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Women take lead - Females to head three of Jamaica’s larger Christian denominations

Published:Saturday | February 24, 2018 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gillpin
Gooden Benguche
Smith Seymour

For decades, women have outnumbered men in the pews of most Jamaican churches, but the top echelons of the local Christian community have remained the sole domain of the males. Not anymore.

When the Reverend Karen Kirlew takes office as the first female president of the 169-year-old Jamaica Baptist Union (JBU) today, she will join the Reverend Christine Gooden Benguche, who heads the Methodist Church in Jamaica; and the Reverend Phyllis Smith Seymour, who leads the Moravian Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

The breakthrough for women has been welcomed by many in the local Christian community, but there are some who argue that this is not in keeping with the gospel.

Last week, several members of the Christian community who are opposed to women leading the denominations refused to speak on the record, but those who saw this as a step in the right direction were quick to voice their opinions.

Among those saluting the achievements of the three women was the Reverend Dr Stevenson Samuels, pastor of the Escarpment Road New Testament Church in St Andrew, who hailed their elevation to the top posts in their denominations as "a big move by the Church".

"I think it speaks volumes for women and also speaks a lot for the Christian community, which has put forward these women to provide leadership. I must acknowledge this bold and big move by the Christian community which is unlike many institutions in Jamaica," said Samuels.

He argued that the fact that women are natural nurturers should not be scoffed at, as this positively complements those in leadership.

"There's a maternal and nurturing aspect that women bring to leadership that is a part of their natural way of doing things, and it is a plus that women tend to bring to the table. Whether it is in leadership, or giving support to leadership, and we applaud that," added Samuels.

He was quick to underline that he does not want the Church to lose men as leaders, but instead urged find the right gender balance.

"There is a masculinity that the world is looking for, and what I am hoping is that the Church will not lose that. I think the world is losing that, because men are not taking up their rightful places in society. This concern, however, is not to oppose the achievement of these women in particular," added Samuels.

Christian and schoolteacher, 27-year-old Aneisha Walker, was equally elated as she argued that for a long time the Church has stigmatised women leaders by claiming that this was contrary to the principles of God.

"I think this a positive direction that the Church is going in, and I believe everything is just falling into place, just the way the Lord has designed it because we are all equal in the sight of the Lord.

"God has given all of us gifts, both men and women, to edify His Kingdom. I am happy that we are moving away from the stigma and discrimination," said Walker, as she added that she was blessed to have had strong women in her life as a child, who taught her to pursue excellence despite her gender.

In the meantime, the Reverend Carla Dunbar is urging the female church leaders not to lose their femininity while striking a balance between respecting the men they serve and being effective leaders.

Dunbar, who wears many hats, including minister of religion and sex counselling therapist, said it is imperative that women don't apologise for their gender or try to copy male leadership styles.

"First thing I would advise them is to make sure they are directed by the Holy Spirit. You can't go wrong if you are taking your dictate from the one who heads the Church," said Dunbar.

"Second, always respect the men. Men are created as authority figures, and that is a position that God has given them. Finally, remember that they are women, not connoting weakness but accepting it.

"Emotions may run a little high but don't beat up yourself because that is who you are. Don't lose your femininity because of your leadership role, because men still want women to be women," added Dunbar, as she noted that she is elated by the accomplishments of these women.

"I don't believe it affects the Church negatively to have women heading denominations. I don't think we will ever get to a point where women will take over fully, and I wouldn't want that to necessarily happen either.

"Because of where I sit as a family therapist, I see where there are some disadvantages to women doing certain things. When I did my research last year, I saw where women at the top, in CEO positions, can have their family lives negatively impacted, if they do not find that balance.

"As a pastor, I have had to learn to find that balance in order not to lose my family," said Dunbar.

One person who thinks it is wrong to have women leading the Church is controversial American pastor Steve Anderson, who has blasted the Jamaican men. Read his reaction here and share your views with us at