Four dioceses in the Episcopal Church today elected new bishops—a kind of Episcopalooza.
While I am sure the Holy Spirit was at work in each election, it’s striking to me that in not one election did a woman win. In fact, of the 18 candidates in the four elections, only five were women, one of whom had to be nominated by petition so the slate wouldn’t be all male. This is so striking to me because in my recently graduated seminary class, more than half of my classmates were women. What gives?
A friend directed me to the report from the Executive Council Committee on the Status of Women in the so-called Blue Book prepared in advance of this summer’s General Convention. The report begins on p. 623 of the Blue Book and this paragraph of the report seems to speak directly to today’s results.
The data reveals a growing possibility of a two-tiered clergy system emerging where one tier, largely male, engages in full time parish or diocesan ministry as a primary vocation, and the other, largely female, engages in part-time ministry within or outside the parish system. Compensation for those in the second tier is very often not commensurate with experience or hours committed and many times they work on a non-stipendiary (unpaid) basis. While we acknowledge the need for the church to reexamine assumptions about full time and bi-vocational ministry, we feel it equally important that such trends do not contribute to existing patterns of inequality, with a disparate impact on women. Along those lines, we also call for a reexamination of the canons regarding clergy canonical residence. For this emerging tier of largely female extra-parochial and assistant/associate priests, years and even decades can pass before one is granted residency. Without the ability to participate in the councils of the Church in the places where they minister, these priests cannot live into the vow they took at ordination that they take their place “in the councils of the Church.”
The report references Called to Serve, a newish report from the Church Pension Fund (and others) about female clergy. I haven’t made it all the way through yet but it’s well worth your consideration.
There are many reasons why the lack of female bishops is problematic but here are at least two. First, the church is a diverse body and needs all its members to function properly. That diversity needs to be true of all levels of the church. Second, the church is a counter-cultural society. Yet there are more female U.S. Senators than female Episcopal bishops, even though the Senate has long been a bastion of male (and other) privilege.
Clearly, there are all kinds of complicating factors here: vocational aspirations, family life, length of time in ministry, and so on and so forth. But the raw statistics of today’s elections—five candidates of 18; zero new female bishops in four dioceses—bears consideration and reflection, particularly by those of us who have not given serious attention to these issues in the past.
I’m not saying male bishops are a problem. It’s just that I think the House of Bishops could benefit from some gender (and other kinds of) diversity. People who look like me are already more than adequately represented in the House of Bishops.