Rising Above The Stained-Glass Ceiling

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VASHTI McKENZIE: Bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church

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In the past 15 years, Anderson has validated the decision, showing a CEO's gifts for efficient delegation and institutional vision: Sunday attendance at All Saints has nearly doubled, to 3,000, and she hopes to open a second campus in three years. Although she insists that "my male associates are better at nurturing than I am," she still manages to communicate her enthusiastic devotion to a congregation of Hollywood Christians whose average age--34--is 24 years younger than her own. Under her, say congregants, the church has become more spiritual — and more diverse and liberal on issues such as gay holy unions.

Doctrinaire critics might not admit it, but Anderson's example lends credence to her contention that in Episcopalianism, at least, some battles are already won. "A woman who really has a passion about doing ministry and doesn't have an ax to grind," she says, "can get a decent job."

Build a Strong Resume

Asked a few weeks ago about her professional future, the Rev. Susan Andrews reminded an interviewer that she was committed to another year as pastor of Bradley Hills Presbyterian, a lively 700-member congregation in Bethesda, Md. But she admitted that "if a call comes forth in the next year or two that seems to build on the gifts and skills and experiences I've had, I will respond to it."

It is a bit of a loaded line, given that in addition to a stellar 15 years at Bradley Hills, Andrews has accumulated extrapastoral kudos like a valedictorian stocking up club presidencies for her Harvard application: for her, it has never been enough merely to run a church. A partial list of her achievements includes moderator of two different presbyteries (the equivalent of dioceses); trustee at the denomination's McCormick Theological Seminary; and winner of the journal Lectionary Homiletics' Preacher of the Year award for 2000. But the jewel in Andrews' extrapastoral crown came 11 months ago, when she was elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). As she describes the position, "You're the ambassador of the denomination for one year. You become the face, voice and heart of the church." She is the first female pastor to hold it.

Andrews, who is 55 and married to a hospital chaplain, is candid about her ambition. "I can do the organizational part of ministry as well as, if not better than, men," she says, and explains that she left an early pastoracy because "I needed a bigger arena." But she readily acknowledges that the role of wife and mother (of two) was not nearly as easy for her as ministering, and that "it has been the women in my churches who have nurtured my feminine side." Whatever her personal learning curve, her professional manner has always felicitously mixed the stereotypical feminine and masculine virtues. Or as another high-powered Presbyterian, Wisconsin's the Rev. Deborah Block, puts it admiringly, "Susan can command a room and hug it at the same time."

So what more does a woman have to do to land a tall-steeple pulpit? In the past, Andrews admits, she interviewed for two but got neither. Since her moderatorship, she has fielded feelers from four more but turned them down because of her current obligations. Moreover, she warns, "I'm very liberal. I'm very outspoken. I'm not eager to move." And the biggest churches, she says, require CEOs. "Am I a CEO kind of pastor? There are so many other things to consider beyond just climbing the ladder." Perhaps, she suggests, tall-steeplehood is a particularly male way of measuring female progress. "We're often happier in middle-to small-size churches," she says. Only time will tell whether she's truly describing herself — and whether, once the most glittering pulpits inevitably open to women, it won't seem like the answer to a prayer.

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