New Female Pastor in Middlebury

Reverend+Stephanie+Allen+will+bring+her+talents+to+the+Memorial+Baptist+Church+in+Middlebury.+%28Courtesy%2FMemorial+Baptist+Church%29
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New Female Pastor in Middlebury

Reverend Stephanie Allen will bring her talents to the Memorial Baptist Church in Middlebury. (Courtesy/Memorial Baptist Church)

Reverend Stephanie Allen will bring her talents to the Memorial Baptist Church in Middlebury. (Courtesy/Memorial Baptist Church)

Reverend Stephanie Allen will bring her talents to the Memorial Baptist Church in Middlebury. (Courtesy/Memorial Baptist Church)

Reverend Stephanie Allen will bring her talents to the Memorial Baptist Church in Middlebury. (Courtesy/Memorial Baptist Church)

By Sarah Koenigsberg

Upon opening her inbox, Reverend Stephanie Allen noticed one unread email from an interesting source: Middlebury’s Memorial Baptist Church. The email turned out to contain a job offer, which  Allen decided to take, and thereby become the town’s first female pastor.

Allen’s role at the church involves a number of duties beyond planning worship and preaching. She teaches bible studies, provides counseling for the congregation, and is available for visitation. She will also occasionally conduct services off site.

Reverend Allen arrived two weeks ago from Cleveland, Ohio, where she spent the past sixteen years of her life. Allen earned her Masters of Divinity and Doctorate in Hebrew from Ashland University during her first several years there. Later, she helped with ministerial work at a local church.

Prior to Ashland, Allen obtained her undergraduate degree from University of New Hampshire, where her husband also studied. She credits this as part of the reason that her family was willing to make the big move. “It was a big decision, but my husband went to UNH also and we both really wanted to get back to this area,” she stated in an interview.

Along with her husband, Allen’s five children have joined her in Middlebury. She admits that having children has added to the difficulties she faces, especially as a female in a profession that consists predominantly of males. Allen says that many people ask her how she manages five kids plus the congregation, “which is never a question you would ask a man.”

In the U.S., the vast majority of church ministers are male, despite reforms that have allowed women to be ordained. The branch Allen belongs to, The American Baptist Church, has been open to female ministers since 1830. Still, only approximately 12 percent of the ordained members are women.

When asked why she thinks this pattern of male dominance persists, Allen cited many peoples’ discomfort with female clergy.

“There are still a lot of denominations that are not accepting of it, and people have never been exposed to it,” she stated, “so they just can’t wrap their mind around what that would even be like.”

Women also face compensatory discrimination from the church itself. “They call it the stained glass ceiling in ministry work, when men get paid a lot more,” said Allen. Despite these challenges, Allen shares that she was never intimidated by her career. She has nine ministers in her family, two of which are female.

However, Allen’s gender has only been one factor that has made her stand out in her profession.

“More than my gender has really been my age,” Allen said, sharing that she was the youngest at seminary. Many women who do decide to get ordained do it as a second career, resulting in a higher average age.

Accordingly, Allen is excited for the youthful demographic that accompanies a college town like Middlebury. The American Baptist Church actively reaches out to Middlebury College by holding bible studies on campus. This involvement is one major reason the position appealed to Allen.

Allen also enjoys the wide range of education that exists in the congregation as a result of the college.

“I feel like you get the best of a small town but then you also get the academic aspect of it.”

Allen hopes her arrival will open up opportunities for more females to take up religious leadership roles in the Middlebury community. More than anything else, she believes it was acclimatize people to the idea of a female minister. “Even if people don’t have strong opinion, it’s just something they’re not used to,” Allen said. “Hopefully we can normalize it.”

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