Gender in Religious Leadership

In his article Ritual, Symbol, and Experience: Understanding Catholic Worker House Masses, James Spickard breaks down the weekly house masses at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker commune. I found it compelling that in this article, Spickard took the time to point out the differences between how male priests and female celebrants led the mass. While priests followed the standard liturgy (with a slight Worker twist), female celebrants were more likely to cite readings outside of Scripture and incorporate the congregants in priestly duties, effectively eliminating the traditional Catholic hierarchy during the mass.

This concept of gender affecting religious leadership caught my attention because it was reminiscent of the religious leaders I have encountered during my two congregation visits. For the first assignment, I visited Redlands United Church of Christ (RUCC), at which Rev. Dr. Jill A. Kirchner-Rose served as senior minister. While she held perhaps the foremost title at the congregation, Rev. Jill only led two small parts of the service– she didn’t even lead the sermon, though this was due to a guest preacher (another female). It is also worth noting that neither of these women referred to biblical stories as the basis for their overarching message.

The second congregation I visited was The Door Fellowship Church, where the service was led by Pastor Rich Cox. Pastor Rich led the majority of the service, only stepping aside at the beginning when a young man sang the opening songs, and when a couple other young men recited short prayers throughout. In fact, it appeared as though all leadership positions were occupied by men. Pastor Rich directly referenced and even quoted the Bible in his sermon, constantly including Jesus and the Lord by name.

Because the two congregations appeared to have vastly different worldviews, I failed to consider the role of gender in religious leadership before reading Spickard’s article. I don’t think it is possible to easily extract the role of gender when posed across denominations, but I find it interesting that it could play such a large role in the structure of religious services.