What is the Women of Color in Ministry ("WOCIM") Project?
WOCIM Explained

The full name of the project is The Women of Color in Ministry Employment, Mentorship, Advocacy, & Education Project. WOCIM is its acronym. This project seeks to end one of the final frontiers of American prejudice—gender discrimination in the Christian Church and in its attendant seminaries, divinity schools, and service organizations, especially as it relates to women of color. Discrimination against women of color in ministry is one of the last remaining civil rights issues of this century.

As with much of all societal discrimination in North America, its injustices fall most intensely on Black, Latina, Asian American/Pacific Islander, and Native American women. Frequently, these clergy women are the last hired (if hired at all), last promoted, and the first fired. Few are encouraged to pursue doctoral degrees; and, even fewer obtain tenured academic positions.

Women of color are also the ones who are almost universally expected and asked by congregations and denominations to volunteer their services. Seldom are men, especially theologically trained men, expected or asked to work without being financially compensated.

Despite the Church's long-standing record of gender discrimination, women of color, and women generally, are flocking to ministry. Carroll W. Jackson confirms this in her report, Women's Path into Ministry: Six Major Studies." Pulpit and Pew Research on Pastoral Leadership, "Arguably, the most important trend in pastoral leadership in the last quarter of the 20th century has been the entry of women into ordained leadership in many Protestant denominations." Despite this, seldom are women of color clergy called as senior pastors, selected as senior church administrators, recruited as heads of religious service organizations, chosen as denominational leaders, promoted to full professorships in seminaries, or hired as top administrators, deans and seminary presidents.

This is not due to a lack of capable women of color clergy. It is due to known and pernicious patterns of gender discrimination. These patterns have, and continue to have, a deleterious effect on the future of women in ministry; and they seriously hamper the ability of women clergy to make a living, support their families, prosper in their chosen professions, and make major contributions to the Church and world community.

The patterns and frameworks of gender discrimination are complex and structural. They are insidious and pervasive, but changeable.

Many years of stagnation regarding parity in the Church and the religious academy have taught women of color that most of the Christian faith community will not walk willingly to the altar of change. It must be propelled and/or pushed toward justice. These women also have learned that, despite the strides that have been made, significant, long-term change will not occur without a new movement that facilitates and promotes major changes in employment and education for women of color clergy. This new movement also must ensure that change occurs continually and structurally. Clergy women of color do not need efforts that begin with a bang and end with a whimper. This is what happened after major breakthroughs occurred for women in ministry in the 1980s.

Thus, this first of its kind project was conceived —The Women of Color in Ministry Employment, Mentorship, Advocacy, & Education Project (WOCIM). To increase parity for women of color in ministry, the project offers four solutions: (a) employment assistance; (b) mentorship by pastors, denominational leaders, professors, and academic administrators; (c) local, regional, and national advocacy; and, (d) education assistance. This project will be national in scope, impact, and effectiveness.

The Planning Phase Since a project of this magnitude had never been attempted; of course, a planning phase was needed. It occurred under the direction of the two current partners for the project—The African American Pulpit Inc., led by Reverend Martha Simmons, who conceived and designed the project, and Union Seminary, Dr. Serene Jones, president. About four year ago, Reverend Simmons began bringing together a broad base of women leaders to support the project. After Union Seminary became a project partner, Dr. Jones aided in expanding this group. These women, who are Hispanic, Native American, African American, Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian, have a variety of jobs and careers in ministry, and range in age from 27 to 65. They were instrumental in shepherding the project. They were the project's Initiating Council.

As part of the planning phase, the project's leaders and the Initiating Council helped plan the project's launch event. It was held on Friday, October 17, and Saturday, October 18, 2014 in New York City at Convent Avenue Baptist Church. It was an amazing success! Two additional gatherings were held after the launch event in 2015 and 2016. The next BIG PROJECT EVENT (the first gathering for the Mentorship Network) will be held in New York in March 2018.

By the end of the planning phase (2017), it was envisioned that four schools would serve as satellite locations for the remainder of the project to help it reach women around the country. This goal has not been achieved. However, through the National Mentorship Network, schools and churches throughout the country are now affiliated with the WOCIM Project!

Other achievements: Since 2014, WOCIM has:

  • Sent out free resume templates to assist more than 300 women in finding paid jobs;
  • Sent out free sample interview questions for 35 women interested in becoming Senior Pastors;
  • Advocated for a Korean American woman clergy who had been wrongfully denied severance and thereby changed the contract practices of the Atlanta Presbytery;
  • Posted a 2016 Pay Scale so that women would know what to charge for preaching, lectures and workshops. The new Pay Scale will be posted on the WOCIM website in 2018;
  • Held mock interviews with 15 women who desired to become Senior Pastors;
  • Posted regular Facebook and Twitter announcements to salute women clergy, discourage Sexual Assault, and provide women with other needed information;
  • Held 36 Monthly National Conference calls on a variety of issues that are of importance to women clergy about the country; and
  • Assisted 8 women clergy in becoming licensed as ministers and two in becoming ordained for ministry.

For future information, keep visiting our website, our Facebook page, and women can always email us at WomenofColorinMinistry@gmail.com.

Genesis of the Project

A little less than five years ago, Martha Simmons, the President of The African American Pulpit, Inc. (a non-profit (501 c3) organization located in Atlanta) and creator and manager of The African American Lectionary, and other well-known ministry efforts, attended a gathering where thousands of African American women clergy were present. It was the Hampton University Ministers' Conference, one of two national, non-denominational, yearly conferences held by African American clergy and yearly attended by at least two thousand women.

After attending Hampton's yearly Women's Session during the conference, Simmons left that gathering asking: "How could so many women still be where women clergy were twenty-five years ago?" She also pondered: "How could at least seven (7) seminary classes of African American women (since her class) not have made more progress in the African American religious community? What had been missed? What was keeping so firmly in place the glass ceiling that blocks the upward climb of African American women clergy?"

The women at that conference were asking the same questions that Simmons and her classmates asked, "How can I get my denomination to pay me what they pay male pastors? How can I find mentors? How can I find a job in ministry? What do I do, if I can't become a pastor in my denomination?

In response, Simmons began holding conference calls with veteran women of color in ministry about the problem. That led her to do research, to find data on the state of employment of women of color in ministry.

Statistics for Latina women could only be culled, with much difficulty, from statistics kept by denominations such as the United Methodists, Presbyterians USA, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and the Unitarian Church.

All employment numbers for women of color compared to those for Caucasian women were abysmal. The numbers for Asian American women clergy, relative to their holding paid positions in churches and denominations, were slightly less than they were for Latina clergy.

The American Baptist Churches U.S.A. reported that as of 2010, it had three hundred and fifty-seven African American women employed in professional positions (which included all manner of positions); they listed 90 Latina women and twenty-six Asian American women. The numbers were lower for the United Methodists, Presbyterians, USA, the United Church of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ.

There were no data on the number of women that the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC USA Inc.) had ordained in the last twenty-five years. Respectively, these are the two largest African American denominations. Also, there were no data on the number of women pastors or the number of women in ministry who were paid employees, in any capacity, in either of these denominations!

After doing this work, Simmons met with Dr. Serene Jones of Union Seminary and asked her to become a partner for the project. She agreed, and the project swiftly moved forward. Simmons then began meeting with Dr. Lisa Rhodes, Dean of Sisters Chapel at Spelman College. Spelman became the third partner of the project. In winter 2017, Spelman was replaced by American Baptist Seminary of the West as a project partner.



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