Observations from a Woman of Color in Ministry
Being a woman of color in male-dominated environments has been both exhilarating and exasperating.
However, my journey from undergrad to ordained ministry has proven to be a fertile training ground for what I would experience.
I went to college at a PWI (predominately white institution) majoring in interior design and was one of two women of color in the program.
After graduation, I found that scenario everywhere I was employed.
I confronted a tremendous amount of racial and gender bias as a designer working in the construction industry.
More than twenty years later, the challenges and frustrations served me well for the transition to ministry.
I am still in awe and humbled that God called me out of a successful career in the design arena and into ordained ministry.
Knowing that God uses your fervent desires to serve HIM, my focus on interiors and remodeling of people’s personal spaces was easily flipped for kingdom building.
I am convinced that God had to confirm that the secular work that I entered into was what I was purposed to do; however, God’s intention was for me to redesign or renovate the interiors of people.
What I found in ministry was that the challenges I faced being a woman in a male-dominated industry were very similar to my secular profession.
Although during the majority of my time in ministry, I was surrounded by women, there was still a very pronounced presence of male-dominated authority that controlled my graduation from seminary, my ordinations, and ministerial assignments.
Even through this, I know that there is an undertone of change because it had been consistently playing out along my journey to where I stand.
I volunteered in ministry for years before I accepted my call and entered seminary.
The entire time I was surrounded by women. When I preached my trial sermon, I did so with three women preaching along with me.
Through the five year process for ordained ministry training, I was surrounded by women.
In May 2008 at my elder’s ordination service, there were thirteen women ordained that night!
I can’t tell you if that was the first time that there were no male ordinates, but I can say that I was in the midst of the shift happening.
Just eight years earlier, the first woman was elected Bishop in the AME Church and since then, there have been three more.
We are experiencing God’s move in real-time and it is exciting!
Although the climate for women in ministry is changing, it is also being altered for the men in our lives.
We come with different needs and responsibilities than our male counterparts.
The effect of moving women into leadership roles in the church has put men into positions that are predominately held by women.
Men are now, First Gentlemen and Episcopal Supervisors (positions historically held by the wives of Bishops).
As women have supported their men as Pastors for years, women now need that support from their spouse as lead pastors, in addition to the level of support for female Bishops changing too.
As the climate of change is affecting the inner works of ministry there are some interior design issues that need to be addressed.
In-depth conversations need to take place, support systems need to be identified and designed in order for us to be able to better navigate the shift to our roles as women of color in ministry and as ministry leaders.
These conversations will happen in the upcoming Colloquy for Women of Color (August 19-21, 2019 and January 27-29, 2020).
This colloquy offers space for conversation about the needs and challenges of Women of Color in ministry.
Many WOC Clergy are now realizing opportunities for pastoral leadership in contexts previously inaccessible.
This colloquy opportunity will allow a cross-cultural dialogue that will enlighten, undergird, and strengthen our personal journeys by fostering bonds with a sisterhood of ministers, mentors, seasoned practitioners.
To learn more about this colloquy and to register, click HERE.
Rev. Dr. Karma Johnson is an Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. She currently serves as the Director of Christian Education for both the Atlanta North Georgia Annual Conference (ANGC) and the Atlanta East District, the Assistant Pastor of Turner Monumental AME Church in Atlanta, GA, an Angel Tree Program Specialist for Prison Fellowship Ministries and is a member of the Writers Guild for the connectional AME Church.
The Colloquy for Clergy Series is part of the CLL’s Pastoral Excellence Program. This application-based program is designed for clergy who are seeking to participate in a professional formative conversation or to reflect on their vocational experience and assess their ability to meet the leadership demands/needs of their organization. Attention will be given to addressing common experiences and issues of clergy cohorts: facing either a normative or unanticipated ministry challenge, career transition, standing at a vocational crossroads of some sort, engaging in reflective self-assessment, and finding support among peers.