The changing face of ministry

More and more churches are meeting the spiritual needs of their congregations by adding women to their staff.

Since 1983, there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of female clergy in the United States. More women are becoming ordained in their ministry and many are spiritual leaders of congregations, like Gail Linsley at United Religious Science Church in Carson City.

"I had a calling to pastor based on a personal experience of the presence of God, both in me and around me everywhere," Linsley said.

"There was also a profound sense of connection (with God). I couldn't imagine doing work that wasn't spirit-centered. It is an intensely personal, private, profound and difficult experience to describe."

Linsley, 53, has been in ministry for 31 years. Historically, within the United Religious Science Church, Linsley feels women are accepted and respected as well as men.

"One of the advantages from the professional standpoint is within our denomination, women have always been leaders. We have had a wonderful tradition on our own and in partnerships with men, which is my personal preference."

For Linsley, it is the Sunday service she enjoys most about her ministry.

"It's where I have the most fun and it's the most rewarding. To watch the transformation in people's lives - the healing - and their own personal connection with the spirit.

"That's where I'm more of a midwife than a messenger. I want to bring people to their own experience with God rather than talk about mine."

In the Presbyterian U.S.A. Church, 29 percent of active ministers in 2004 were female - 3,957.

The Rev. Dory Thompson was called to the First Presbyterian Church in Virginia City 14 years ago. At the age of 77, she is one of three female Presbyterian pastors in the area.

Thompson recalled why she entered ministry.

"I grew up in the church, for one thing," she said. "And got away from it for many years, and began drinking.

"I drank because I was in pain. I am an alcoholic. How I got rid of that addiction was I went back to the Lord and He rescued me from that. Along with some others who took care of me at that time."

Thompson was in her 50s after her divorce and returned to school and received a master's degree in counseling and a master's of divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. She has a son, daughter in-law and two grandchildren.

"It took a long time to receive a call," Thompson said of her assignment. "But then, I was an older woman and an alcoholic. Not too many churches were looking for me.

"It is a blessing for me to be in Virginia City. They are a wonderful group of people."

Thompson said looking back at her life, she would have entered seminary sooner. She loved the church and loved to "play church" with friends as a child.

"This is where I'm supposed to be," she said. "At least for the time. And I'm grateful for that."

The Episcopal Church at its annual convention June 18 in Columbus, Ohio, elected its first woman Bishop to preside over the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori, who was appointed Nevada's Bishop in 2001, was chosen from among several candidates to become the presiding bishop and will take over in November.

Elaine Morgan is a deacon with Coventry Cross Episcopal Church in Minden. Morgan, 79, was ordained as a deacon in 1984.

"My passion in ministry is healing," Morgan said. "I spend a lot of time at the hospital in Carson City through the chaplaincy program of the Carson City Ministerial Fellowship."

Morgan provides sacrament of the sick at their home or hospital and visitation at the request of the priest, or she will volunteer. As a woman of God, she said, she is well received.

"I've never felt put down," Morgan said.

Morgan does preach from the pulpit three or four times a year and conducts morning prayer. She also offers a healing service after the Sunday morning service.

The Rev. Dixie Jennings-Teats spent the first 10 years of her ministry on special assignment, working with community development and the local people's movements in Southeast Asia.

A Methodist minister, Jennings-Teats was ordained in 1977.

"I was born and nurtured in the church," Jennings-Teats said. "I grew up in southeast Missouri and in the 1960s became aware of racial prejudice and the Civil Rights movement.

"The only place I saw the call for liberation and freedom was through the message of Jesus and courageous church people."

The Methodist Church this year is celebrating its 50th year since granting full clergy rights for women in its ministry.

"It's a heritage we're proud of," Jennings-Teats said. "It's a way to acknowledge we are full participants in the journey of ministry that includes lay people as well."

It is by Catholic teaching women may not be ordained in the Catholic church.

"It does not exclude them from positions of authority," said the Rev. James Setelik, of Corpus Christi Catholic Community. "They can be a pastoral minister, chaplain, administrative personnel and in positions like chancery office."

Father Setelik said some people have trouble understanding the positions held by clergy in the Catholic church. He said some ministries require ordination. Women in the Catholic church in the United States have women's religious orders and congregations are a vehicle for women who lead consecrated lives.

The Reform Movement of the Jewish community has ordained women as rabbis since the early 1970s. Since then, all branches of Judaism, except the Orthodox, have ordained women as rabbis and cantors.

A rabbi is a person trained in Jewish law, ritual and tradition and ordained for leadership of a Jewish congregation, especially one serving as chief religious official of a synagogue. A cantor is the Jewish religious official who leads the musical part of the service and sings or chants the prayers intended to be performed as solos.

In recent years, the more liberal faith groups have modified their practices. They now select clergy on the basis of the individual's intelligence, personality and knowledge - without regard for their gender.

"In some cases, I feel people are more willing to approach me than a man, like with counseling," Morgan said.

"Ministry for me has never been male or female - it's a calling from the Lord."

• Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at or 881-1223.

Lutheran, Missouri Synod - Women may hold positions of service (may be consecrated as teachers in Lutheran school, musicians, parish nurses; but not as principals in Lutheran school; not allowed to be ordained as pastor.

Lutheran, ECLA - First woman ordained as priest Nov. 22, 1970. Hold positions at all levels.

Catholic - Women hold positions of authority; not allowed to be ordained as priest.

Presbyterian Church USA - Began ordaining women to elder roles in the 1930s, clergy roles in 1956.

Episcopalian - Approved ordination of women into the church as deacons, priests and bishops Sept. 16, 1976.

Methodist - Women allowed full clergy rights since 1956.

Mormon - Women may hold position of authority; but not allowed to lead congregation.

Jewish (Reformed) - Women allowed as rabbi or cantor since early 1970s.

Baptist (American Baptist Churches USA) - Women allowed as full clergy in the early 1970s.

Southern Baptist Convention - Women participate equally with men in the priesthood of all believers.

Relevant Bible passages

Timothy 2:11-12 "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent."

1 Corinthians 14:33-37 "As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says ... what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord."


U.S. federal labor statistics indicate that the number of women who describe themselves as "clergy" increased from 16,408 in 1983 to 43,542 in 1996. As of 1996, one in every eight clergy in the United States is female.

The percentage of female graduate students at 229 North American Christian schools of theology has risen from 10 percent in 1972 to 30 percent in 1997. In some schools of theology, more than 50 percent of the students are women.


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