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Women in Ministry: Past, Present and Hope for the Future

Women in Ministry: Past, Present and Hope for the Future



Paulette Monroe

Paulette Monroe: First African American Lay Leader in FLUMC

 
What was ministry like for women in the past?
 
For me, back in the 1960s growing up in a Baptist church setting in Virginia, women were taught to keep silent. There was no place in the pulpit for a woman preacher. If women were given the opportunity to preach, they would have to preach from a podium from the floor. As a youth growing up, I looked forward to that fourth Sunday, “Youth Sunday,” to participate in the service. Even then there were requirements before we could enter into the pulpit. They trained us on what to do, how to sit and stand, and  the rules for entering the pulpit – the holiest place – and we were to govern ourselves accordingly.
 
What is ministry like currently for women in ministry?
 
We have made some efforts in trying to make things better however it’s still about acceptance. Speaking from a laity perspective, we are accepted more readily than a clergywoman. Most of my time in ministry was spent with youth and children, choirs and United Methodist Women. Even then there have been some challenging times depending on where you were. However, serving in a white church is different from serving in a black church. In the white church, there is more tolerance than acceptance. In a black church, they are open to possibilities.
 
What is your hope for the future? 

Hope will never grow old or out of date. I dare to dream that one day we will be one in spirit with less disappointments and that obstacles that hinder women’s call to ministry will be removed. The hope is as women in ministry, we will be able to attend any United Methodist Church of our own choosing (called or sent), serve on boards or agencies wherein our gifts, talents and voices will be accepted, and have a place at the table in key leadership roles serving with respect for who we are along with the position we serve.

 

Ginger Medley

Rev. Ginger Medley: Elder in FLUMC 


What was ministry like for women in the past?
 
I accepted my calling to preach at Guildfield Primitive Baptist Church in Virginia back in 1999. My pastor was a renegade in our Baptist association because he licensed me to be a minister of the Gospel in 2000. At that time there were very few licensed female preachers and on many occasions, when we visited with other churches, I was not allowed to sit in the pulpit with the male preachers. Praise God that the association is now fully inclusive for women being licensed and ordained as elders.
 
What is ministry like currently for women in ministry?
 
I occasionally get the push back about being a woman in pastoral leadership, but I have personally found my UMC congregations to be much more accepting than when I was in the Baptist and Pentecostal denominations. Most recently, my race and background seemed to be more of a concern when serving in a cross-racial/cross-cultural appointment than my gender. My heart swelled with joy in 2019 when one of our preschool students told me that she wanted to be a pastor when she grows up and I believe she will be!
 
What is your hope for the future?
 
That women will be honestly considered for every ministry opportunity and leadership role regardless of a church’s history, status in the Conference, membership or bank account size. I also hope that our hearts would be softened to embrace the beautiful diversity of women serving in ministry leadership. We don’t all think and look and feel the same, so please don’t assume that I’m going to be like the last female pastor.

 

Beth Demme

Rev. Beth Demme: Provisional Elder in FLUMC 

 
What was ministry like for women in the past?
 
I run a Facebook group for UM clergywomen from all over the connection. From time to time, someone will share a memory about gathering with all the clergywomen in their conference in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The striking thing is that they would all fit in a restaurant booth or on two couches in someone's living room. That's how few they were in number! 
 
What is ministry like currently for women in ministry?
 
It might surprise United Methodists to know how often we clergywomen have to defend our calling. There are many, many people who do not believe that God calls women to preach and pastor. This is usually based on an extreme application of a single verse from the book of 1 Timothy. While it can be discouraging to answer the same charges and accusations repeatedly, I consider this part of my calling, too. I have been asked this question in person and on social media many times. In 2018, a visitor to our church told my husband (not knowing he was my husband) that he was shocked to learn the church had a female pastor. The visitor said he wouldn't be back because as a man he "couldn't have a woman in authority over him." He didn't even make it to the end of the service; he left during the sermon. I was sad he left because I would have welcomed a conversation about my calling and also about his experience with pastoral authority.
 
What is your hope for the future?
 
