Guest Host: Jennifer Golbeck

The Church of England recently announced that it would allow female bishops. While other denominations have allowed female bishops for decades, women face challenges as they try to rise within church leadership. The Washington Diocese of the Episcopal Church ordained its first female bishop, the Right Reverend Mariann Budde, in 2011. We speak with Bishop Budde about women in and outside of the clergy.


  • Mariann Edgar Budde Bishop of the Washington Diocese of the Episcopal Church.


  • 12:06:40

    MS. JENNIFER GOLBECKFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Jen Golbeck from the University of Maryland sitting in for Kojo. Coming up later in the hour, Brazil post-World Cup turns its attention to a stalled economy, social unrest and an upcoming presidential election. But first, the Church of England recently announced that going forward, it would allow women priests to become bishops. It was a major shift that's been happening across religious denominations for decades.

  • 12:07:23

    MS. JENNIFER GOLBECKIncluding the Episcopal Church here in the US, which approved the ordination of women priests and bishops back in the 70s. But it's taken time, and women still face many challenges in rising to leadership positions. The Washington Diocese of the Episcopal Church ordained its first female bishop in 2011. The Right Reverend Mariann Budde joins us to talk about women inside and outside the clergy. It's good to have you here.

  • 12:07:47


  • 12:07:48

    GOLBECKDo you have questions for Bishop Mariann Budde? You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email at So you're the bishop of the Episcopal Church of Washington and its first woman to serve as bishop. It's coming up on two years now. Let's start by just telling us, what's the bishop's role?

  • 12:08:13

    BUDDEThanks for having me. I want to -- may I just say something about being the first bishop?

  • 12:08:16

    GOLBECKPlease. Yes.

  • 12:08:17

    BUDDEBecause anyone of us who's gone first is always standing on the shoulders of people who've gone before us. I am the first elected diocesan bishop, but there was another bishop of the Diocese of Washington who was elected as an assisting bishop. Her name was Jane Dixon and she served ably in this diocese for many years. And even took on the authority of bishop, in a temporary capacity, before the next bishop was elected. And so even though I'm the first elected Diocesan Bishop, every one of us who stands in a position like this has great forebears.

  • 12:08:51

    BUDDEAnd Jane Dixon was certainly one of mine. The role of bishop is as spiritual oversight -- overseer. And so, a diocese is a geographic area. Our diocese is the Diocese of Washington, D.C. and for Maryland counties. 89 congregations, the Washington National Cathedral.

  • 12:09:12

    GOLBECKWow. That's a lot of space you're covering.

  • 12:09:14

    BUDDEYeah. Yeah. I get a lot of miles on the car.

  • 12:09:18

    GOLBECKThe Church of England announced last week that they'd begin allowing women bishops. But your church, the Episcopal Church, approved ordination of women as priests and bishops for decades now. That was a long path, too, and there's still talk about the Ecclesiastical glass ceiling. Can you talk about that?

  • 12:09:35

    BUDDEYes. We have a democratically -- a democratic church. And so our church voted to have women clergy in the 70s, as you said. But then there is also the selection process, how bishops and priests are elected or assigned to their posts. And that's where the experience of ceiling still comes in, because in every congregation, in every bishop's position, you have to be chosen. And that process is one that takes a little bit longer for people to consider women candidates as viable for those positions.

  • 12:10:12

    GOLBECKYou also can join the conversation. What do you think of the announcement that the Church of England will now allow women bishops? And are you a woman in the clergy? What's been your experience? You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850 or sending us an email to You were ordained in the 80s and for 18 years, you led a congregation in Minneapolis. You're still one of very few women bishops. Can you talk a little bit about your own path?

  • 12:10:46

    BUDDEWhen I was a little girl, girls still couldn't be acolytes in the church. And when I was five or six was when women were first allowed to be elected representatives at the bodies that would make such decisions. So in my lifetime is when this changed. But when I came into my adulthood, the path had been forged by the women who came before me. And so, in my early 20s, I struggled, as most people do, with calls like this. To decide if this was something that was clearly my path. It came pretty graciously for me, thanks to the people who came before me.

  • 12:11:24

    BUDDEI was ordained when I was 28 and took my first parish as a rector when I was 33. That -- now, from there, I would say that women often are called to positions that are of smaller responsibility at first, smaller churches, assisting positions. And from there, we have to work our way up and prove our abilities. And I think that's, like many others, was what happened for me. That I worked for 18 years in that one place, helped the parish grow and thrive and from there was a viable candidate for bishop.

  • 12:11:59

    GOLBECKYou say you didn't, in fact, experience a lot of overt sexism in the 80s, as you were coming up. What were the challenges that you and other women of your generation faced in being among the first to be ordained?

