Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Dwight B. Billings

Second Advisor

Dr. James G. Hougland, Jr.


Women in the United Methodist Church (UMC) were officially granted full clerical rights over 50 years ago, and the church’s official stance is that women and men are to enjoy fully equal rights throughout all aspects of life and society, religious and otherwise. Despite these policies, however, women’s and men’s opportunities and experiences in professional ministry in the church remain far from equal. Women continue to be underrepresented in the leadership of the UMC, especially in more prestigious appointments and positions, and face challenges to their work, leadership, and authority throughout their ministries. In fact, national statistics from the UMC show that as of 2010, only 24.6% of the clerical leaders are women. In the Kentucky Annual Conference (KAC), the focus of the present study, women are even more sparsely represented, constituting only 13.56% of the leadership as of 2010 appointments, with few serving at larger churches and only one currently serving as a district superintendent; only four have ever served in that role in the Conference’s history.

Using qualitative, semi-structured interviews, I collected data from 36 of the 118 clergy women of the 2010 Conference, including women serving in all types of positions in the Conference as well as all current and former district superintendents and many of the earliest pioneers in the KAC.

The goal of this study is to understand from the perspectives of these clergy women their paths into and through ministry, the support and resistance that play such key roles in their lives and work, how their families affect and are affected by their work, and the symbols and symbolic actions that they use to claim and demonstrate the authority they have been given and to navigate some of the obstacles in their paths. In order to provide a theoretical framework for this study, I used primarily social constructionism and standpoint theory and related methods.



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