Women take lead in conferences’ 50th anniversary celebrations
April 12, 2006
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
The milestone decision granting full clergy rights to women in the United Methodist
Church will be celebrated in annual (regional) conference sessions this spring
Conferences will host special emphases recognizing the 50th anniversary of
the decision of the United Methodist General Conference to allow women to have
the same rights as male pastors.
The United Methodist Church in 2004 mandated 2006 as a yearlong celebration
commemorating the contributions, struggles, gifts and graces of women clergy.
Videos, preaching, special publications, DVDs, dramas, special liturgies, Web
sites, bulletin inserts, displays, celebrations and observances honoring clergy
women of the past and present are among the activities planned for the 63 conference
sessions in the United States.
The annual conference celebrations precede an
Aug. 15 concert during the International United Methodist Clergywomen’s
Consultation, set for Aug. 13-17 in Chicago. A worship service is planned
at Wesley United
Methodist Church in Minneapolis
for May 4, the anniversary of the actual General Conference vote in Minneapolis.
The resolution passed by the 2004 General Conference
stated that “in
2006 every annual conference of The United Methodist Church (will) celebrate
full clergy rights for women, including a liturgical act during the conference
session ? and that all conferences celebrate the anniversary by honoring
the names of the conference’s clergywomen, past and present ? and
that in 2006 every local congregation observe the celebration of full clergy
rights for women.”
Clergywomen have been part of Methodism since
John Wesley licensed Sarah Crosby to preach in 1761. Although women were
the Methodist tradition
as early as the late 1800s, it was the May 4, 1956, General Conference vote
for full clergy rights that forever changed the face of ordained clergy. Any
woman in full connection and in good standing would receive an appointment.
Now, about 9,500 — or one in five — clergy are women, and 16 women
are active bishops.
Called to ministry
In Arkansas, the conference commission on the
status and role of women is collecting “Called
to Preach,” stories from clergywomen that will be published and made
available at the June session.
”These are stories of pioneers, of their struggles and challenges, but
also of the help and encouragement they received along the way,” said
JoAnn Miles, coordinator of the event. “Many of these women felt this
call early in their lives but, never having seen a clergywoman, were unsure
of where the call would lead them.”
When Tom Price, the director of youth ministries for the Baltimore-Washington
Annual Conference, learned of the 50th anniversary, he thought about the girls
in the conference youth ministry, and how some of them were already experiencing
a call on their lives.
”It occurred to me that they’ve grown up in a world where they
can expect to be anything they want to be,” Price said. “They are
not really aware of how recently there were few options for women.” The
conference youth ministry produces videos for youth events and annual conference,
and Price thought a useful project would be for the girls to produce a video “that
would allow them to learn for themselves about that aspect of history while
also having fun,” he said.
Some annual conferences, such as Baltimore-Washington,
West Ohio and Rocky Mountain, will feature all-female cadres of Bible study
leaders and preachers
as an emphasis on women’s contributions. The West Michigan Conference
will celebrate the 50th anniversary of full clergy rights for women with sermons
by a new clergywoman, a trailblazer clergywoman, and a female bishop. In Lakeside,
Ohio, women preachers will occupy Hoover Auditorium more often than men during
the West Ohio session.
The Rocky Mountain Conference is also celebrating the 50th anniversary with
a calendar honoring ordained women in the conference. Each page features women
from different districts. Proceeds will benefit the construction of Son Rise
United Methodist Church in Pueblo West, Colo.
The Minnesota Conference has developed a Web page
with information about the anniversary, including a link to an article about
history of women clergy
in the conference, as well as resources to help churches celebrate the anniversary.
A Web page feature about clergywomen’s personal stories, at www.minnesotaumc.org,
provides opportunity to share a memory, a story or an experience as or with
a clergywoman. A part of the background of the conference plenary sessions
will be decorated with stoles from women ordained in Minnesota. Each table
in the plenary sessions will feature votive candles with the names and ordination
dates of women who serve or were ordained as clergy in Minnesota.