  • 12:12:12

    BUDDEMy generation faced the question of how to be a woman in our role at all spectrums of the life cycle. For example, young women of child bearing age joining the clergy had those issues to deal with, as did many other women in the work force. How would we raise our families? How would we find that elusive thing called work/life balance? How would we demonstrate to our colleagues that we could, in fact, take on higher responsibility while trying to live a whole life? And so, I would say that that was the issue that many of my generation struggled with.

  • 12:12:51

    BUDDEOr helped to overcome, helped to demonstrate that we could, in fact, do those things. And change the nature of the conversation regarding work. So that in fact women, in all walks of life, could hope to be parents, raise good families, have joyful lives outside of work, and yet do their work well.

  • 12:13:11

    GOLBECKAnd this is a point that you make on this higher level. That overall, women in the clergy really face the same issues that women outside the church do.

  • 12:13:19

    BUDDEYes. Yes. Many of the same issues. In fact, I think much of clergy life is like running a small college or being a small business owner. You have a lot of different responsibilities and tasks to juggle. You work with both volunteers and constituencies. You have a role in the public sphere. All of those things are called upon in the life of a clergy person. And women bring a lot of natural skills and aptitudes and life experiences to that. So, we obviously enrich that leadership pool in ways that are demonstrated across the specter of society.

  • 12:13:57

    GOLBECKLet's take a call now. We have a call from Dan in Washington, D.C. Dan, you're on the air. Go ahead.

  • 12:14:04

    DANHi. I'm really glad you're doing this program. My one comment was I've never understood, kind of, the traditionalist opposition to women in clergy, given the fact that, you know, the early, at least in the New Testament, the early scriptures clearly show that women were in high positions in these early Christian communities. You know, in the New Testament, you know, Paul's writing to them, they're acknowledged as leaders.

  • 12:14:32

    DANYou know, the idea of a certain kind of a male clergy -- male only clergy is a much later development. That was my main comment, but also, you know, I'm reminded of -- I really loved the bishop mentioning those forbearers. You know, it's -- I'm reminded in the 1970s, when those very first women were ordained in the Episcopal Church, women like Carter Heyward. The ceremony itself, the church had to be surrounded by security guards because there were bomb threats. You know, over ordaining these women as clergy, and it tells us not only how far we've come but also how forward thinking denominations like the Episcopal Church were in those days to have equity in the clergy.

  • 12:15:24

    GOLBECKDan, thanks for your call. Sounds like Dan knows a lot of his history on this.

  • 12:15:27

    BUDDEHe knows his history, and it's all very -- thank you, Dan. You said it very well. The scriptural arguments for in favor of women leadership are all the ones that Dan mentioned. Scripture is a complicated resource and there are also passages that would buttress a position that would oppose them. And so, whenever we go into the sacred text to look for guidance and also to justify a given direction, we have to be very mindful of what the traditions are telling us and how we might apply them to our day.

  • 12:16:05

    GOLBECKThanks Dan for your call. You can also join us in this conversation at 1-800-433-8850. Let's take one more call before I go back to my questions for you. This is Chris in Ellicott City. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead.

  • 12:16:18

    CHRISYeah, hey. I'm an Orthodox Christian, so the perspective from the orthodox church is completely different, but I am a former Lutheran, and I'm just wondering how, since the Episcopal Church is in communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, I'm just wondering how these decisions affect that communion, relationship.

  • 12:16:40

    GOLBECKIs that something that you work on in your role as a bishop?

  • 12:16:43

    BUDDEWe are in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which means that we have tremendous parody and ability to serve respectively in our traditions. And we have acknowledged that we have far more in common than areas where we might differ. I don't think this decision affects those relationships at all, because the Lutheran Church has also taken significant forward leaning decisions regarding women. But also in our relationship with the Orthodox Church, with the Roman Catholic Church, we have very strong collegial relationships with churches across the spectrum.

  • 12:17:19

    BUDDEWe learned a long time ago that we don't have to agree on everything to work positively for the forces for good that all of our traditions call us to, in service to our God.

  • 12:17:29

    GOLBECKWe have an email from, I think, Cassia, is how you say her name. And she asks, was there a tipping point, and if so, what was it, that made you want to join the clergy and engage in that life, despite the lack of women role models in the church, especially in the higher ranks?

  • 12:17:46

    BUDDEWhat a great question. I always saw women, strong women around me, starting from my mother who raised me and worked all of her professional life. In fact, is working still, at age 83. And there were strong women around me in the church. Now, they weren't all -- they weren't ordained, but they were leaders. And so, I don't know that it ever occurred to me that I would not be -- that I would not be welcomed as a leader in the church. Now, I did encounter resistance later on, but thankfully, it was at a time when I had clarified those questions for myself, and so I could engage with more curiosity about the person who was relating to me.

