News and Views

BOOM releases study on clergy gender and race

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By Melissa Lauber

Study on the Impact of Gender and Race on the Lived Experiences of Clergypersons in the BWC 

The journey toward gender and cultural equity is long, but for the clergy of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, it is moving toward justice and fairness, a new survey by the Board of Ordained Ministry revealed.

BOOM’s two-year study, “The Impact of Gender and Race on the Lived Experiences of Clergypersons in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church,” was completed on July 1, with 300 clergy people, or 39 percent, of the clergy population responding. Additional analysis was done using data from the entire clergy pool. It was conceived as a follow-up to a 2003 study of clergywomen conducted by BOOM and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, said the Rev. Amy McCullough, chair of BOOM. It was expanded to include questions about race and ethnicity and the idea of “flourishing.”

One of the most significant findings of the survey, McCullough said, is that “women have come a long way toward equity in terms of appointments and salary over the past 20 years; but there is still an inequity in satisfaction in ministry that can be tied to sexism and racism.”

The researchers “noticed subtle but definitive differences” in how cultural context, ethnicity and gender identity shaped people’s call, authority, voice and capacity to navigate conflict. They sought “to learn more about the intersection of gender and race with persons’ experiences of, and satisfaction in, set-apart ministry,” McCullough said.

BOOM celebrates that the objective, measurable data found that “In the past 20 years, the gender and racial gaps existing in appointment-setting and ministerial salaries have significantly diminished,” and “this progress toward equity can be celebrated,” even as other persisting inequities are noted and attended to.

The survey findings are presented in a clear and precise format in the 22-page BOOM survey results.

In 2022, the average salary for all BWC clergypersons was between $90,000 and $99,000, with no differences delineated by race or gender. Among the respondents, the average salary of senior pastors for males was $75,007 and for females $77,400, the study reported.

When considering race and ethnicity, the average compensation for all full-time 100% ministers, regardless of appointment setting or position, was between $63,834 and $78,562 in 2020. African-American and White pastors received, on average, higher salaries than Asian, Hispanic/Latino, or multi-racial pastors. Salaries for Asian ministers, whether serving as lead/solo or associate pastors, averaged $63,834, and was below that for other clergy members.

In the arena of appointment setting, the study indicated that there is growing gender equity between male and female clergy. Forty-six percent of females served churches with 1 to 50 members, as opposed to 43 percent of males. For churches with membership over 250, 11 percent were led by women and 7 percent were led by men.

In appointment-setting by race, the survey found that in the largest churches, Asian and White pastors were slightly overrepresented and African-American pastors were slightly underrepresented while the inverse was true in the smallest churches.

In 2018, the findings show that White clergy pastored 66 percent of churches with more than 250 members, while Black clergy pastored 25 percent of these churches, Asians 7 percent and Hispanics 2 percent. However, 54 percent of the pastors of churches with fewer than 50 members were White, 41 percent were Black, 3 percent were Asian and 1 percent were Hispanic.

Participants in the survey were asked about the extent to which age, gender, and race impact their overall ministry experience. Women and people of color reported significant impact, and some shared stories of how they had been emotionally and physically harassed or attacked. 

“I was not surprised, but I was disheartened, that all women in ministry expressed having had some experience of harassment, or microaggressions, or even sexual assault,” McCullough said.

In the survey, one clergywoman noted that “It’s pretty common for us as female clergy to have some inappropriateness [aimed] in our direction.” Another said, “Probably at every appointment I’ve dealt with some level of sexual harassment.”

Those doing the initial analysis of the survey were taken aback by the prevalence of the sexual harassment reported and have said they will give this finding more attention, seeking especially to provide an easily accessible, effective and uniform response for all women. 

Racism was also reported by clergy persons of color, particularly those in cross-cultural appointments. “Being a pastor is hard. Being a pastor of color, in a racialized context that has always between violent toward black and brown bodies, is even harder,” one clergy person said.

 Examples of some of the pastors’ thoughts on these issues is presented in the survey results.

The survey were also addressed the concept of “flourishing,” which conference leaders will seek to use to help gauge clergy’s satisfaction with ministry. For the study, flourishing was described as being engaged in ministry that was identified as meaningful, purposeful, or fruitful and ministry where people felt free to be their true selves in their ministry setting.

Most of the respondents, 68 percent, answered affirmatively, that they are flourishing; 16 percent answered negatively, and 11 percent were not sure. Broken down further, males and people of color were reported to be flourishing more than females and White clergy, and older people were more likely to affirm that they were flourishing.

Among the reasons pastors cited for not flourishing, the survey reported, were observing a lack of growth in one’s ministry setting or oneself, exhaustion from a demanding role, health issues, and being ill-matched with a congregation. Reasons for flourishing included the vitality and “fit” of the congregation, the ability to be one’s authentic self, the sense of using one’s gift toward a purposeful end and witnessing personal and professional growth.

When compared to the 2003 survey, the 2022 responses indicated that clergy are improving their effort for self-care.

In the 2022 survey, 87 percent of clergy strongly agreed that they took at least one day off per week; 80 percent said they were in good or excellent health; more than 60 percent reported they modeled a healthy lifestyle and maintained a good balance between ministry and time for family and friends, the survey said. It also reported that a similar 60 percent of respondents felt occasionally or very often overwhelmed by the demands of ministry. While not specifically addressed, some clergy also noted the stress and anxiety that the itineracy system can cause, something McCullough noted that BOOM will be thinking about.

Dr. Janet Stocks was the primary researcher on the study. She administered the survey, oversaw the interviews and guided the analysis. After reviewing the survey results, a team made up of McCullough, the Rev. HiRho Park and Dr. Deborah G. Haskins, put forth four recommendations for BOOM and other conference leaders to consider. They include:

  1. Recognizing that pastors appointed to cross-racial or cross-cultural ministry settings shoulder significant challenges and are recipients of racist comments and actions, additional supportive structures are necessary. Such supportive measures include strong training for pastors and congregations prior to appointments, active coaching for both congregation and pastors during the ministry years, and provisions for additional time away or leave and higher salaries for those serving in such settings.
  2. Recognizing the prevalence of microaggressions and sexual harassment faced by female clergy persons, the study recommends understanding female pastors as serving in settings equivalent to cross-cultural appointments. As such, female pastors also need more active training, coaching and supportive networks, additional leave, and added compensation.
  3. Recognizing the high instances of sexual harassment and instances of sexual assault experienced by female clergy persons, a standardized system for reporting and responding to instances of sexual harassment or assault needs to be established.
  4. Finally, the mentoring system for candidates for ministry needs strengthening, so that the process and the expectations of both mentors and candidates are clear. The system should provide attentive support to all candidates for ministry, including training in the unique challenges faced by females and persons of color.

Board of Ordained Ministry leaders are committed to using the research findings to take systemic actions that lead to change for BWC clergy. They are hopeful that pastors and congregational leaders will read and engage the survey’s results.

The Gender, Race, and Ministry study offers a window into ministry experiences in our conference as well as key recommendations for strengthening our collective capacity to flourish in ministry, McCullough said.

BOOM will hold an online presentation on the study, which will include a time for questions and discussion, on Oct. 5 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.  Register here.