastor. Granted there had been some problems in the church before I arrived; however, none of the problems could directly be attributed to the fact that my predecessor was a woman.

Perhaps there were indirect difficulties my female colleague encountered, but I suspect those were mainly extensions of prejudice against women pastors. I am convinced, for the most part the successful pastorate of a person depends much less on their gender and much more on their ability to get along with others.

I am also convinced that without women pastors, the United Methodist Church (UMC), especially in SW Texas, would be structured much differently today. Perhaps as many as 75 of our smaller churches would be closed for lack of a minister.

So it was of interest recently when Time Magazine reported that 213 women priests were ordained by the Church of England last year. For the first time since the Anglican fellowship started to ordain women in 1994 the number of women ordained outnumbered the number of men (210). [Overall there are 7,001 ordained men in the Anglican priesthood, compared with 1,495 women.]

These numbers prompted me to count the number of ordained men and women in the Southwest Texas Annual Conference UMC. Informally I determined that there are 164 women with a total of 720 ordained ministers (c. 556 men). [These numbers are approximate because they include persons who are retired, and those working in special appointments (non-parish). Also, gender was determined by tallying first names on a “probable gender” basis, e.g. Bob = male; Judy = female. ]

The SWTx Conference is but one of five conferences in Texas; and just a small fraction of the national church. However, its number of women ordained or commissioned this past conference year were eight out of a total of eleven persons. This past year the quantity of those set apart for ministry was rather small; however for several years now the trend of more women than man being ordained has continued (according to my memory)

Presently, two of six District Superintendents in the SWTx Conference are women. And the presiding bishop of the Texas Conference, Janice Huie, is a native of this conference and former DS here. The pastor of the third largest church in our conference is a woman.

To add a new dimension to this gender focus comes a story of Ann Gordon, pastor of St. John United Methodist Church in Baltimore. For five years Ann has been the clergy leader at this church
This past annual conference, she was reappointed to the church with a new name: Drew Phoenix, because she has had a gender-change procedure and is now a male. Reports are that she/he has been warmly received at St. John’s.

But anything but a warm reception awaits the issue of gender change at the next General Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2008. I am sure the conservative wing of the Church is delighted to have new meat to chew on.

Until then, it is very intriguing to me to imagine a new gender-changed pastor coming to a first meeting with a new church member who might exclaim to her/him: “Thank God you’re a man who changed from being a woman.” Or, depending on your prejudice, “Thank God you are a woman who used to be a man.”.