  • 12:18:32

    BUDDEAnd what that might say about how we might deepen, or what that would do to limit our relationship. But I, as I said before, I have been surrounded by strong women all of my life, and so they were the ones who -- if there was a tipping point, it happened because of them, and for that I am eternally grateful.

  • 12:18:53

    GOLBECKIt's interesting to me, a lot of the themes coming up in this conversation. I'm a computer scientist by training and a professor, and I think women are 10 percent of our field. And it's something that you see in the news. But a lot of the issues that you're raising and questions like this are the same kind of things that we're hearing. Now, obviously you have a much different kind of calling than what I'm talking about, but it's interesting how the same issues come up in a lot of spaces where women are now starting to have leadership roles and presences, where 30 or 40 years ago, there really weren't that many.

  • 12:19:26

    BUDDEWell, and keep in mind, as a friend of mine reminded me this morning, that people who are members of churches are members of society. They are part of every other institution and fabric of life, and so we come to church with all of those influences and those ideas. And sometimes the church is ahead of the society, and sometimes it lags a bit behind. I think that's what happened in the Church of England, which is why secular forces were getting behind the cry for women bishops. But that sense of we are -- you know, we're not this isolated community among communities. There's a lot of interaction across the spectrum.

  • 12:20:05

    GOLBECKYeah. It seems almost out of line to talk about salaries. But clergy jobs are still jobs.

  • 12:20:11


  • 12:20:11

    GOLBECKYou point out that fewer men or women are willing to sell their souls to the church.

  • 12:20:16

    BUDDEIn the last 20 years or so, I would say that self-care and self-awareness and advocating for one's position in the church has become normative for clergy. And so, there is a sense while this is a sacrificial calling and there are lots -- you don't go into the ministry for the money. There is a sense that we are a value to our institution and we advocate for boundaries of a good wage and a living -- and a life worth living.

  • 12:20:52

    BUDDESo, yes. And I think that is true for men and women in the church. Having said that, most of us would tell you that the majority of our work we do for free and there are some aspects of institutional maintenance that you pay us for. But the calling itself is priceless and we'd give up just about anything for the privilege of doing it.

  • 12:21:14

    GOLBECKLet's take another call. This is Harley in Gaithersburg. Harley, you're on the air, go ahead.

  • 12:21:20

    HARLEYOkay. I'm going to get off (word?) here. Hi, bishop. I'm a cradle Pentecostal and I ran away from it and rediscovered in the most Anglo-Catholic jewel of a gothic Episcopal church on Hollywood Boulevard in California. Who knew?

  • 12:21:37

    BUDDEWho knew?

  • 12:21:38

    HARLEYYeah, yeah. It was pretty disturbing. But anyway, I just thought I'd also mention the reason I'm cradle Pentecostal is that my mother who was born in 1910 felt the calling and she got a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in theology. She was more qualified than any of the ministers in the churches that we attended and she was real clever. She'd do the Sunday school. She did the music thing.

  • 12:21:59

    HARLEYAnd then she had this 13-week series, lecture series on the book of Revelations. And back in the day, you know, the fundamental churches, you had church on Sunday night as well as Sunday morning. So she saddle up to the pastor in one of those churches and said, brother, you look so tired. And I just, you know, I'm not a minister, but if you'd like to have some time off -- and that's the way she did it.

  • 12:22:21

    HARLEYShe practiced. She found ways to do it and it took her to her 50s and we had to move to the United States and Canada to do it, but she got her own parish.

  • 12:22:29

    BUDDEThat's a wonderful story.

  • 12:22:30

    GOLBECKThat's a great story. Thank you, Harley, for that call. So you were rector of St. Johns in Minneapolis for 18 years. At that level, you were, in fact, running a large organization. Is the work kind of like that of a CEO?

  • 12:22:45

    BUDDEYeah, yeah. There's a lot -- it's way more than that, but it is -- if you don't have those skills to draw from, you have to learn them because it's absolutely critical that you help an organization like a church community have solid finances, a clear vision, leadership recruitment, all of those things, as well as how you present yourself to your larger community, how you help people make their way from the outer edges of your community and to greater membership. All of those skills are similar. Now, I would say that there's more to it than that, but that's a good set of skills to have in your toolbox.

  • 12:23:25

    GOLBECKSo I'm going to move to some questions about the future and how you face that and also tell our listeners that if you'd like to join this part of the conversation, we'd love to have you. What do you think of the role of the -- what do you think the role of the church should be on contemporary social issues like immigration or same-sex marriage or gender equality? Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. One of the biggest challenges faced by all churches is attracting younger parishioners and keeping older ones. Can you talk about that?

  • 12:23:55

    BUDDESure. The landscape of the country and of the world is changing quickly. And in spirituality there's, you know, there's no difference. And so, there's a continual effort needed in churches to reinterpret and to re-imagine and to reengage according to the questions and the concerns that people are having. And that's certainly true now. And so, needing to really listen to what, you know, what people are carrying in their hearts and minds and trying to bring into spiritual conversation those questions and those concerns is the work that we're facing today.

