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Clergywomen reflect on anniversary, their role in ministry

Clergywomen reflect on anniversary, their role in ministry

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Clergywomen reflect on anniversary, their role in ministry

May 27, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0492}

NOTE: This is one of a series of articles about news related to the “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event June 1-3 in Lakeland.

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

LAKELAND — Clergywomen process in with the conference's clergy during the service of licensing, commissioning and ordination at the 2005 annual conference event. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #06-362.

Laity and clergy attending the annual gathering of Florida United Methodists in Lakeland June 1-3 will pause to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Methodist Church granting full clergy rights to women.

In light of that upcoming celebration and in honor of the historic milestone, Florida Conference clergywomen have been reflecting on their ministry experiences over the years.

During the evening session June 2 of the “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event delegates will celebrate 50 years of women in ministry, followed by licensing of local pastors, commissioning of probationary members and ordination of new deacons and elders. Clergy retiring from active ministry will also be honored, and the Rev. Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, an ordained deacon and senior fellow at the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Religion at Emory University, will preach.
While meeting in Minneapolis, Minn., May 4, 1956, the General Conference of the Methodist Church approved full clergy rights for women. Today, more than 9,700 United Methodist clergywomen serve the church at all levels, according to a recent United Methodist News Service article.

An ongoing, yearlong celebration of the anniversary has involved worship services, the publication of books celebrating the lives of pioneering clergywomen and writings of other clergywomen, and special observances at annual conferences. A banquet and concert celebrating the anniversary will be held Aug. 15 during the International United Methodist Clergywomen’s Consultation in Chicago.

The Rev. Lois Rogers-Watson said she is excited the anniversary is being celebrated across the denomination and feels pride in the United Methodist Church. She also said she feels hope for the future of clergywomen in the church and “nostalgia as I have lived these 50 years and have met some of the ‘giants’ of that history.”

“Acceptance of women by congregations for appointment to their churches has definitely improved,” said Rogers-Watson, a deacon serving at East Lake United Methodist Church in Palm Harbor.  “Women have risen in the ranks and have been elected bishop. Their visibility has inspired other women and has helped them discern their own calling.”

That visibility has also helped lessen prejudices against women in ministry, Rogers-Watson says, but there still tends to be “condescension among some of the male clergy toward women in ministry” that sometimes manifests itself as inappropriate humor.

Rogers-Watson said the male clergy with whom she has personally worked have been very supportive and she feels she brings a balance to ministry that is healthy and wholesome.

The Rev. Daphne Johnson, pastor at Highlands United Methodist Church in Lakeland, said she had never known a female minister while growing up in large Methodist churches in Alabama and Florida. “When I first felt a call into the ministry, I assumed it was to be answered in some form of Christian education. I never imagined preaching,” she said. “Today’s generation of young women will know that they can respond to God’s call in this way.”

One of the unique challenges Johnson said she and other clergywomen face is juggling family and church responsibilities. “This is not something I hear from my male clergy friends as much. Yet, this is not (an issue for) only clergywomen. It is a lament of all female professionals,” she said. “Much of this we do to ourselves. We seem to have an inner contradiction; we often feel that we must do it all and we must do it all well. Initially, I felt that I must fulfill all the needs of my church, as well as continue with the traditional activities generally ascribed to wives and mothers.”

Johnson says she sometimes falls back into that mode of thinking, but has learned what is really important. “There is nothing wrong with hiring someone to come in and take care of the house. Or, if I can bring the family together over a meal and enjoy conversation and sharing of each person’s lives, it really doesn’t matter if we are eating a full, home-cooked meal that took hours to prepare or if we are eating takeout from the Chinese restaurant down the block,” she said.

The Rev. Sara McKinley, associate pastor at Plantation United Methodist Church in Plantation, noted many women are still the primary caregivers in their families. Clergy parents who are single also have special challenges. “ … The balance between vocation, family, friendships and community remains a constant challenge for all clergy,” she said. “The challenge is to accept the Ephesians 4:12 job description of clergy to ‘equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ … ’ ”

McKinley believes more women need to be considered for district superintendent appointments, adding, “It would be nice if we were to get to the stage that the appointment of a woman to one of the larger churches in the Conference was considered the norm and not the exception.”

The Rev. Renee Lawrence, pastor at First United Methodist Church of Port St. Lucie, said female clergy bring nurturing experience, multi-tasking, peace-keeping skills and a sense of being the outsiders in what is still a male-dominated vocation.

