By Barbie Fischer, Communication Manager
Franconia Mennonite Conference Delegates voted at the 1987 Assembly to allow congregations to request credentialing for female leaders. That vote led to two women entering the credentialing process. One of those women would not be ordained for another 29 years. The other, Marty Kolb Wykoff, was credentialed in 1988, at which time she was serving at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship. Since Marty’s credentialing, Franconia Mennonite Conference has credentialed numerous women. Currently, 30% of Franconia Conference active credentialed leaders are women. In 2015, Franconia Conference credentialed their first woman of color, Leticia Cortes. Still, within Franconia Conference there is only one instance where a woman serves as lead pastor with an associate she oversees. All other credentialed women in the conference who hold pastoral roles are either solo pastors or associates. While women receive the call from God to ministry, they still face many earthly obstacles. With all of this in mind, it led some to question what the credentialing process is like for women and how they remain resilient in ministry when some still object to them being in ministry.
In the summer of 2016, with the blessing of the Conference Ministerial Committee, then-Director of Leadership Cultivation, Steve Kriss, invited Anne Kaufman Weaver to interview 11 active female credentialed leaders within Franconia Conference. The purpose was to look at women’s pastoral resiliency. This was an extension of research Anne began in Atlantic Coast and Lancaster Conferences. While co-teaching a course at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Anne discovered a book regarding pastoral resiliency that only voiced male pastors. This made her wonder, what resiliency looks like for female pastors and ultimately lead to her research.
On, April 25, 30 people from around Franconia Conference – 14 men and 16 women – met at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church to hear Anne report from her Women’s Pastoral Resiliency research in Franconia Conference. There were six themes that emerged from her research regarding important elements to women’s pastoral resiliency: 1) spiritual formation, 2) self-care, 3) emotional intelligence, 4) cultural intelligence, 5) family and relationships, and 6) leadership. Anne’s questions to the women she interviewed focused on their calling, the credentialing process, areas of self-care, resources, obstacles, and what the conference and seminaries should know.
Throughout the morning , Anne discussed key points in the areas of credentialing, calling, self-care, and obstacles. Credentialed women from the Conference also shared some of their experiences.
Kris Anne Swartley, Minister for the Missional Journey at Doylestown Mennonite Church, shared about her experience in the credentialing process, where licensing was fine for the congregation, but when it came time for ordination, the congregation was reluctant. She spoke of the need to separate her personal process from that of the congregation, the importance of open communication with the congregational leadership, and the chance to share one-on-one and in small groups about her call story.
Mary Nitzsche, Pastor of Pastoral Care and Spiritual Formation at Blooming Glen, shared about her calling experience. She spoke of the way others seemed to recognize a calling in her before she did, even though she would play the “preacher” to all her dolls when she was four years old. She shared about wrestling with the call as it came when she was married with children. How would stepping into her call impact her family?
Speaking about self-care was Sandy Drescher-Lehman, Pastor at Methacton Mennonite Church. She spoke of the support of her husband, and being renewed in nature. Anne’s research shows that exercise and relaxation was key to the women interviewed, along with opportunities to meet with other women in ministry, engage in hobbies, and spend time with family and friends.
The morning ended with Anne sharing some of the obstacles faced by women in ministry, including patronizing language and stereotypes, being expected to take minutes or help in the kitchen. Even the size of the pulpit, having to stand on a stool to see over it, and the constant thought of appropriate clothing that accommodates a clip-on microphone can be obstacles. A challenge Franconia Conference is specifically seeing is that it takes women longer to move through the credentialing process than their male counterparts. Younger women don’t seem to be named to conference-wide positions as often as younger men. Congregations in Franconia Conference still differ on their interpretation of the Confession of Faith; there is a zeal to uphold the article regarding sexuality, but not the same zeal to uphold the article on credentialing women.
The Franconia Conference Ministerial Committee, Conference Board and staff have read and discussed Anne’s research and are working to implement ways to better support women in ministry. The congregations in Franconia Conference are also taking steps to examine this topic. Last fall, Franconia Mennonite Church held a series of discussions and studies on women in ministry. Franconia Conference continues to work to support all those who are a part of the Body of Christ. In the 30 years since affirming women in ministry, the Conference has come a great distance, yet there is still a long way to go.
Read Women’s Pastoral Resiliency Research by Anne Kauffman Weaver here.
Hear the Podcast of Anne’s presentation at Blooming Glen here.