“The Feminization of Churches - Between Fear and Hope”

“The Feminization of Churches - Between Fear and Hope” was the motto of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches Women’s Conference in Bern, where 55 delegates and guests of the member churches met on October 31, 2011.

The “feminization of churches” is a phrase often spoken with negative implications, explained the preparatory group led by the president of the Women’s Conference, Sabine Scheuter. While there is a common misconception that women pastors now outnumber men, the reality is in fact much different, Scheuter emphasized. Women only made up 30% of pastors in Switzerland, and held only 25% of positions when adjusted percentually to reflect part-time positions. “That means that there is no female majority in sight,” Scheuter said. Church leadership positions were also dominated by men in most areas, she added, and feminist theology also remained an obstacle to university careers. There have even been trends, she explained, leading in the other direction, such as when even young female pastors sometimes reject the use of gender-appropriate language.

In her talk, Brigitte Liebig, professor at the School of Applied Psychology of the University of Applied Sciences of Northwestern Switzerland, spoke on gender issues from an academic perspective, explaining that even as women continue to make progress in traditionally male-dominated professions, they continue to be only “marginally integrated” there, acquiring only less prestigious positions.

“Much has been achieved, but that should not stop us from doing more,” theologian and Germanist Ina Praetorius said in the panel discussion. But, she added, it does not help to continually reconsider “pointless conceptions of role”.

“The church is more of a room for women than for men to develop and live today,” Andreas Borter, theologian and organizational consultant, explained. He added that men no longer felt at home there now due to the “de-masculinization” of the church.

Christina Aus der Au, managing director for theology at the Center for Church Development of the University of Zurich, said that academic feminist theology had to ensure that it was “no longer separate but of everyday use.” On the other hand, in the view of the president of the Protestant Church of Geneva, Charlotte Kuffer, academic theology has still yet to attain feministic insights.

During the business section of the Women’s Conference, Pia Moser was elected to the Leadership Committee. Moser is head of the Catechism Department for the Reformed Churches of Bern-Jura-Solothurn.

The next Women’s Conference is to take place on March 26, 2012 in Bern.

» More information on the Women’s Conference