I hope that in the near future District Superintendents will be able to place women in any church that fits their gifts and graces without wondering, “Will this congregation accept a female pastor?”

 

Magrey deVega

Rev. Magrey R. deVega: Chairperson of Board of Ordained Ministry

 
What is your hope for the future?
 
My hope is that women might receive full awareness and appreciation for their gifts and contributions to the kingdom, and that they might receive equitable advancement and compensation in their careers.

 

 

Vidalis Lopez

Rev. Vidalis Lopez: Chair of the Order of Elders of the Board of Ordained Ministry

 
What was ministry like for women in the past? 
 
The truth is women have always been involved in ministry. Someone has to wash the communion cups (or set it up), develop an inspiring choir, and teach our future generation about their identity in Christ our Redeemer. These roles are vital in the church; without these roles no one receives the sacrament of Communion, engages in a worship experience, or receives faith formation that shapes future preachers! My mother was a pastor’s wife. She fulfilled these roles and more. 

Women, like all persons who respond to God’s charge to advance God’s kingdom and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, gave of their time, talents and generous gifts. What was not offered to many women was the affirmation and empowerment to occupy the positions and roles of leadership that qualifies persons to preach, administer the sacraments and oversee the matters of the church. Why? It boiled down to this: Eve introduced sin into the world. Therefore, we live with the perpetual result of having a world led to male leadership and women subordinate to men.  

What is ministry like currently for women in ministry? 
 
While studies show that the initial resistance to women in the pulpit often gives way to acceptance once interaction with a woman minister has taken place, there are many congregations who will not accept to have a woman minister. Some fear a loss of membership or a loss of revenues or disfavor with the community. Some wonder how a woman can be an effective leader and make tough decisions. For many people, it has become about “getting used to” before adjusting to a pastor who is a woman. More and more people are open to adjust the way we have gotten used to women physicians, women sports announcers, women police officers, women lawyers and women astronauts. 
 
But I also know that for many this is a deeper issue. So, as a woman in ministry, I expect scrutiny and opposition. There is often an unspoken yet indisputable expectation that I must first prove myself, earn the ordination with a nearly perfect scorecard. Many people were taught certain biblical passages to say God only calls men to certain offices and positions in ministry. I was not taught how women could not, but I was not taught how women could. Jesus faced opposition when he healed a woman on the Sabbath day. Both Jesus and Paul understood how some embedded understandings needed to be challenged, not to abolish but to fulfill the way of life as God intended it. Jesus treated women as human beings instead of as someone’s property. Jesus empowered women to have a voice, prophecy and proclaim the greatest news of a new day, a new creation, a new covenant.  

What is your hope for the future for women in ministry? 
 
Our hope is in the Lord. I stand on the shoulders of many women known by name and many others unknown who all surrendered to God’s call. Over and over again, the Bible records how God spoke to men and women, “Do not be afraid for I am with you.” My Christian faith was nurtured in the church. I sensed God’s call of service in the church.  The Holy Spirit called me into deeper waters (in ministry) while serving as a youth director, influencing young men and women to follow Jesus. May we all continue to believe and behave as redeemed people, once broken, confined to sin and its effects. Yet, with Jesus Christ’s atonement, the order disordered, is reordered. My two daughters are growing up witnessing their father be the most authentic confident man who follows Jesus. Our daughters are watching their mom lead a church and the church embrace their pastor. They know my clergy colleague-sisters. They know my direct supervisor who is a woman. One of my daughters has already said, “Maybe God is calling me into ministry.” (Picture me doing the happy dance!) My youngest claims Sunday is her favorite day. Today, I rejoice. The problem has not been nor will it ever be a lack of the call of God. God calls. May more people say, “Is it her Lord?” And may women say, “Here I am Lord.”

Let us share together in the joy that we are part of that great body of believers called the Church. May the communion we have as heirs and joint-heirs with Christ overshadow our differences. 

 
Esther Rodriguez

Rev. Esther Rodríguez: Elder in UMC 
 

What was ministry like for women in the past?
 