  • 12:24:31

    BUDDESo a lot of effort now into having conversations with young people where they are, spending time in communities where people naturally gather and not trying to necessarily say the way you become a Christian or a person of faith is to follow -- is to enter our doors. We're actually going to go where you are and spend time with you and engage in the world as you live it. It's the task that we're all facing right now.

  • 12:24:59

    GOLBECKPublic opinion and mores a number of social issues have been shifting very rapidly in recent years on topics like same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana. What does that meant for the church and where do you see your role in contemporary social debates?

  • 12:25:14

    BUDDEWe're right in the midst with them and we have to be. There's a mandate to engage on issues of morality and anything that affects the public well-being of the communities in the country in which we live. And so, yes, we take positions on things like marriage equality. The Episcopal church was one of the forerunners in embracing and welcoming homosexual people -- people within our own communities and also to say to the wider world that God makes no distinction on matters of sexual orientation.

  • 12:25:49

    BUDDEAnd that has been one of those places where I think we were in the forefront, and then the culture kind of also just took off on its own in many ways because the conversation has been evolving both secularly and in the spiritual community. So that's one area. Immigration reform, we have absolute mandate to talk to not only our communities but also to our elected officials about the moral questions that are at the heart of a debate like that and how we welcome people, particularly the children now who are coming across the border in record numbers, that those are issues where if we were to keep silent on that we would be negating the very reason that we're here.

  • 12:26:36

    GOLBECKSo you've written a book about preaching and the Sunday sermon and talk about it as not just a spiritual practice and a leadership practice, but I'd like to take a call that's sort of related to this, but I think you can see a couple of issues together. This is Mitch in Washington, D.C. Mitch, you're on the air, go ahead.

  • 12:26:55

    MITCHHi. Bishop, it's such an honor to speak with you and to sing for you when you're at the cathedral celebrating. You always have a way of bringing in the spirit that is particularly meaningful to me and I just want to say that to you. And also, my mom is a Methodist clergy woman in southwest Texas and has a pretty large parish and she has now been living with MS for 30 years. And she's going through an exacerbation right now.

  • 12:27:24

    MITCHAnd it's really difficult to be this far away from her as I am and also to hear the frailty of her -- of having to bridge that gap between being the leader or the pastor, the person, and then being the human who is frail and weak and also needs help. And I'm wondering how you navigate and how you move between those two spheres because I think it's something very difficult, and especially how your gender impacts that because I would assume that it would be something that men would also have to deal with, but women would deal with differently.

  • 12:27:56

    GOLBECKMitch, thanks very much for your call. So, you know, I think he raises this really interesting point of being vulnerable in front of a group. And I think that's especially interesting since you have thought a lot about the Sunday sermon and preaching and its importance.

  • 12:28:13

    BUDDEFirst, Mitch, my heart goes out to your mom and prayers for her as she navigates what is a courageous path. In terms of how to bring all of who we are into the pulpit, which is an opportunity for deep conversation in terms of intersecting everything that's happening within our own human lives , within the lives of our community and in the wider world as well as whatever our sacred text might have to speak to us on those various subjects.

  • 12:28:47

    BUDDEI guess what I would say is, you hold all of those things in your heart when you sit down to prepare for a Sunday sermon and you try -- or I try to honor all of it and then discern to what am I called to speak. And sometimes all of those very personal things are too raw for me to mention in the pulpit because it's just personal and it's deep and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to disclose in that moment. But those emotions would inform what I'm bringing to bear on the subject, right?

  • 12:29:25


  • 12:29:27

    BUDDEAnd then there may be a time later on if I'm dealing with something that's really, really tough, there may be a time later on where I might make reference to it when it's not as raw because I think from the pulpit you have to be careful not to create an environment where people start worrying about you or thinking about you relative to the message that you're trying to convey. And I would guess that Mitch's mom knows that very well.

  • 12:29:50

    BUDDEAnd yet, at the same time, she brings to that task all of the strength that dealing with vulnerability at the core gives you because that's the hidden truth that in the midst of that vulnerability is tremendous strength. And when we see somebody doing something brave, wherever it is, we know that that vulnerability is at the core of what they're saying and doing. And that gives us all courage to do the same wherever we're being faced with similar struggles in our own lives.

  • 12:30:23

    GOLBECKWell, Bishop Mariann Budde, thank you. This has been a fascinating conversation. It was great to have you here.

  • 12:30:28

    BUDDEHonor to be here. Thank you so much.

  • 12:30:30

    GOLBECKI'm Jen Golbeck sitting for Kojo. We'll be back after this short break.

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