Women in Church Leadership
Tips for Advancing Women in Church Leadership

Gather People Together:

1. Start with people you know who really care about this issue, love the church, and are known to be active in parish and diocesan activities. Invite them over for coffee to talk about what can realistically be done in a way that both advocates for women ministers yet is clearly loving and respectful of the institutional church. Make sure the group includes both men and women since this issue needs both perspectives if we are to grow into the inclusive community first envisioned by Jesus. Read and discuss materials from the packet. Use this flyer to generate ideas about what might be possible in your area. Pray together for the guidance of the Spirit in your work.

2. Invite pastoral ministers and others studying for ministry to a focus session. Listen to the current pastoral situation for women/lay ministers in your diocese. Together, strategize ways of working to advance visibility and fairness for all church ministers. Hold a second focus session and invite concerned priests and deacons to join you (unless of course it is a concerned priest who first convened the session!).

Simple Things You Can Do That Are Pastoral, Prophetic and Painless (well, relatively):

1. Start a women’s faith sharing group in your community. By forming circles and groups for study, prayer, and faith sharing, women grow spiritually and are empowered to tranform their lives and the life of the church. Your group can share personal experiences, break open the scriptures together, discuss contemporary scholarship about women in scripture and the early church, feminist theology and women in church history.

Resources available in the Advancing Women in Church Leadership packet: Lydia’s House: An Example of Doing Women’s Spirituality in Community; Anonymous Women essay and prayer; Feminist Christology from Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in the Catholic Church; God’s Dominion Free Order: Women and Children from Engaging the Powers; Heart of Flesh: A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men; Women in the Bible and the Lectionary; Women Officeholders in the Early Church.

2. Begin a “Woman and the Word” reflection column in your parish bulletin. Invite prepared women leaders in your parish to take turns writing short reflections on the Sunday scripture readings. This will provide an opportunity for women’s perspectives on the scriptures to be heard. It can also educate parishioners about the patriarchal context of most biblical stories, and how liberating Jesus’ message was (and is) in that context.

Resources available in the Advancing Women in Church Leadership packet: Women in the Bible and the Lectionary; Jesus & Women; The Women in Paul’s Ministry; Mary of Magdala; Our Foremothers in Faith: Women in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures; Scripture Readings that Subordinate Women.

3. Using materials from this packet, write an op-ed piece for your diocesan paper, and the women’s or religion section of your local newspaper. Feature scripture stories that highlight Jesus’ refusal to accede to the patriarchal norms of his day (ie. women taken in adultery, the prodigal son, the women who traveled with Jesus etc.). Other articles could be about women ministers in the earliest churches, Catholic women who changed the world, women in the Hebrew scriptures, etc.

Resources available in the Advancing Women in Church Leadership packet: Jesus & Women; The Women in Paul’s Ministry; Women Officeholders in the Early Church; Women in the Bible and the Lectionary; Catholic Women Who Changed the World; Our Foremothers in Faith: Women in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

4. For the Lenten/Advent series in your parish, focus on the inclusive practice of Jesus as seen in the Gospels, or the women disciples in the earliest churches. Invite biblical scholars from nearby Catholic colleges or universities to give the program and open it up to the whole diocese.

Resources available in the Advancing Women in Church Leadership packet: Jesus & Women; Mary of Magdala; The Women in Paul’s Ministry; Women Officeholders in the Early Church.

5. Start an annual liturgical celebration of the feast of Mary of Magdala on July 22. Invite a local religious educator to present recent Biblical scholarship about Mary of Magdala (ie she wasn’t a prostitute, was a preeminent apostolic leader in the infant church etc.).

Resource: Mary of Magdala.

Note: An organizing kit with a new sample prayer service and other helpful planning resouces is made available each year. Contact FutureChurch at magdala@futurechurch.org to order.

6. Encourage your diocesan women’s commission or diocesan paper to invite nominations for “Women of Witness” in your diocese. Publicize their stories. In this way female disciples of Jesus become more visible.

Resource: Anonymous Women Essay.

More Painful and More Powerful (probably):

Analyze Your Parish:

1. Is your pastoral minister:

  • Involved in decision-making about parish matters
  • Meeting twice a year with the bishop to discuss concerns?
  • Present in a visible role at liturgy?
  • Permitted to preach on appropriate occasions?
  • Being paid a just wage?
  • Named with priest ministers in parish publications and announcements?
  • Blessed with a parish welcome and farewell celebration when s/he arrives or leaves?

Resources available in the Advancing Women in Church Leadership packet: Lay Ecclesial Ministers in the Catholic Church; Understanding the Ministry and Experience: Parish Life Coordinators in the United States; Lay Preaching: A Hearing Aid; Some Highlights of the Document Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord

2. Advocate for greater latitude in allowing prepared women pastoral ministers to preach on a regular basis in your parish/diocese. If your diocese does not have a preaching institute to prepare lay preachers, encourage the formation of one.

Resources available in the Advancing Women in Church Leadership packet: Lay Preaching: A Hearing Aid.

Always keep the following in mind:

Be clear about you goals. Build consensus. Be realistic. Don’t try to do everything at once. If you have more than one goal, prioritize.Assess your people power. However, don’t underestimate the power of two or three. You CAN effect change with several determined and dedicated people. Keep in communication with your group and others who are sympathetic to your message. Consider building an email list or phone tree to keep everyone updated regularly about activities.

Analyze Your Diocese:

1. Assess the status of women in your diocese by answering the questions of the Women’s Justice Coalition report card. Such questions include: Does your diocese have a women’s commission or office on women? Are lay ministers provided subsides for their education? How many women serve in senior administrative positions in your diocese? Are women equally represented on all diocesan and parish boards, including the finance committee? Does your diocese have personnel policies and a recognized grievance procedure?

Other additional questions for your analysis:

Does your diocese have a ceremony commissioning women/lay ministers and is the ceremony covered in the diocesan paper?

Does your bishop include a description of the progress your diocese has made promoting the participation of women in ministry and decision making in his quinquennial report to Rome?

Resources available in the Advancing Women in Church Leadership packet: Status of Women in the Roman Catholic Church: A Report Card; Lay Ecclesial Ministers in the Catholic Church; Some Highlights of the Document Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.

2. Call or write your diocesan leadership and/or the members of the USCCB Committee on Women and ask for the opening of the permanent diaconate to women.

Resources available in the Advancing Women in Church Leadership packet: Women Deacons, Why Now?; Catholic Women Deacons.

A Church Reformer’s Prayer

O Beloved God, when assailed by fear and discouragement,

teach me to look to you:

Turn my doubt and uncertainty to faithfilled confidence.

Turn my fear and cynicism to trust and hope.

Turn my anger and resentment to forgiving kindness.

Turn my need to control to letting go in God.

Turn my belief that I’m all alone to awareness of your

near and dear companioning.

Turn my fear that this is a hopeless cause into confidence

in your power to save.

Turn me from compulsive activity to patient contemplation.

Gift me with new eyes to see your impossibly fresh creation

arising from chaos’ fearful, faithful ferment.

Turn me from my need to fill every minute, to a standing still

in that empty space which confidently awaits your miracle of grace.

Most High and Glorious God,

most near and dear Savior, Brother, Mother, Sister, Friend,

thank you for all the ways you love so much.

Teach me a new serenity, midst hustle bustle of

Church reform days,

but first of all, let me bring you praise.

-Christine Schenk csj

Advancing Women in Church Leadership is a project of FutureChurch.
Feel free to make copies for others and send for our organizing packets
($10 and $2s/h)

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