Kirk admits it is still sexist towards women ministers

WOMEN wanting to become Kirk ministers still face resistance and discrimination despite having gained the right to be ordained more than 40 years ago, a new report has claimed.

• Moderator Alison Elliot addresses the General Assembly in 2004. Picture: TSPL

Though women make up half of the Church of Scotland's elders, a number that is increasing year on year, only a fifth of parish ministers are female.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The report, carried out by the Ministries Council, the body that deals with Kirk appointments and training, has said "there is still a lack of complete acceptance across the Church of the ordination of women".

It also claims that, though the Kirk's general assembly fully supported the ordination of women in 1968, the Kirk has "done nothing to confront those ministers and congregations who tacitly reject it".

Moira Whyte, council associate secretary, said of the report: "We are aware that there is still some resistance. Though the evidence is anecdotal, there is so much of it.

"You get similar stories coming up again and again – you can't ignore the fact that there is still resistance to female ministers."

She added that it was not an issue of religious conscience: "I just feel that it has been the law of the Church for 42 years, so I don't feel it should be an issue at all. It's not an issue that's going to change, it's not something somebody can have an opinion on… it's not a matter of conscience."

The report alleges that some members wish to reposition the denomination as a "counter-cultural" church, instead of being "modernising, forward-thinking and encultured".

This was a stance Mrs Whyte rejected as "absolutely contrary to everything the Ministries Council is trying to do in its report this year", adding that any sort of workplace discrimination was "not acceptable".

The report also showed that internal resistance to female ministers was not the only reason for the low number of ministry applications.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Factors such as age limits imposed for training and lack of flexibility in both training and working patterns also prove to be considerable barriers.

David Fergusson, professor of divinity and principal of New College at Edinburgh University, said he hoped proposed changes in the nature of Kirk ministry, with job-share and flexible hours, would encourage more women to come forward.

But Prof Fergusson added that the disparity in numbers of women ministers illustrated how the Church had managed to weather theological storms over the past century.

"We're a broad church, and we have been generally accepting of breadth of opinion within," he said. "Also, we're quite devolved, and decisions about who is called to ministry and appointed to the eldership are taken locally. I think there is a reluctance to interfere unduly in these processes by national imposition."

The Rev Anne Logan, of Stockbridge Church, Edinburgh, who has researched the area of women's ministry, said that she doubted the proposed changes in ministry would have any impact, adding that what was needed was a "cultural change" in the Kirk.

"There are structural problems, but I don't have any easy solutions as to how you iron those out, other than acknowledging that they are there."

She said that the status quo could only be overcome through education and diligence in the selection process of candidates.