Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Women ministers: growing numbers

A new year is one of those times for taking stock and setting aims, so - how are we doing when it comes to numbers of women ministries in different denominations?

The proportion of women ministers across the denominations has grown from 8% in 1992 (the first year in which the number was counted) to a projected 18% in 2010, assuming current trends continue. So which denominations actually have the highest proportions of women ministers?

The URC's percentage is growing rapidly, and will be nearly 60% by 2010 . In the Salvation Army, who have always emphasised women's ministry, the proportion is dropping: women ministers made up 56% of officers in 1992 and will be 52% by 2010. The Methodists will be then be third largest, with 40% women. The Baptist proportion of women is growing fast too, increasing five-fold in this period, the fastest rate of growth except for the New Churches.
(Source: Religious Trends 7, May 2008)

So how does the Anglican Church compare? The latest statistics compare 2007 with 1994 (the year in which women were first ordained priests). In that time the percentage of ordained women has risen from 10% to 27% - a lower proportion, but much higher numbers than in the Free Churches.

So what do we make of this? I'm not sure I'm that happy if a denomination now has more female than male ministers. For me, the aim is equality, not replacing one domination with another.

An equally important question is, what lies behind the figures? The Anglicans do not have many so-called 'dignitaries', but the male 3% is well ahead of less than 1% women. What does the proportion of area, district or other leaders of leaders look like in the denominations where the percentage of women is now approaching 50%?

And in the case of Anglicans, an encouraging percentage of 27% women hides the fact that of that 27%, only 14% are stipendiary (ie paid), while 13% (nearly half) are non-stipendiary or OLM. For men these percentages are 57% and 13%. So when it comes to leading larger churches, becoming dignitaries, or even being training incumbents or team rectors, women are much less likely than men to be in the frame.

Growing numbers of women ministers: good news if this means that women are taking their place as leaders alongside men. But behind the figures there are many other considerations, which may be less good news.

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