Women have always been in ministry. Whether our contributions or roles have been recognized or not, we’ve always been the recipients of the Good News at the break of dawn and those who run and tell others of what we’ve seen and experienced. It has been a long, continuing road to get seats at the table and then a voice at the table and I know of a history of struggle to make that happen.
 
What is ministry like currently for women in ministry?
 
While we have the blessing and joy to serve in the United Methodist Church and other ministries as licensed and ordained persons, the history of struggle continues. We haven’t translated our theology and spoken denominational beliefs to many of our churches which results in deep pain and harm to women throughout the course of ministry. It is also a deep joy to serve and see the gifts women offer flourish in ministries and connect with all persons in ways that grow God’s kingdom.
 
What is your hope for the future for women in ministry?
 
That the gifts that we have to offer, the ways of being, thinking and leading will be received in ways that influence significantly the ways we live, love one another and are disciples who work and serve to transform the world.

 

Madeline Luzinski

Rev. Madeline Luzinski: Ordained Deacon in FLUMC, Chair of Commission on the Status and Role of Women

 

What was ministry like for women in the past?
 
Women have been called to ministry from the very beginning and have served faithfully in many roles in the church. Since obtaining the ability to serve as ordained leaders in the UMC, women have continued to serve the mission of making disciples. Some of the challenges women in ministry have faced in the past (and still today) are sexual harassment/assault, being confined to traditional gender roles, discrimination, lower wages, limitations in appointments (not being appointed to larger congregations or congregations that “aren’t ready” for a female leader), higher rates of contingencies (growth assignments) in the ordination process.
 
What is ministry like currently?
 
Many of the challenges faced by women in the past are still faced by women in ministry today, some to a lesser degree. As a woman in ministry, I have had people assume that I am not a pastor or ordained and look to my male colleagues (who are not ordained) when “looking for the pastor.” I have experienced comments like “I didn’t know pastors could be as beautiful as you,” and have heard stories of my sisters in ministry who have been sexually assaulted and harassed by their congregants or clergy colleagues. I have had people assume that I am only able to be a pastor at the Children’s Home because the congregation is children and that is women’s work. I have to be conscientious while working in the role of Chaplain that not everyone’s faith or denomination believes or agrees that I should be respected as having pastoral authority because I am a woman. I have had children approach me asking “I thought women couldn’t be pastors; the Bible says so.”
 
I was made aware that I am the only deacon responding to these questions so I wanted to mention, that the order of deacon is predominantly female. We might interrogate this some and ask why. Is it due to a traditional patriarchal structure that men are less comfortable “following” a woman’s career and being itinerant that more women become deacons? Is it simply that more women are called to the order? Are there traditional gender roles enmeshed in the call to justice and compassion? Whether or not the UMC realizes it, deacons are predominantly women, and the Order is not guaranteed health benefits, housing, and other supports provided to elders. I understand that deacons can work in secular positions, and that is why some of these benefits are not guaranteed. I wonder how the Conference and the denomination might further invest in the Order and what conversations could take place around gender and the order of Deacon.

The beauty of women in ministry is the unique gifts and graces God has given us when we were called. There is something special about women preaching the birth of Christ and the texts of women at the tomb. There is also something special about women preaching texts like David and Bathsheba. Women bring a powerful perspective to scripture. I have been told many times after preaching that a congregant so appreciated my perspective and that they “had never heard the text that way.”
 
Representation is so important. The beauty of women in ministry is watching little girls play “pastor” in the church because they see themselves as being able to step into that role. I also think about my own experience in the women’s chapel in Magdala in Israel. Many of my sisters and I were brought to tears by the words and the décor of the building because of how it made us feel seen and part of the story of God in a way that we don’t always get to experience.
 
What is your hope for the future of women in ministry?
 
My hope for the future of women in ministry is equity, safety, and a deep appreciation for the gifts we bring to the mission.
I hope for a time when the gender of a pastor is not a factor in appointments and that women are leading large churches at rates that reflect the percentage of women in ministry.

I hope that women are being compensated at equal rates as men.

I hope that women are safe in their churches and do not experience sexual harassment and assault.

I hope that women continue to reach the levels of Conference leadership and the episcopacy.