There are local bible colleges that refuse to enroll women in pastoral classes, and there are others in the ministry who do not believe that a woman’s place is in the pulpit.
That reality and the “stained glass ceiling” that prevents many women from moving up in the clergy prompted Sonja Dawson in 2004 to gather four other ladies together to create a support organization called Sisters in Ministry (SIM).
“When I came into the ministry five years ago, I realized there was a great need for unity and support among women clergy, because that was one thing not that many of us had. By coming together to support one another, I thought we wouldn’t feel so alone,” explained Dawson about why she and her colleagues created SIM.
The women who came to that initial meeting were Stephanie Douglas of The Worship Center in Long Beach; Sharon Gray of New Mt. Calvary; Elder Candice Simpson of Covenant Workshop Center in Inglewood; and Pastor Edwina Harris of Kingdom of Life Ministries.
Dawson, whose father is Rev. Lonnie Dawson of New Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, said she was lucky enough to have support from her family and her church, whose members said they always knew she was anointed by God to be in the ministry. But from talking with other women in similar positions, she realized this was not the case across the board.
Sisters in Ministry has a three-fold mission, said its founder and chief executive officer. The first is to rededicate to sisterhood.
“That’s why we came together to encourage and support other women in the ministry. Women need to be more sisterly,” Dawson said.
The second goal of SIM is to encourage excellence in ministry, and to do that Dawson said the organization offers training and mentoring for women through their annual conference, other events held during the year and in a bi-monthly newsletter.
“There are practical tips for women in the ministry; there’s always something educational and practical,” pointed out Dawson about the newsletter.
The third goal is to be of service, and SIM does this by going to the Union Rescue Mission every fifth Monday and working with the women there.
Currently, the organization is in the process of setting up a mentoring and scholarship program for teen girls.
“That is a direct result of the (prevalence) of HIV and AIDS among African American females,” said Dawson, who believes the church needs to step up and take a prominent role in discussions about such issues. The one-year program she envisions will focus on creating healthy bodies, healthy minds, healthy spirits and healthy relationships, and will take place through evenings of empowerment, where the 12 to 17 year old girls sit down to dinner with women to listen, learn and talk.
In addition to the SIM annual conference–which will happen Dec. 5 and 6 this year at Beulah Baptist Church in Watts and cost $55 per person–the group holds fellowship events, a prayer breakfast and “SIM road trips.”
“We go to outlying areas and introduce SIM to women and ministers who live out in areas like Lakeview Terrace and the Inland Empire to give them information about the organization,” Dawson said.
The target audience for SIM is pastors, however Dawson said the organization also works with women who are not necessarily ministers, but are called to some form of the ministry such as praise dancers and worship leaders.
During the four years SIM has been in existence, Dawson said one of the things that has truly encouraged her has been the letters, calls and e-mails she has received thanking her for the group’s support and mentoring.