CHICAGO -- As influential as they have been in ministry throughout history, women's place in the church and synagogue has advanced from pew to pulpit only in recent years.
A few women were ordained in the 19th century, in congregations that could act without approval from a clerical hierarchy. But in the Judeo-Christian mainstream, women ministers and rabbis are a post-World War II phenomenon, at best.
Ordination of women began among Methodists and Presbyterians in 1956, Lutherans in 1970, Reform Jews in 1972, Episcopalians in 1976, and Conservative Jews in 1985. And, as those doors to ordination opened, more and more women have walked through . . . into seminaries.
But a recent report of the Association of Theological Schools -- along with a study done last year by Educational Testing Service at Princeton University -- hint the boom in women seeking ordination may be over, and lack of job opportunities is part of the reason.
"Things are sort of in a holding stage right now. Overall enrollment seems to have bottomed out, while enrollment of women has peaked and leveled off," said Gail Buchwalter King, editor of the association's Fact Book on Theological Education.
Meanwhile, ETS researcher Joseph O'Neill and fellow researcher Richard Murphy found that women, even those whose seminary grades were better than their male peers, were encountering resistance in the real workday world of religion.
"Their first assignment is usually to a parish that no one else wants, and then after spending years there, they find it difficult to move up to a bigger parish, moves that are common among men," Mr. O'Neill says. "As a result, women tend to go into chaplaincies and administrative positions rather than become senior pastors."