This week General Synod will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Ordination of Women in the RCA. More than 200 women have been ordained in that period, with approximately 60 serving as pastors and over 100 in specialized ministries and 30 without charge.
The Synod will also receive the report of the task force created by the General Synod Council on the instruction of last year's General Synod "to develop a plan for greater inclusion of women and people of color at all levels of staffing within the RCA and to develop leadership training opportunities consistent with this goal; and to develop and implement a process to recruit and train leaders who represent the array of the ethnicities and races that make of God's world with particular attention to gender inclusion, so that in the future the pool of qualified candidates for denominational staff positions, particularly at executive staff levels, better reflects the denomination's commitment to a multicultural and multi-racial future, and further to have such processes ready for report to the 2009 General Synod and for implementation no later than 2010."
These recommendations were adopted in response to the detailed findings of the Commission for Women in its report with respect to "the continued marginalization of RCA women" from leadership positions in the administration of the RCA in spite of the fact that women comprise 63 percent of all RCA members. (See page 252, Acts and Proceedings of the 202nd Regular Session of the General Synod.) The report states that of the 148 positions of leadership and decision making, 51 are held by women and 97 by men. In the Office of General Secretary (3 persons) none are women; often denominational directors, 1 person is a woman and 12 are men. Membership on commissions and boards are similarly one-sided, two-thirds men to one-third women (as of June 2008), just the reverse of the percentage of denominational membership.
In the light of this instruction of last year's General Synod it is curious that the General Synod Council this year decided to defund the position of coordinator of Women's Ministries, a seeming contradiction—in spirit at least—to the vote of General Synod. (The office was funded by a Women's Fund Drive, which raised $220,000 out of a goal of $500,000. Women's ministries in the RCA have historically been self-funded!)
It is critical that all who understand the importance of full inclusion of women in the leadership of our denomination demand the processes proposed be serious, concrete and comprehensive with an implementation plan that is specific. The RCA has an educated female laity, many of them products of our three excellent colleges. Moreover, the numbers suggest that the skills and spiritual commitment of ordained women have not been fully appreciated by RCA congregations or Board Office leadership. This is long overdue.
One small suggestion to start the process of inclusion would be to move toward full equity on all boards and commissions as current members complete their terms by naming qualified women to fill vacancies until the ratios are 50-50. Since twice as many women as men comprise the denomination's membership, this should be quite doable. With the denomination not growing in size, the fact that 2/3 of its membership has been marginalized or excluded entirely from leadership and decision-making means that a vast resource has been untapped.
How can a denomination continue to be vibrant and effective if the voices of its majority are unheard?
Classis of Rocky Mountains