Each year, the United Church of Christ celebrates Women's Week, which often coincides with other religious and secular celebrations. This year, UCC Women's Week is March 5-11; and today (March 8) happens to be International Women's Day.
The 2017 theme for International Women's Day is #BeBoldForChange. For months now, we have witnessed women taking to the streets and making our voices heard. As agents of change—and acknowledging the many diverse backgrounds, identities, and experiences we carry collectively—women are becoming bolder, braver, more fearless in the public sphere. (Weren't we always bold, though?) When we come together as women, there's nothing we can't do.
In a denomination where a majority of our members are women, and about half of our Authorized Ministers are women, our value and contributions to the church cannot be ignored. However, sometimes those contributions are not acknowledged and celebrated in the same ways that they have been for men, both historically and presently.
Time and time again in the church, I've seen women cook the food for potlucks, manage food and clothing banks and programs, organize mission initiatives, keep the historical records, ensure the cleanliness and beauty of the sanctuary and altar/table, and serve as primary caretakers for the spiritual formation of children and youth. It's not that men don't ever take on these tasks; but if we are honest, it's mainly been women who have kept the church running all these years.
When women started leading the church as pastors, they encountered challenges not only to their qualifications, but also to their very selfhood. Though progress has been made, I often wonder how far we've really come as a church. (For current examples of on-going sexism experienced by clergywomen, check out pages 30-31 of the final issue of Common Lot, the UCC women's magazine available through UCC Resources.)
Add to that the fact that female pastors in the United Church of Christ are paid $.96 for every $1.00 made by male pastors, but that's only if they are in comparable senior or solo pastor positions. Unfortunately, females still occupy the overwhelming majority of associate pastor and interim pastor positions, while only holding a minority of senior and solo pastor positions in our churches. For women of color, women with disabilities, lesbians/bi/queer women and transgender women, the statistics are even grimmer with regard to church leadership.
Women are being bold on the streets, protesting and advocating for justice and peace—this is beautiful to witness and experience as one among them. They/we are heroes and examples for the whole country, being recognized and honored as change agents. My continued hope and prayer is that we recognize and honor the women within our own churches in the same way—by letting us be as bold as we want to be, even when it causes discomfort; by claiming our divine worth and equality as leaders of the church and speaking truth to our existing patriarchal powers and institutions; and by naming and claiming our experiences of sexism within the church so that all God's people might ultimately be liberated from this burden of injustice.
When we come together as women and are able to live in into the fullness of our God-selves, there's nothing we can't do
Resources for UCC Women's Week 2017
Resources for International Women's Week
UCC Antoinette Brown Society
Sparking Ministry Conversations
If you identify as a woman, what does it mean for you to be bold? If you don't identify as a woman, what does it mean for you to encourage or nurture boldness in the women around you? What might you need to give up, lay aside, or perhaps gain in order to do this well? How might your congregation concretely operationalize gender equality for women and transgender individuals, whether lay or clergy?
The Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi is director of the United Church of Christ's Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD). Kristina and other ministers-researchers blog about questions of importance for the UCC and beyond at http://carducc.wordpress.com. Among other things, she identifies as a bold woman, which gets her into a bit of holy trouble from time to time.