This month, Emmanuel Lutheran Church joins in the community conversation about the book "Broad Band" by Claire L. Evans, which is the One Book Project 2020 title selection. On Thursday evening, Emmanuel is offering an online panel discussion titled Women Who Preach: Pioneering in the Pulpit.

The One Book Project is sponsored by Kern County Library and California State University’s First Year Experience Program, and this is the fourth year Emmanuel Lutheran has been a One Book community programming partner.

Each year, Emmanuel hosts a panel discussion on the themes of the chosen book from a faith-based perspective. "Broad Band: the Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet" is about women visionaries in the fields of technology and innovation — who were there at the conception and birth of the internet but have been effectively erased from that story.

Other themes for this year’s book are women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, and female empowerment in general.

Emmanuel’s panel will explore how women who lead churches have fared pioneering in the pulpit. Why pioneering? According to the Pew Research Center Study on American Religion, as of 2014 only 11 percent of American congregations were led by women. That figure had not changed since 1998, and it has not significantly increased since 2014.

Rev. Nancy Bacon, the panel moderator, offers this insight, “My denomination, the United Church of Christ was the first mainline church to ordain women in 1853. Today, about 50 percent of UCC ministers are women. We have equity in numbers, however, many still do not receive the same rates of pay and women are more likely to be leading smaller churches or serving in associate or assistant pastoral roles, and very unlikely to be seminary presidents. Outside of my denomination and others that ordain women, the age-old controversy about whether women should even be allowed to lead churches continues.”

Many of the largest denominations do not ordain women or allow them to lead congregations.

Emmanuel is asking the panel of ordained women — which includes Pastor Dawn Wilder of Emmanuel Lutheran, retired Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein and Trena Turner, co-pastor of Victory in Praise Church in Stockton — to share the paths they took to ministry, the challenges they faced along the way and the mentors who inspired them.

When asked what gifts women uniquely bring to ministry, Turner reflected, “While watching the recent presidential debate, I was reminded of the phenomenal nurturing power we have as women to navigate a wide spectrum of circumstances. There is something undeniable about a woman's perspective that has the ability to shift the atmosphere and bring alignment to most any space.”

What then might the future hold for women in the pulpit?

The public is invited to explore both the opportunities and challenges offered women who preach, and to create a conversation with the panel. The program is offered via Zoom. Those who wish to join in may register up to an hour ahead of the program on Emmanuel’s website emmanuelbakersfield.org. The program will also be recorded and available for viewing on Emmanuel's website.

Kristie Coons is a congregant of Emmanuel Lutheran Church.

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