“Several strong female leaders have impacted the Florida Conference with their gifts of insight, creativity and clear focus on great leadership skills in the church,” she said. “I feel the conference has been blessed by the options created by women who broke the mold. One of their chief legacies has been the encouragement of young men and women to see the call of God as available to all based on God’s initiative to call them.”

Lawrence said many male pastors have been “cheerleaders, proponents and vocal encouragers of women clergy.”

“They offered acceptance and collegial partnership,” she added. “These men have also listened, advocated for women clergy and befriended us as individuals and partners.”

Despite that support the Rev. Linda Standifer, pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Orange Park, asserts women must work harder to prove their worth as a pastor, and having a woman pastor is still seen by many congregations as a “punishment” to their church.

“Clergywomen just have to realize that we have to work harder … that all women are judged by the mistakes of a few, so we have to do a good job, be accountable and responsible … and accept that we have been called to a profession dominated by men,” she said.

Standifer says one of the best ways male clergy celebrate and support clergywomen is to ask their opinion, “seek to be our friends … respect our ministry.”

LAKELAND — The Rev. Debbie McLeod helps lead a question and answer session about the new conference structure and church clusters during the 2005 annual conference event. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #06-363.

The Rev. Deborah A. McLeod is one of a number of clergywomen in the conference who has been able to break through some of the barriers clergywomen face. McLeod is currently superintendent of the conference’s South East District.

“I am grateful to the Methodist Church of 1956,” she said. “Before I was born, a courageous people made a bold decision that enabled me to answer my call.”

McLeod said The United Methodist Church nurtured her as a child and taught her she had a responsibility to discover God’s will for her life, but it wasn’t until seminary that she knew “there were people who did not think God could use my gifts because I am female.”

“Twenty years ago we women ministers got scolded for parking in the clergy spots at hospitals, and we all got Christmas cards that read ‘For Our Minister and His Family’ with the ‘his’ scratched out and ‘her’ handwritten in by the precious person who bought us that expensive card,” McLeod said. “Twenty years ago, I was sometimes denied admission to the ICU because the hospital staff refused to believe I was clergy. Today, hospitals are used to women clergy, and the card industry makes gender-neutral greeting cards for laity to give to clergy. “

A large gap still exists, McLeod said, between the percentage of women in seminaries and the percentage of those, by year of ordination, serving as pastors of local churches. She believes the local church is still a very difficult arena for women.

“Sexism is subtle, but it is pervasive. There are persons who are much more likely to challenge authority, challenge decisions, and behave poorly if their pastor is a woman,” she said.

One reason is old assumptions about leadership, with some who think women should always defer to men, according to McLeod. “There are lots of people who would love for a young woman, in her twenties, to be their nurse or their child’s kindergarten teacher, but they are not as eager for a woman in her twenties to be their pastor, though these same people often think that having a young male pastor would be great.”

As a superintendent, McLeod said she continues to face members of staff parish relations committees (SPRC) who think it is “normal” to be appointed a male pastor of the same ethnic group and are surprised when she describes a woman. She said it is often the women who will say, “Well, it’s about time!’

McLeod credits the Leesburg Women’s Retreats and United Methodist Women programs for exposing people “from almost every church in our conference to women as preachers.” “One staff parish member told me, ‘We’ve been going to the Leesburg Women’s Retreats for years and we wondered when we were going to get a good woman preacher like we hear there,’ ” McLeod said.

McLeod recalled reading the full transcript of the 1956 General Conference proceedings that granted female clergy their full ordination rights. “What struck me was that it was men from Tennessee, Western North Carolina and the Northeast who spoke most eloquently in favor of full clergy rights for women,” she said. “These men talked about the women serving effectively in their conferences as local preachers. We women have always been supported by wonderful men — lay and clergy.”

More information about the International United Methodist Clergywomen’s Consultation in Chicago can be found at under the headline “2006 International Clergywomen’s Consultation Celebrates Past and Future.”

The entire Florida Conference event will be web cast live through the Internet for those who are not able to attend. Individuals who would like to log onto the webcast at any time during the annual gathering may do so by going to the Florida Conference Web site at and following the instructions listed there. Details about the gathering are also posted on the site and accessible by clicking on the event graphic posted on the right-hand side of the home page.


This article relates to Ordained Ministry and “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.