Chipping Away at the Stained Glass Ceiling

Chapel Window at the Sisters of Mercy | Nashville, Tennessee

By Eileen Campbell-Reed 

Are you thinking it’s time for seminary? Are you a woman called to ministry?

Do you find yourself looking up at that stained glass ceiling and wondering, how will I break through?

That is where the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) comes in! We are here to help you find the cracks in that stained glass and break through the barriers that women still face in ministry.*

Recently the first cohort of the WLI, who began in 2014, gathered for a retreat at the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Nashville. WLI students, Mary, Alisha, Karynthia, Marie, Jennifer and Jessica are coming to the end of their MDiv course of study after three intense years of attending class, writing, three internships, mentoring, prayer, and change on many levels. Each woman still must complete a capstone project that brings all the learning together.

Learning the practice of ministry is a complex, deeply personal and spiritually challenging task. It cannot be fully accomplished in seminary, but rather takes years in practice. In fact learning ministry as a practice cannot really be considered a mere task. Rather it is an outgrowth of discipleship, calling, leadership and following the Spirit for guidance and sustenance.

The exciting thing to watch with the WLI Cohort I is how much growth and change each woman has experienced in three years. For example Mary Price, third year WLI scholar, had to transition in her internship this spring and split it between two different projects. In the past this might have seriously stressed her ability to cope. But working through the program has prepared her to navigate big change with new confidence, more openness and less anxiety.

Sister Suzanna hosted Dr. Molly T. Marshall (standing) and members of the Women’s Leadership Initiative for a retreat earlier in August. Seated (l to r) Alisha Smith Haddock, Mary Price, Marie King, and Jessica Jenkins.

Mary says about the surprise change directions, “As an extrovert, high achiever I had to let go of my own understanding and trust each step of the process that lead toward personal balance and accountability in the midst of events I could not control.”

What helped her cope? “Journaling, praying, talking with my husband and a co-worker all helped me synthesize my experience and feel comfortable with the chaos.” In the end, says Mary, “This internship has confirmed both my administrative and pastoral care strengths. I believe the wisdom from both experiences will ground me in my ministry. My faith grew as the Holy Spirit enlightened my path during the transitions.”

Jessica Jenkins, third year WLI scholar, spent her 120-hour internship as a chaplain in hospice care. She says her internship clarified her vocational direction and helped her find the right kind of self-care to sustain her work in ministry. Jessica says about her growth, “I have also been shown how to set boundaries and stick to them. Not only with my family and friends, but also with work … I have not been the best at taking stands or making my feelings and desires known. However, part of my goals this summer were to be an effective communicator and a leadership presence. Neither of these things has been mastered, but they have both been practiced through the summer.”

Seminary should provide a good foundation, with lots of encouragement and space to put into practice what you are learning right away. Mary and Jessica demonstrate how their internships have done exactly that! Because Central’s WLI classes are on weekends (in Nashville) and online, women in the program have an opportunity to continue learning in practice alongside their coursework throughout the program.

Does this program sound like a fit for you? Is this a journey you’ve been planning to embark upon? If you are a woman called to ministry, and you want preparation for the best possible start (or continuation) of your vocation, we invite you to apply for the WLI program. We think it may be just what you need to help you get through the stained glass ceiling!


* You are invited to a “Preview Weekend” September 29-30 in Nashville, Tennessee and online using zoom. Details HERE.

The Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) Master of Divinity MDiv program approaches ministry preparation, leadership development, curriculum, and contextual ministry specifically with women in mind. Students will graduate in four years prepared with knowledge and skill to provide exceptional leadership, to continue adapting to a changing world, and to create and lead innovative ministries in a wide variety of contexts. Start your application today.

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