Leading Women (in North America) is a 3-day gathering that brings together 60-80 women priest who are interested in discerning a possible call to positions of Bishop, Cathedral Dean, Canon to the Ordinary or Cardinal Rector.
How Did Leading Women Get Started?
Leading Women was created in England in 2010 to prepare women priests to be ready to become bishop as soon as Parliament voted to allow it. The Church of England’s Leading Women was founded by several English clergywomen including Dean June Osborne, Canon Lucy Winkett, and Dean Jane Shaw. Bishop Karen Gorham is now the coordinator of this continuing program.
In late 2014 we decided that a Leading Women-type gathering might be useful in The Episcopal Church as well. We chose a single three-day event format and took guidance from what the Church of England was doing, along with elements from WEEL, Beautiful Authority and other programs of women’s leadership development in the church. Canon Stefani Schatz invited Dean Jane Shaw, Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, and me to become the Leading Women 2016 planning team.
In 2019, we held a Leading Women gathering for clergywomen in both the Anglican Church of Canada as well as The Episcopal Church. I coordinated the planning team which included Archbishop Melissa Skelton, Dean Amy McCreath, Rev’d Rhonda Waters, and Rachel Taylor.
Who Attends Leading Women?
When the planning team for the first US conference reserved space for our event, we boldly claimed thirty bedrooms. When we gathered to review applications, over 100 clergywomen has applied. So we called the facility and reserved every available room (plus a few hotel rooms) and were able to admit about 60 women for the 2016 conference.
A similar number of women participated in our first Leading Women ACC/TEC in 2019, with a good mix of women from across the US (The Episcopal Church/TEC) and from across Canada (Anglican Church of Canada/ACC).
Most participants had completed at least two calls, and all had references from their bishop or another person in leadership recommending them for this program.
What Happens at Leading Women?
Leading Women offers plenary sessions, breakout groups, and time for networking and individual reflection. Current and past bishops, canons, deans and cardinal rectors are on hand to share in more details about these positions.
Early in the gathering, we have a plenary session where women bishops, canons, deans and cardinal rectors share about their roles, and how they are similar and different to one another and to the role of parish priest.
An important part of the Leading Women events are several breakout times when women who are interested in a particular leadership role meet with women currently in that role. We offer these breakout groups two or three times per event and encourage women to attend separate groups each time. Many women leave Leading Women most interested in a role that they were not considering when they registered, and much of this is due to the greater understanding they receive from these breakout groups.
Individual mentoring and paperwork review is another valuable part of Leading Women. Participants are able to submit their resumes and other paperwork to members of our leadership team, and then have private sessions to work on them. Other participants sign up for individual time with someone currently in the role that they are considering.
Networking is the other crucial part of a Leading Women conference. Women find value not only in making connections with people currently in these leadership roles, but also in making connections with other clergywomen throughout the denomination who are also interested in increasing their leadership capacity.
Does It Matter?
The time spent at Leading Women continues to encourage participants for years after the conference. The connections they make to colleagues and other leaders in the church help them learn about interesting open positions. The clarity they receive during the conference propels them into being strong candidates when they do apply.
I have been surprised and delighted how often I will hear from a Leading Women participant–even years later–that the work they did at Leading Women was a significant factor in them receiving their new call.
What Does Leading Women Cost?
The cost of a Leading Women conference is roughly around $20,000. But we are committed that cost will not prohibit attendance. Both North American sessions of Leading Women were mostly underwritten by grants and gifts. We hope to continue offering Leading Women in the future, and continue to seek funding. If you would like to help fund this work or know an individual or group that might, please contact me!