Women at CHS achieve leadership positions in religious organizations

Women at CHS achieve leadership positions in religious organizations


GENUINE GIFTING: Christian and senior Juliet Sanders opens a gift she had received as a going-away present from her youth group. Sanders’ last youth group at her church, Grace Church, was full of fun memories, such as gorging on Rainbow Sherbets and Silly Stringing the group’s mentors. SHRADDHA RAMNATH // PHOTO



Surrounded by friends at a ski resort, Christian and senior Juliet Sanders viewed her church’s winter retreat as an opportunity to have some fun. However, through her involvement in her church’s youth program, Merge, the trip’s effect on her was beyond simply enjoying herself.

“I first got involved (with my church) before I was a Christian by going on the winter retreat Merge has every year. I went because I thought skiing and hanging out with friends sounded fun,” Sanders said. “But God used it to impact my heart and turn my life around. I became interested in pursuing this relationship and got as involved as I could in Merge.”

However, as a female member of her church, Sanders said she recognizes disparities between the ratio of male and female religious leaders. According to a March 2016 Pew Research study, “few women have actually served at the very top” of many of the United States’ largest religious organizations.

“My church just passed a rule allowing women to be pastors this past year,” Sanders said. “I think it has to do a lot with people not wanting to alter traditions and upset more conservative members.”

However, Christian senior Katy Beth Doman attends the same church as Sanders and said while the involvement of more women  as leaders in her church is relatively new with the pastor position, she said she already meets a lot of female leaders working in her religious organization.

“At Grace (Church), women can be anything men can be,” Doman said. “We have a woman pastor and about half my Merge leaders are women. I would say there’s less women pastors overall though. That could be because it used to be considered only for men up until recently.”

In the aforementioned study, Pew Research reported that out of the nine main religious organizations within the United States, only “four have had a woman in the top leadership position. And, so far, each of these four has had only one woman in the top position.”

Teresa Lyons, Muslim Student Association (MSA) sponsor and science teacher, however, said this religious organization is an anomaly to this trend.

“All four officers for the Muslim Student Association are women,” Lyons said. “I was talking to some of the officers about that, and they said it’s not unusual. Muslim females are really active in their communities, and they seek out leadership…It’s a reflection of the values that they feel strongly about their communities, and they want to be involved and make a difference.”

Samar Syeda, vice president of MSA and senior, said that the opportunity to get involved in organizations of her faith has benefited her profoundly.

“I hold an unofficial role at the mosque of Al-Huda during the holy month of Ramadan. My role is to help organize the iftar, the meal eaten at sunset to break fast, at the mosque,” Syeda said. “Being involved with helping at the mosque and volunteering around the community has made me modest and has helped me grow up as a person. It has taught me how to manage my time and helped me sort my priorities out.”

Although Sanders said she was able to get involved through other forms of leadership within her church, she said she is concerned by the lack of female involvement in such oversight.

“I am a small group leader for a group of sophomore girls I have led since their freshman year. I earned this position by being asked to lead a group after many of my adult leader friends noticed that I really connected with younger girls and was already a mentor to many of my friends,” Sanders said. “Females may be intimidated by the lack of female representation.”

Doman, on the other hand, said the lack of formal female leadership does not affect  a person’s perception of his or her own religious involvement since worshippers are surrounded by other religiously inspirational women. However, she said it certainly does not affect her.

“There may be less women as priests or pastors, but there’s still a lot of female religious leaders,” Doman said. “There’s a lot of famous female religious leaders who lead by example, like Mother Teresa or a lot of missionaries or worship artists.”

Recognizing the positive impact of female role models within the context of religion and society, Lyons said she supports students who want to get involved in clubs and attributes this widespread openness to why females are more involved in religious organizations at CHS.

“It’s because there is a lot of respect. Everybody is encouraged regardless of your gender,” Lyons said. “So, women feel comfortable pursuing those types of roles, especially with all these role models with student government to clubs and all kinds of activities we see on the announcements and around the school…People see those role models, and it gives them courage to get involved in leadership positions themselves.”

While she agrees leadership is a problem within many religious organizations, Sanders said she urges females to take the initiative to seek leadership roles as she learned much due to her work with the church and it has changed her view on life.

“My life has been turned around by my involvement with my church,” Sanders said. “The leaders I met in Merge led me out of my darkest times in my earlier high school years, and the friends I met through Merge helped me become the ‘me’ that I am now.”