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Women's religious leadership growing

The Rev. Adrianne Rush had already been an ordained minister for almost a decade when a little girl walked into her church office in 1997 and asked, "Where's the pastor?"

"I am she," Rush recalled replying. "I'm the pastor."

"You're a girl," the child responded.

"Yes," Rush said. "I'm a woman, and I'm a pastor."

"Wait 'til I tell my daddy this," the little girl said.

Although women still make up less than a fourth of clergy in the U.S., the number has been increasing. And even though women can't always serve in leadership roles in churches, synagogues and mosques, they're still likely to be more religious than men.

"Women are the backbone of every religion," said Nancy Weil, administrative assistant for the Jewish Community Council of Erie.

Women pray more than men, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. Women are more likely to attend weekly worship and be affiliated with a religion. They say religion is important in their lives and believe in God or a universal spirit at a higher rate than men do.

"Religion is like the heart of life," Heba Al-Sahlani said. "Without it, I don't know what I'd do."

The 12-year-old worships at Erie's Al-Makarim Islamic Foundation, where her father is director, and also at the Islamic Cultural Center.

She said her religion gives her hope for a good life.

Religion also gives meaning to life, said Erie Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister.

"It makes life make sense," she said.

She described people, particularly women, as "spiritual beings."

"I really do believe women do by nature respond more feelingly," Chittister said. "I think there's an intuition there, and it's to God."

Weil said women teach children and push men to do the right things. She said women organize events within faith communities and go out to volunteer within the wider community.

Some Jewish women also become rabbis. In Erie's Jewish community, the two rabbis are men, but women can and do take on leadership roles like president of a congregation.

In Islam, imams, who lead a congregation's prayer, are traditionally men, but women can serve in that role for other women, and at least one U.S. Islamic center, in Florida, has had a female president.

In Islam, imams, who lead a congregation's prayer, are traditionally men, but women can serve in that role for other women, and at least one U.S. Islamic center, in Florida, has had a female president.

Women as religious leaders

In the United States, women have been holding positions of leadership, such as Christian ministers, in congregations since at least the mid-1800s.

But by 1983, women made up only 5.6 percent of the clergy members in the U.S., according to Census Bureau statistics. Women were up to 13.6 percent in 1997, the year the little girl was surprised by Rush's gender.

By 2009, 17 percent of the country's clergy were women, according to the Census Bureau.

The Rev. Emily Zeig was ordained in 2008 as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The 28-year-old single pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Waterford said she believes God called her to the work.

"For me, being a pastor is an amazing job," Zeig said. "I have the privilege of walking alongside people and together working on being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ."

She grew up in a Presbyterian church in Michigan, where female pastors worked.

At seminary from 2004 to 2008, her class was pretty evenly split between men and women. But that ratio doesn't always translate to churches, Zeig said, because some women choose to work in nonchurch jobs like chaplain, in campus ministry or at nonprofits.

She's one of 14 women serving as a pastor in the Presbytery of Lake Erie.

The Rev. David Oyler, its general presbyter, said women make up about 20 percent of the ministers in the northwestern Pennsylvania presbytery. In Venango County, eight of 11 presbytery pastors are women, with two other spots vacant, he said.

Since the Presbyterian Church began ordaining women in 1956, the numbers have slowly increased, Oyler said. He expects them to go even higher.

Zeig also sees a great future for women in religion.

"As more and more women enter the religious profession, the church universal can only be better served by the wider variety of gifts," she said.

But she's still sometimes the first female pastor a person has met or heard preach.

"The combination of my gender and age can be difficult for people to wrap their heads around," she said.

Being treated differently because of her gender isn't always bad, Zeig said.

"Sometimes it means I am more freely invited into people's lives -- into the details of life and family," she said.

Out of the 139 members at her Waterford church in December, 86 were female, Zeig said.

The Pew survey, conducted in 2007, found that 44 percent of women attend worship services at least weekly, compared with 34 percent of men. Eighty-six percent of women were affiliated with a religion, compared with 79 percent of men.

Rush also sees more women than men at her Erie church.

She has been an associate minister at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church since 2003. Rush, 57, participates regularly in Sunday worship there as well as helping the male pastor take Communion to people in homes and hospitals. A mother of two, she previously served a church in Schenectady, N.Y.

Growing up, Rush saw the Rev. Pearlie Mae Byrd serving at St. James. Rush was about 12 when she began thinking about being a pastor herself.

"I always knew it was possible," she said.

But it wasn't until she was in her 30s that she acknowledged her calling.

Now she said she feels like an example, showing girls that they can be anything.

"At least God doesn't put limits on them," she said. "People may try."

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Please click HERE to read the entire article.

And, from The Urantia Book:

149:2.8 The most astonishing and the most revolutionary feature of Michael's mission on earth was his attitude toward women. In a day and generation when a man was not supposed to salute even his own wife in a public place, Jesus dared to take women along as teachers of the gospel in connection with his third tour of Galilee. And he had the consummate courage to do this in the face of the rabbinic teaching which declared that it was "better that the words of the law should be burned than delivered to women."

150:1.3 It was most astounding in that day, when women were not even allowed on the main floor of the synagogue (being confined to the women's gallery), to behold them being recognized as authorized teachers of the new gospel of the kingdom. The charge which Jesus gave these ten women as he set them apart for gospel teaching and ministry was the emancipation proclamation which set free all women and for all time; no more was man to look upon woman as his spiritual inferior.

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