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Service celebrates 50 years of ordaining women

Service celebrates 50 years of ordaining women

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Service celebrates 50 years of ordaining women

June 16, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0504}

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

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — The Rev. Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore told clergywomen in the Florida Conference that the Christian community needs their light and salt.

Moore was the guest preacher during the June 2 service of ordination, licensing and commissioning at the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event.

LAKELAND — Dancers with the Bethune-Cookman College chorale participate in a concert prior to the evening worship service June 2 of the Florida Conference's 2006 annual event. Photo by e-Review Florida UMNS staff, Photo #06-382.

Ordination is an important item on the agenda of each annual conference event. This year’s service featured not only those individuals making a commitment to ministry, but also the recognition of 50 years of women in ministry.

Titled “Milestones in Ministry,” the service included a procession of ordained clergywomen into the Lakeland Center’s Youkey Theater along with the 66 candidates being licensed, commissioned and ordained. The service also celebrated the ministry of clergy retiring during this annual conference event.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of The General Conference of The Methodist Church approving full clergy rights for women during its meeting in Minneapolis, Minn., May 4, 1956. Today, more than 9,700 United Methodist clergywomen serve the church at all levels, according to a recent United Methodist News Service article, with 243 clergywomen serving as members of the Florida Conference.

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 concert chorale from Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, one of Florida’s denominationally-related schools, opened the service with its music and liturgical dance group.

Moore preached the sermon using Matthew 5:1-12 as her text.

Moore is an ordained deacon and senior fellow at the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Religion at Emory University. She is also the author of more than 12 books and has contributed to numerous articles and literary works.

LAKELAND — During the service of ordination, licensing and commissioning the Rev. Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore said women must salt the soup and light the world as God sends women out to do ministry. Photo by e-Review Florida UMNS staff, Photo #06-383.

Moore encouraged the clergywomen “to salt the earth” and “light the world.” She recalled the hurdles women entering and working in the ministry have faced throughout the years, including some of her own early challenges.

It was 1961 and Moore was president of the church youth group. When the youth asked to preach or participate in the worship service they were denied. She wondered then if it was because she was a “girl child” or if the idea of the youth leading the service were distasteful.

Whatever the reason the message was clear to Moore: “hold back on your salt, put your light under a bushel.”

Ten years later, the Sunday morning after Christmas, a boy in the congregation was invited to preach the sermon.

While that event remained suspect in Moore’s mind, other incidents involving women seeking to become more formally involved in the church conveyed a more blatant message that women not be involved.

Moore recalled the time a district superintendent asked a female clergy candidate not to complete the process because it would undermine her husband’s ministry. She also shared the time a clergywoman was told she would not be promised an appointment close to her husband’s business, even though there were 130 churches in the metropolitan area.

Moore said it was 2001 before the church elected an African-American woman bishop and, even now, Hispanic or Korean women have yet to be elected.

“Aren’t we a mess?” she questioned. “What a messy church and world we live in. Yet, we’re the church of Jesus Christ.”

Even though women have experienced hard times in their quest to be recognized in the church, Moore said it hasn’t been “all bad.”

“Jesus claims the blessing in the hardship,” she said. “Gifts lay buried in challenges and hardship.”

Moore relayed the story of a friend who once suffered from anorexia. Once her friend realized she had the power to refuse food, she also realized she had the power to do something healthy and good for herself.

Moore spoke of the hardships that come to light after natural disasters, such as a hurricane. She said after the initial depression many people feel they change course and become blessings for others.

“God has claimed these hard ways of living as blessings,” she said.

LAKELAND — The Rev. Beth Gardner, pastor of  First United Methodist Church, Bunnell, was among more than 20 women ordained, licensed and commissioned June 2 at the "Witness With Power" 2006 Florida Anual Conference Event. Photo by e-Review Florida UMNS staff, Photo #06-384.

Paying homage to the women who “walked these hard ways,” Moore celebrated their perseverance and example.

“Tonight we celebrate you, women who have shaped our lives in the past,” she said of the 50th anniversary. “Jesus named us salt and light. How can we be less?”

Moore said women must salt the soup and light the world as God sends women out to do ministry. She said God enflamed the apostles during Pentecost, and it is everyone’s mission to carry on his work in the world.

“We must let our light shine. We must brighten all of God’s creation in the world. We must shine this light for God, for all of God’s creation.”

Moore ended her sermon with a hope for the future. “May God enflame your life. May your ministries bless the whole inhabitant world. With God’s help it will be so.”

After the service the Rev. Debbie McCloud, superintendent of the South East District, said she found the procession of women entering the service to be quite moving. She was ordained in 1984.

“I take delight in seeing all the generations,” she said.

Maria Fernandez, wife of the Rev. Tony Fernandez, superintendent of the North West District, said in the 39 years of being a clergy spouse she has noticed it has sometimes been a hard journey for female clergy.

“It hasn’t been easy to get through,” she said. “I think they do a good job.”


This article relates to the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.