The Free Churches have been pioneers of women’s ministry in this country, as can be seen in the collection of essays This is our Story, edited by Janet Wootton (Epworth Press, 2007).
The Methodist Church of Great Britain has been ordaining women clergy since 1974, but there was a long pre-history, with two of its predecessor bodies (the Primitive Methodists and the Bible Christians) making extensive use of female itinerant preachers in the early nineteenth century.
The current (ministerial) President of the Methodist Conference (an annual office) is, in fact, a woman (Rev Alison Tomlin, supported by a female Vice-President, Deacon Eunice Attwood). There have also been two previous female Presidents.
However, according to statistics in today’s Methodist Recorder (and obtained from the Methodist Connexional Team), women are still under-represented in the Church’s senior ministerial positions.
Although women account for 50% of probationer ministers and 33% of presbyters in an establishment post, they hold only 20% of circuit superintendencies and 16% of District Chairs.
Various spokespersons for the Methodist Church are quoted in the newspaper as applauding the progress which has been made in achieving a better gender balance in the ministry but as acknowledging that more needs to be done.
This year’s Methodist Conference established a network of Equality and Diversity Forums, including a Gender Stakeholder Forum, which is tackling the issue of gender inclusivity more generally. Some two-thirds of Methodist members and worshippers are women.