Breaking The Stained Glass Ceiling

Jane Harrison
Jane Harrison

It never occurred to Jane Hoffman that she could be a pastor one day. That's because when she started, there weren't many women pastors. But even after 27 years in the pulpit, and leading the 95,000-member Illinois Council of the United Church of Christ, Reverend Hoffman is still something of a pioneer, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

"People come and say, 'you're my first,' or at a wedding reception people would say, 'I've never been to a wedding where a woman conducted it,'" said Reverend Hoffman.

Even though 60 percent of American churchgoers are women, the clergy remains overwhelmingly male. Only 25 percent of pastors in the United Church of Christ are female. Less than 20 percent of clergy in other major denominations are women (19 percent of Presbyterians, 15 percent of Methodists, 12 percent Episcopalians, 11 percent of Lutherans), and fewer than 5 percent among southern Baptists.

And that may be more about doctrine than discrimination. Many believe the Bible says only men should be church leaders. The Catholic Church, the world's most influential religious body, has never ordained women as priests.

While last year's election of a woman as presiding bishop of the National Episcopal Church was a big step, Chicago Bishop William Persell admits getting congregations to accept women in authority can be a bit of a challenge.

"There are a few congregations that insist only a man can be a priest," said Persell. "We still have several left in the diocese but they are very small in number."

And when women do manage to break through the stained glass ceiling, Hoffman says the pressure is on to perform.

"One of the things I've seen is if a woman loses her job or doesn't do well, you'll still hear, 'we'll need a man next time.'"

To combat that, women are strengthening their credentials, reports Bowers. Since 1972 the number of males enrolled in seminary has fallen 25 percent. But over the same time frame female enrollment has increased from 5 percent to 31 percent.

"They are not going to have trouble getting the first church or the second church," said Susan Thistlethwaite, of the Chicago Theological Seminary. "It's the big church on the corner of main street and second. That's where the stained glass ceiling is now."

A ceiling Reverend Hoffman believes is cracking more every Sunday.

"I think we're making progress," said Hoffman. "We have a lot of room to grow in that, as well as other areas."

Maybe, with a little help from above.