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

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 actually 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.

In spite of 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, in spite of the strides that have been made, significant, long-term change will not occur without a new movement that facilitatesand 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 has never been attempted; of course, a planning phase is needed. It will occur 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 one 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 have been instrumental in shepherding the project. They are 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!

By the end of the planning phase (2017), it is envisioned that four schools will serve as centers or satellite locations for the remainder of the project to help it reach women around the country. One center or satellite location will be in the northeast (Union Seminary); one in the south (Spelman College); one in the mid-west (TBD) and one will be located on the west coast (TBD).

For future information, visit our website www.WomenofColorinMinistry.org, our Facebook page, and look for us on Twitter at WOCIMIN. You can always email us at WomenofColorinMinistry@gmail.com.



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