Blog Post

Have You Heard? Black Women Leaders and the Glass Cliff

Conference Minister Rev. Davena Jones and ACM Rev. Dr. Celestine Fields

by Associate Conference Minister Rev. Dr. Celestine Fields

I was blessed to have a conversation with Rev. Dr. Courtney Stange-Tregear who wrote the UCC article, “How the UCC can avoid ‘glass cliff’ after electing first woman as GMP.” We talked about the glass cliff from the perspective of Black women leaders.

The UCC, like other denominations and secular organizations, are calling Black women to top leadership positions. Rev. Dr. Stange-Tregear wrote, “…a very common occurrence for women in leadership, especially those who represent the “first” in their role. The phenomenon of “first woman” leaders being branded with the decline of their organization is a phenomenon called the “glass cliff.” For Black women, in these firsts, similar to our white female colleagues, there are expectations of us failing, but as Black women, there is the racism and the American caste system, which says who should not be in these positions of power and influence, adding a different layer of anxiety to our work.

In my doctorate research, Black Pastor, White Church, the Black clergy, mostly male, lamented over the resistance to their leadership through the lens of, belonging…the caste system. The honeymoon of, “We are ready for this Black pastor’s leadership,” quickly descended into a failed pastoral relationship.

There have been so many instances since beginning my call in the conference where I have heard these or similar words, “You have to succeed.” “You can’t fail. Two Black women conference ministers, this is historic.” “Be careful how you speak. You can’t be seen as an angry Black women.” These narratives live within us every day. It’s unfair to place this expectation of perfection upon us in our service to God and God’s people.

Perfection leaves no room for us to be fully human, fully present, and trusting God for this work. We are not allowed to make mistakes, which is part of the learning process. This asks us to be hypervigilant. And this is exhausting and ego depleting. There is no way to be the creative beings God has called us to be when we are exhausted from trying to meet the unfair expectations of others, and the ones we place upon ourselves.

You may ask, “What is the answer?” I read the entire April 2022 issue of Presbyterian Outlook, which was devoted to the voices of Black women.1  It repeated these words, “Listen to us.” “We are trustworthy.” God’s people, trust us to complete what you and God have called us to and for in this season of the Church. Stand in solidary with us. Join us as allies in our leadership, ensuring we have everything needed to be your leaders. Then, together we can succeed to the glory of God and for the Kin-dom of God on earth now. Amen.”

1 Accessed August 2, 2023.

One Comment

  • My complicated identity bows unto thine. (I’m the first openly gay pastor my PCUSA congregation in SF. I had to come from the UCC; the SF presbytery would have prosecuted me if I’d been honest with them. What you say about ego-killing hyper-vigilance is so true. Exhausting. The UCC saved my ministry and let me breathe. I am forever indebted. And I love my UCC.) Thank you for this article. Might you be willing, Rev. Celestine, to dismantle some racism in Pac Heights? We have a high-functioning Racial Equity Initiative in the church, and they’re doing good work.

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