Presidents of global church group rue lack of women in top posts

September 7, 2009

Three women who serve as presidents of the World Council of Churches have expressed "considerable concern and great disappointment" about the lack of women in senior staff leadership positions in the world's biggest church grouping.

Speaking in early September to a meeting in Geneva of the WCC's main governing body, its central committee, Mary Tanner of the Church of England, who is the WCC's president for Europe, said the three women were "sad that we've moved away from the hard-won commitment" to the goal of equal participation between women and men in the life of the WCC.

The WCC's six program directors are all men. So are the organization's six "key management personnel" from the general secretary down, with the exception of the executive director for planning and integration, who is retiring at the end of September.

Tanner was part of a group that in 1981 proposed the goal of equal participation to the central committee, following an international WCC consultation on the "Community of Women and Men in the Church."

The other two women who are WCC presidents are the Rev. Ofelia Ortega, from the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba, who is president for the Caribbean and Latin America region, and the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson of the United Church of Christ (USA), president for North America. There are eight WCC presidents.

The central committee unanimously approved a recommendation from Tanner, Ortega and Jackson that "those responsible for staff appointments give due attention to regional, confessional and gender balances, particularly the presence of women in all levels of staff leadership groups."

Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, a vice moderator of the WCC central committee, said he desired that the proposal be stronger. "We must do more than just 'give attention'" to the issue, he told the governing body.

The WCC represents more than 560 million Christians and has 349 members, principally Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches. The Catholic Church does not belong to the WCC but has members on some of its committees.

The WCC's 2008 financial report lists the organization's "key management personnel" as being the general secretary, the deputy general secretary, the associate general secretary for program, the coordinator for finance, services and administration, the executive director for planning and integration, and the director of communication.

The six general secretaries of the WCC, its top management post, have all been men and on August 27 the grouping elected the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, a man, to succeed the current general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia.

From 1988 to 1998, the WCC sponsored an "Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women," whose aims included increasing women's participation in church structures.