PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Disciples of Christ became the first major U.S. Protestant denomination to elect a woman as its leader Tuesday.
More than 3,000 delegates of the Indianapolis-based church stood to register their ``Yes'' vote for the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins. When no one rose to vote against her, the room erupted in applause.
Some supporters sported T-shirts printed with her photograph. They wiped away tears as Watkins took the microphone and said: ``We are a church whose time has come.''
Adair Lummis, co-author of two studies on women in the clergy and a researcher at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, called it a significant event. There have been women bishops, Lummis said, but never a woman elected to head a mainline Protestant denomination.
``Having a woman ordained _ as wonderful as it is _ doesn't necessarily lead to more women in positions of leadership,'' Lummis said.
Tom Jewell, the regional minister for Oklahoma, where Watkins, 51, is pastor of a church in Bartlesville, said the church's election of a woman as its leader for the next six years ``reflects a great readiness and receptivity to move into the future.''
The 770,000-member denomination was founded on the American frontier. It counts former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson among its past members.