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How to become a woman priest

Updated on April 29, 2015
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An interest in God and religion dominated Tessa Schlesinger's life for half a century. A decade ago she walked away to become an atheist.

How to become a woman priest

Becoming a female priest is different for different denominations of Christianity. Some denominations permit woman to become priests, but others do not. So if you wish to become a priest and you are a female, you will probably need to find a denomination that is acceptable to you. So the first step is to find the right denomination to you.

Churches which ordain female priests and pastors

Smaller denominations have been far quicker in ordaining women, starting with the Quakers in the early 1800s. The earliest churches to accept women as ministers of the church were Congregationalist Church in 1853, Universalist church in1863, and unusually the Salvation Army since its inception in 1865.

Generally the acceptance of women has come at a national level rather than an international level. So, for instance, the Methodist Church in the UK started ordaining women in 1972, the Anglican Church in Canada in 1976, Anglican Church in New Zealand 1977, and the second largest Mormon Church denomination in 1984, the Church of England in 1992. There are others.

You can read more about the history of ordaining women in Christian churches here.

As all Christian churches have differences in doctrine, if one’s own church did not accept women for ordination, there are a sufficient number of closely related beliefs in terms of doctrine, for there to be some choice.


Generally it is accepted that before one becomes a priest, one has a calling. This means that there is a strong inclination to serve God and it is felt that God has asked one or told one to become a priest. It is an entirely personal decision. That said, on speaking to various female rabbis and priests, it appears that there was a period of some years where the choice was discussed with others – family, friends, members of the congregation, and the priests or rabbis.

The other common denominator with female applicants was a decade or so of pastoral work. Some would have been appointed to position of deacons or served in a choir, an outreach group, or they headed some interest group in the church.

There have been some news stories, however, where the path to priesthood was taken rather than given. Austrian nun, Mayr-Lumetzberger, and six other Catholic nuns went to Argentina to be ordained by Antonio Braschi, a Catholic bishop who did not toe the Vatican line. The Danube Seven were excommunicated by the Pope. Mayr-Lumetzberger’s response was simply, “I had felt called by God to priesthood since I was a small child, and I wanted to be a priest before I died. … I’m doing the right thing, only a little bit too early."

Training and Studying

Somewhere around 1979, someone told me that more than half of the students studying theology at university dropped out. This was because studying the bible and God from an academic point of view showed up many discrepancies and, at a certain point, many dropped out as the result of a crises of faith.

In the circumstances, many prefer to go to a Bible school or to a seminary. So your next step is to look at which training would gain you entrance to being accepted as a priest or pastor at the denomination of your choice. The first step is to ask the people in your denomination, and then depending on their reply, evaluate the balance between what the church needs and which training model would fulfil you spiritually and intellectually.

There are five different options. These are Divinity school at university, Bible schools which are not degree level but which teach the bible, theological seminary which is a training school for priests and pastors of any denominations, Bible Institutes which accept people of all levels in order to simply learn about the bible but do have graduate courses, and church affiliated seminaries which teach the doctrines of a specific church.

Schooling or training can run between three to seven years depending on the level of education required. Some require fees and some accept students at the church’s expense. Depending on whether the school and course is accredited, bible and/or students can qualify for financial aid.


Graduation and applying for a job

Yes, it’s true. Whether you went to bible school or divinity school, you still have to find a position once you graduate. As with more secular principles, it’s best to start looking for a position some years before you graduate. Coming to an agreement with the clergy of your particular denomination ahead of time goes a long way towards securing work once you have graduated.

If you have not yet secured employment before graduation, it’s best to look at a wide variety of positions. Many of the larger churches and denominations employ junior staff, part-time staff, or pastoral positions in terms of looking after the needs of the congregation rather than preaching the Sunday sermon.

Handling prejudice and bias

It is inevitable that when in a position that has been traditionally one occupied by men that there will be some resistance. This might even start at college. So it’s a good idea to learn to deal with this sooner rather than later. The same questions will come up routinely, so it’s a matter of preparing answers ahead of time. As you become more adept and comfortable with the remaining prejudice against woman preachers, you will appear more convincing to those who resist the entry of female clergy. At some point, you will have developed enough expertise to convert a biased opinion to one of acceptance.

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Changing your mind

It happens. As I learnt so long ago, once the bible has been studied in more detail, some students begin to have doubts. Others find that their calling isn’t quite in the area that they thought it was, and while they still wish to serve people in a caring capacity, their calling to teach their particular religion is not as strong as they first thought. Are the years spent training for the position wasted? No. There are many career choices available to those with a theological degree. Depending on what your degree involved (ancient languages, psychology, writing sermons, etc.) the following options would be open to you…

  • teacher or lecturer at a school or university
  • religious journalist or writer
  • social worker
  • youth worker
  • Sunday radio host
  • Sunday tv host
  • Hospital chaplain
  • Counsellor on women and spiritual issues.

Becoming a priest or pastor is also about caring for others. A vast number of issues present themselves as one becomes more familiar with the lives of congregants. It is, therefore, as much a position about a religious conviction as it is about serving human beings.


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