40 Years of Women’s Ordination: A Study by Lenore M. Knight Johnson

From Lenore M. Knight Johnson’s “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the Evangelical Covenant Church”:

Campus Forum in Nyvall Hall (image credit: CAHL 15883)

Campus Forum in Nyvall Hall (image credit: CAHL 15883)

After thirty years of the ECC’s ordaining women, Olson and Cannon argued that greater effort should be made to support women pursuing senior level positions, including lead and solo pastoral roles and positions emphasizing preaching. At forty years, this continues to be a barrier for clergywomen. Just 12 percent of respondents are solo pastors, 6 percent senior pastors of multi-staff church, and 2 percent executive pastors, representing similar figures from ten years ago.


The largest percentage of respondents (30 percent) pastor congregations of 100 members or less. Among the twenty-three solo pastors who responded to the survey, all serve congregations with fewer than 100 members. Twelve respondents currently hold positions as senior pastors of multi staff congregations, one in a church of 200–300 members, three in churches of 100–200 members, and seven in churches with less than 100 members. In other words, women in senior leadership roles primarily pastor smaller congregations.


Examining outcomes for those seeking a position through the call process, 9 percent (18 women) were called to a senior or solo role (8 of whom listed senior or solo pastor as their preference), and 31 percent of all respondents secured an associate role. Among those in the associate category, 25 percent found positions in Christian formation, 19 percent in youth ministry, 10 percent in pastoral care, and 41 percent of respondents selected “other,” describing positions as worship, formation, and children and family ministries. In other words, while the percentages of women desiring and securing an associate position were fairly similar, this is not the case for those seeking a senior or solo role.


When asked how supported clergywomen feel or felt by their local church in their first position, 53 percent chose very supported, and 30 percent selected somewhat supported… The regional conference continues to be the level where support is experienced as most lacking for clergywomen. As a respondent stated, “I have found support and contact from the regional conference very limited in my time as a pastor. I have felt especially, given a first [call] as a female senior pastor, more contact would be given. I have found this not to be true. In addition, I have found that, as a pastor in general, outside of district pastors’ meetings there is little contact with respect to the pastoral care of pastors.”


Additionally, women have struggled in finding jobs and are concerned over the underrepresentation of women at all levels of leadership, spanning congregations, regional conferences, denominational offices, and ECC events such as Midwinter and CHIC. Respondents commented on the fact that, currently, only one woman serves as conference superintendent. Women also expressed significant disappointment that not all churches, fellow clergy, and speakers at denominational events support women in ministry, with statements such as, “It is still accepted that churches do not have to embrace or even believe the biblical teaching on women as pastors.” And finally, clergywomen shared general concern over the broader culture within the denomination, describing the ECC as a “good old boys’ club” and critiquing the persistent use of masculine language.


If the ECC only draws from half the population to lead its churches, is the denomination truly the best it can be? Are denominational leaders looking beyond the limits of congregational polity and seriously considering ways they can openly and boldly advocate for the exceptional women who are called and gifted to serve the ECC? The structural and cultural changes proposed in this article cannot be viewed as obstacles or burdens but rather as opportunities to make a thriving denomination even stronger. To be sure, change is difficult and often a slow, arduous process. But if the ECC is committed to the position it affirmed in 1976, the denomination and all those who comprise it need to determine if they are willing to do the hard work necessary to keep and support extraordinarily gifted people, create paths toward all levels of leadership, and ensure clergywomen can thrive in all realms of daily life—spiritual, personal, and professional. Until then, these same questions and issues will likely remain for another decade and beyond.

Read the full article here.

Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection)

Mackenzie Mahon


  1. I am so grateful for the continued research and dialogue regarding clergywomen in the ECC. I am sad that more women of color did not participate in the survey. Advocates for Covenant Clergy Women has been a very diverse group with many of our African American women colleagues serving in leadership. I would love to hear more about their experiences, and those of other women of color, in the ECC and in local churches. The history of women church leaders has varied greatly by race/ethnicity and by telling a more diverse story we expand the potential for women to serve in various roles.

  2. Agreed. I was also disappointed in the number of responses from women of color and see this as further indication of the need to consider connectedness (or lack thereof, it seems) within the denomination in general and the ministerium in particular. I noted in the article that, since only about half of clergywomen are securing jobs through the call process, it’s necessary to expand opportunities for networking and development of social capital, as these are common avenues toward jobs. I think examining who completed the survey – which was sent via email but also promoted through announcements/notices at ECC events like Gather and Triennial, the ministerium facebook page, and word of mouth – highlights who is attending key events and integrated into ECC networks. If clergywomen missed this survey, what else are they missing? And how can the ECC shift that exclusion so there is a greater level of connectedness, which not only helps in securing jobs but is also incredibly valuable for support and advocacy in one’s ministry?

    On a related note, since the ECC doesn’t collect comprehensive data on the race/ethnicity of clergy (I mention this in a footnote), I didn’t have a point of comparison for the response rate. For a host of reasons, I hope the denomination considers the value in collecting such data moving forward.

    I look forward to hearing additional thoughts on this, Jo Ann. Thanks for your comment.

  3. I am grateful for all your work on this, Lenore and for all the women who participated in the survey. I am curious about the notes on the Call Process and job placement. You indicate that 46% of those surveyed went to seminary at North Park and 51% went to seminary elsewhere.
    You then indicate that 51% of respondents entered the ECC call process. Do you have the data points to know how many of those 51% were NPTS graduates and how many were other? I ask because I know that one of the benefits of graduating from NPTS is that you enter the call process in the middle of your last year of studies and get to interview with all Superintendents and ECC leaders, allowing for more networking and job opportunity.
    “Among the more interesting trends emerging from this study is the fact that women are finding positions through means other than the ECC call process. Upon completing seminary, 51 percent of respondents entered the call process with the ECC, and 49 percent did not.”
    This feels almost the same as saying all NPTS grads entered the call process and most others did not….is that assumption accurate?
    As an alumni and current admissions staff for NPTS, I love that only our grads get a streamlined entrance into the Call Process, but I’m wondering if there is a different way to approach the for non-NPTS women grads and better assist them in the networking process.
    I value your insight.

  4. Great question, Amy. About 33% of the total who said YES on entering the call process are NPTS grads. I’d have to delve into the narratives more to gain a better sense of each individual’s path through seminary (i.e. are they distance students? part time?) but a read through of those who indicated NO looks as if most had a call upon entering seminary and some had family/flexibility issues (such as being unable to relocate). Do NPTS students opt out of the process if they already have a call in place?

    • Interesting. I would have thought that percentage would be higher. But I hadn’t thought about those in ministry positions already. Yes, typically if they are happily serving, they opt out of the Call Process. Some will however interview with Superintendents for the exposure and to provide leverage for future job networking.

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