The Right Reverend Lorna Hood, the Kirk’s Moderator, said sexism is preventing women progressing in office in parts of the Church and in some areas discrimination is still “a huge issue” where “the hurt runs deep”.
Her comments, made to 2,000 female members of the Church’s Guild in Dundee on Saturday, have sent shockwaves through the Church. One insider warned they could cause more hard-line congregations to defect. Ten congregations are already considering leaving following a vote in May to permit gay ministers.
Hood’s decision to speak out about the “stained glass ceiling” within the Church is understood to have been prompted by recent visits to presbyteries where she met with women who have been discriminated against by their local churches.
“Recently I’ve been saddened because I’ve spent time with women who although dedicated to their Lord and His church have experienced real discrimination,” Hood said.
“There are parts of the country where women are still denied a place on Kirk Sessions; elders who having moved from one part of the country to another find their ordination is called into question. We talk of the great advances made since women were ordained in 1966, but in some areas that is still a huge issue.”
She added: “They continue to serve as best they can and in the areas where they can make a difference but the pain is real and the hurt runs deep. In such areas if it were not for the Guild, they would be quite isolated.”
However one Church of Scotland insider suggested Hood’s remarks could force some congregations into leaving the Church of Scotland.
“What you’ve got to ask yourself is if these Kirk sessions will not ordain women, are they going to take on board and accept the discipline of a woman Moderator? If they don’t, that puts them in an untenable position with the church, because if you’re not going to accept the discipline of the person at the top, you’re at odds over the government of the church.”
Figures published by the Church of Scotland show in 2012 there were more female elders than male in the Kirk, with a total of 17,202 women compared with 16,936 men. However, in some presbyteries the numbers are markedly lower. In Gordon, for example, there are 533 male elders compared with 427 female. In Uist there are just 13 women compared with 43 men, while in Lochcarron-Skye presbytery, there are 12 female elders and 30 male elders.
During a recent visit to Skye, Hood tweeted: “Not often you make history but seems I am first woman ever to preach in Portree Parish Church. Great to share in worship and praise with you.”
However one figure who did not wish to be named said: “The morning that the Church of Scotland Moderator was preaching in Portree, it’s fair to say there was an increased attendance at the Free Church, some of them not familiar faces. It’s understood they went to another church because they didn’t want to listen to the Church of Scotland Moderator.”
Several days later Hood tweeted: “Visit to Presbytery Lochcarron-Skye ended with service in Duirinish Parish Dunvegan. Here gender not an issue as all work as one in Christ.”
One church source said: “There are still some members out there who would rather hit the nuclear destruct button than have a woman on a Kirk session.”