Click here for General Assembly coverage

2011- Big Tent: Women as role models… yes we can!

Indianapolis (PNS) When Cynthia Campbell was growing up, she never experienced a woman in a leadership role in the pulpit of her home church in Pasadena, Calif.

“There were no role models of women; no women doing baptisms, weddings or funerals,” she said. Even when she started her faith journey at Harvard Divinity School, classes at theological seminaries were not taught by women.

Speaking at the Clergywomen’s Leadership Institute at the Big Tent, Campbell told of the day she was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), June 30, 1974. “One thing that stuck in my memory was the ordination certificate,” she remembered. “San Gabriel Presbytery’s stated clerk had to add an ‘S’ to the printed ‘He’ on the certificate. Likewise, ‘his’ was typed over on an IBM Selectric Typewriter with ‘her.’”

At the time of her ordination, 18 years had passed since women were first allowed to be ordained. Obviously the certificates still dated to a time when only men could lead congregations as pastors.

In 1988, she became pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Salina, Kansas, one of the first large PC(USA) congregations to call a woman as head of staff.

Today, Campbell is newly retired as president emeritus of McCormick Theological Seminary. She is also the author of many books, the most recent being “God’s Abundant Table, the 2011 Moderator’s Lenten Study,” published by Witherspoon Press.

She is unquestionably a role model for young clergywomen in the trenches of PC(USA) ministry.

According to the Rev. Nancy Young, coordinator of the PC(USA)’s Office of Women’s Leadership Development, there are now more clergywomen than ever in the church’s history ― 27 percent of ordained clergy in the PC(USA) are women. Within two decades, women will account for half the denomination’s ministers.

That changes what it means to be a role model, as well, Campbell said. “Young adult women can now go almost anywhere for mission and ministry, as compared to clergywomen of my day,” she told a July 1 luncheon devoted to Young Women’s Leadership Development.

One of those with whom Campbell spoke after the luncheon was Margryette Boyd. Speaking confidently about her future, the Texan said, “I’m thinking about doing ministry in organizational development for churches and agencies at a macro level.”

Campbell wants to encourage these women, many of whom are the first in their families to go to college.

“Leadership of women is at a tipping point. We are in a time of transition ― a change from minority to majority status,” she said, adding that women entering ministry must be willing to accept responsibility and to anticipate change.

The Clergywomen’s Leadership Institute conference is new to Big Tent this year. It is hosted by Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women in conjunction with the Young Women’s Leadership Development office, which provides resources to young adult women (ages 18-35) who are considering leadership opportunities in the church.

More information and helpful tools for women can be found and downloaded from the Young Women’s Leadership Development Web site, or by visiting the Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries Web site..

Kim Coulter is a Presbyterian deacon, ruling elder and director of communications for the Des Moines Presbytery in Urbandale, Iowa. She is covering the Clergywomen’s Leadership Institute and Young Women’s Leadership Development Conference at Big Tent for the Presbyterian New Service.