In the Southwest Texas Conference, women clergy
members will be featured in a commissioned video and in a history booklet.
choir will perform during the conference worship service.
The Virginia Conference celebration will include
a processional with vested clergywomen entering from different doors and
sitting “in the midst” with
lay delegates, friends or family, according to Neola Waller, spokesperson for
the celebration. The service will include special music, dance, drama and visuals.
Handbell music is being composed by the son of a Virginia clergywoman to honor
the 246 women elders who have served in the conference in the last 50 years.
The elders also will be recognized with a woven banner.
In the Oregon-Idaho Conference, organizers are hoping the Rev. Grace Weaver,
one of the original 27 women ordained in 1956, will attend the session. She
is a resident of a United Methodist-related retirement facility in Salem, Ore.
If her fragile health prohibits her from attending, the conference will show
a videotape of her talking with Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata.
”We will hold a number of activities at annual conference this year
around the ordination of clergywomen and their value to the church,” said
Linda Sullivan, Oregon-Idaho director of communications. Each issue of the
bimonthly Oregon-Idaho Conference newspaper will carry a story of clergywoman
ordained in each of the decades since the 1950s. The names of all clergywomen
in the conference will be printed in a pre-conference issue.
The Rev. Marion Kline, one of the original ordained
women, will keynote the opening worship of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.
will be offered by those touched by Kline’s ministry during her service
in the Philippines, and a documentary on her life and struggle as one of the
first women ordained will be available at a ministry fair during the conference
sessions. In the California-Nevada Conference, clergy and lay women in action
will be featured in a multimedia presentation.
The guest of honor at the Dakotas Conference is the Rev. Grace E. Huck, who
also was among the first women granted full rights as a clergywoman. The featured
preacher and teacher will be another clergywoman, the Rev. Shelly Mathews,
a North Dakota native and professor of religion at Furman University, Greenville,
In New England, a dramatization will feature the
women preachers who served the area before 1956, and it will highlight the
General Conference and
the four women from Maine, known as the 4-Hs, who were received on trial in
1956. A “Timeline for Women Preachers in New England” has also
been posted on the conference Web site.
The Troy Conference will show a series of brief
vignettes during its four-day meeting. The conference theme “Take Nothing for the Journey” has
been woven into the videos, which feature different women in the history of
the clergy rights struggle.
Communications Director Sandra Brands said the Troy Conference also will have
re-enactors portray Margaret Appleton Pickett, the mother of Methodism in the
area; Phoebe Palmer, a holiness evangelist; Barbara Heck, the mother of Methodism
in the New World; and Georgia Harkness, a teacher and theologian. A “walk-through” museum
exhibit will be another highlight.
Encouraging all God’s people
The Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference will
feature a video on the living history of women in ministry. The conference
creating a new endowment
for a clergywomen’s scholarship to be awarded to a woman in her final
year of seminary.
The Rev. Heather Murray Elkins, an associate professor
of worship and liturgical studies at Drew University in Madison, N.J., created
a new version of a service
used at a 2005 gathering of the planners of the International Clergywomen’s
Consultation. “A Service of Holy Communion for the Fiftieth Anniversary
of Full Clergy Rights for Women” is available for use by congregations,
annual conference and other church groups at http://www.gbod.org/worship/default.asp?act=reader&item_id=15194&loc_id=9,1115,1118.
The Rev. HiRho Park, a staff member of the United
Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said she expects the celebrations
the church to not only lift up clergywomen’s gifts but “encourage
all God’s people in the work Christ has for us to do.”
Said Park: “The cause of Christ and the
mission of the church have been strengthened and blessed by the contributions
Details on how other annual conferences are celebrating are available at http://www.gbhem.org/clergywomen/50thcelebration.asp.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville,
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Video Clip from Western N. Carolina Conference