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Research by a St. Andrew’s College professor is helping provide insight into the role played by race among a section of ordained women in The United Church of Canada.

Rev. HyeRan Kim-Cragg, the college’s Lydia Gruchy Professor of Pastoral Studies, recently completed the final report of her research Sharing the Feast and Hearing Complex Calling: A Study of Racialized Ordained Women Ministers of the United Church of Canada.

The project, which was funded by the McGeachy Senior Scholarship through The United Church of Canada Foundation, involved 19 ordained women ministers who are non-European descent whose ethnic origin comes from Aboriginal, Asia, Africa, South America, and Caribbean.

Kim-Cragg says the research gathered from interviews over a two-year period provided an opportunity to learn their stories of ministry. It helps fill a gap in recorded experiences among this group of women and is a way to honour their gifts and empower their sense of vocation.

“Racialized women are a marginalized group historically but in church leadership their numbers have been increasing. As the church continues to shape and reimagine its present and future it was hoped that it would be fruitful to illicit responses from a little listened to segment of our leadership," she said.

Some of the areas addressed during the interviews were: theological education, immigration, race, language, gender equity, gender identity and sexuality, marriage, ordination, comfort with the pulpit, clergy clothing, what proclaiming the Gospel means, and intercultural leadership.

The research points out that as a non-white racialized person these female ministers have to deal not only with gender stereotypes but also cultural and racial stereotypes.

“While the UCC has worked hard to improve women’s status, the group shared many experiences of discrimination that stemmed from their identity as women,” Kim-Cragg writes, noting expectations in dress for females as opposed to male ministers, that the women interviewed were generally paid less than males, and that they are often serving pastoral charges in areas that are more isolated and rural.

“They lamented that almost all the ministers who serve the most affluent congregations, say top-10 churches, are white, male, middle-aged, ordained ministers. All of these findings show that the white and male privilege is still pervasively at work in the church.”

The research also identities a common experience among the women interviewed of having their origin challenged whether they were immigrants of children of immigrants. Due to their physical non-white appearance, they were regarded as less fully Canadian despite being fully fluent in English, Kim-Cragg notes, saying ‘whiteness’ functions as a Canadian norm in all levels of church and society.

“No matter how long it has been that people are settled in Canada, they are deemed to have come from elsewhere because they are not white. In the case of the ones who were born outside the country, they face more blunt discrimination and often experience paternalistic attitudes.”

In the midst of those challenges and despite their criticism of the status quo, Kim-Cragg found the women interviewed to be of strong faith and holding hope for the future. “They were not afraid of the current situation but seemed to be energized by this challenge because there are new possibilities and people are already making them happen,” she wrote.

As one interview subject said: “So invest in racialized young Canadians going to seminary. Invite non-European students and ministers to serve our church. The face of the leadership will change the face of the church, its culture, its interest and energy.”

In her conclusion Kim-Cragg says racialized ordained women in ministry in the UCC are not seeking a “radically new system or a totally new process. Rather they speak of the need for more flexibility and humility on the part of the dominant group in positions of power and privilege within the church.”

She says the church and its congregations need to be open to change at a time when it is becoming marginal in society and embrace those who are coming to the church and its leadership roles.

“Instead of being obsessed with the loss, we need to look at who is coming to our churches, finding the ones who are excited about our church, our theology and policies, and responding to the ways that newer (less dominant) folks praise, pray, and practice their faith.”

Kim-Cragg’s full research abstract and summary is available for online reading and she discusses her findings in an interview published on The United Church of Canada’s YouTube page.

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