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Hearing Voices

By Rachel Chapman, Christian Fellowship Congregational Church, UCC

Results of the UCC Listening Campaign for Women’s Ministries Survey

     What do advancing spiritual health, difficulty paying bills and juggling multiple priorities have in common?   Segments from the nightly news…maybe.   These are the top three of eleven issues selected as most prominent personal concerns by respondents to the UCC’s National Listening Campaign on Women’s Ministries.   Four in-person focus groups were also held.

     During Synod 28, an on-line survey was launched and continued through September 16, 2011. Women, high school age and above were asked to complete the 49 question survey.  Men were not precluded from participation.

     “One thousand sixteen people participated in the on-line survey with 871 completing it in its entirety.”  98% or 848 were women, 1.2% or 10 were men, and the remainder listed themselves as transgender or other.  280 participants were authorized ministers.  The survey results were tabulated and analyzed by Round River Consulting, LLC, and all information in this article is derived from their report, which was presented during a committee meeting at the UCC National Offices on October 10, 2011.

     The largest number of respondents fell into the age group of 50-59 (280) with the 18-29 year olds making up the smallest group with 23.  It’s important to point out that although 666 of the participants are Euro-American, other races/cultures were represented as follows:   African American, 60; Asian American, 23; Latina(o)/Hispanic, 19;  Bi-racial, 12;  Native American, 8; Pacific Islander, 2;  Caribbean, 2 and Arab American, 2. This information is crucial because when asked “Is your culture or identity group central to who you are today?,” 60% of African American respondents, 75% of Latinas/os and 44% of Asian Americans responded “definitely.”  It is essential to be aware of the significance of cultural identity if inclusion is to be authentic.

     When asked “What is the most important to you right now?” from a list of 10 choices, “Advancing Spiritual Health was named the most important in the lives of all respondents regardless of age and race/culture.”  Next came paying off debt and the stress related to it among 30-49 year olds and the African Americans and Latinas(os).  All other groups selected it as well but of less importance.  Juggling multiple priorities was number one as their most frequent challenge.  Friends, family and church respectively were named as the primary sources for support when dealing with said challenges.  “Participants said they gain the greatest sense of self-worth from their faith, family and friends (in that order).”

     Respondents were most interested in the justice issues of violence against women, women living in poverty, job discrimination and pay disparities respectively.  Next came reproductive rights, access to quality childcare, rights of lesbian, bisexual and transgendered women, racism and access to job training opportunities.  Interestingly, young adults (ages 18-29) were the only group to identify environment and climate change as their top issue of concern.

     The survey determined that participation in Women’s Fellowship groups, book studies and Women’s Bible studies were the most popular activities within their own church communities. Some participants have helped organize or lead study groups for women as well as doing volunteer work in their communities.  On the topic of resources for these activities, although UCC’s Common Lot magazine (see http://www.ucc.org/women/common-lot-issues/), especially the Women’s Week issue, and the Women’s webpage at www.ucc.org were utilized, participants “indicated they use non-church resources most frequently.”  The report goes on to say “While many respondents expressed a need for Bible study, fellowship and general support, equal numbers of respondents indicated a desire to move toward less “church-like” activities to include: spiritual development, involvement in social issues like the environment, violence against women, contemporary book studies and health/wellness and healing activities.  Another common response for ministry/activity was related to offering support to mothers in all age groups and circumstances (single, young, divorced and professional).” It must also be noted, a small number of responders felt that distinct women’s ministries “challenges church culture” and should not be separate.

     Resources suggested by the participants to help women develop their leadership skills included: training/workshops to build self-confidence; mentoring, especially for service within the wider church (associations, conferences); opportunities to serve and share their gifts.  Several barriers precluding the sharing of gifts were revealed.  “Perceived age discrimination, discouraging/unwelcoming and closed-minded leadership and feelings of being disrespected and bullied by church leadership” were a few. It was noted that over 50% of the participants believe there are barriers for “women and others” to take leadership roles in the UCC Structure.

     So what does all this mean?

     We know that the majority of churches are made up of more women than men.  And although it is often the women individually and collectively who plan, fundraise, implement, support and facilitate the activities that maintain the structure and life of the church, they are not always encouraged, accepted or ‘permitted’ to fill positions of leadership.
      We know that women feel strongly about their faith and their churches but would like the churches to do more to support them with daily issues and challenges of today.
      We know that women want both the opportunity to be truly heard as well as actively listen to other’s voices through partnership, networking and community.
      We know that although Bible study, book studies and fellowship are popular, less “church-like” activities such as involvement in social justice issues, spiritual development and community activities are requested and required to attract younger people to the church.

     But mostly we know that this conversation needs to be continued.

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