13. Rev. Martha Simmons: Helping Women of Color Answer Their Call to the Ministry
The pulpit and many seminaries are dominated by men, denying women “the opportunity to live out their call, as God so desires,” says the Rev. Martha Simmons.
Over the past year, Simmons has been building the Women of Color in Ministry Project (WOCIM) to change things and to have each other’s back across racial and ethnic groups.
Working with the Hartford Institute, she distributed a survey to African American, Latina, Asian American/Pacific Islander and Native American women in Protestant ministry. The responses helped to shape the focus of the organization, which attracted about 250 women and representatives from 12 seminaries to a launch event held in New York City with support from the Ford Foundation.
“The Women of Color in Ministry Project has four pillars — educational advancement, employment assistance, ministerial mentorship and advocacy,” Simmons explains.
She came up with the idea after attending yet another conference at which many of the 2,000 women present were still complaining about the same issues she working on her master’s in divinity at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. The issues? The glass ceiling to becoming a pastor let alone finding a ministerial job, pay inequities and the lack of mentors.
Simmons, who also has a law degree, had the experience for such an undertaking as president of the African American Pulpit Inc. in Atlanta and founder of the African American Lectionary. She enlisted the help of Dr. Serene Jones of Union Seminary and Dr. Lisa Rhodes, dean of Sisters Chapel at Spelman College, to the lay the groundwork for the project.
“We will pay more than lip service to women’s calling in religious leadership,” Simmons says of WOICM, recalling of her days of being patted on the head about her calling or worse.
“We will change women’s lives and the institutions that they have long served.”