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Agency to share 'women in ministry' study

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
July 3, 2007

In 1835, when Methodist ministers barred Rebecca Jackson from speaking in church, a "wicked, drunken man" opened his house and allowed her to preach.

M. Garlinda Burton

During that same century, Julia Foote, an African-American Methodist, risked both life and dignity to travel and preach the Gospel.

Near the end of the 19th century, Anna Oliver and Anna Howard Shaw became the first and second women, respectively, to graduate from the Boston University School of Theology, but both were then denied ordination by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1880.

The efforts of these and other Methodist women are noted in "Women Called to Ministry," a six-week study session for The United Methodist Church. Designed primarily for use by local congregations, the study is published by the denomination's Commission on the Status and Role of Women and co-sponsored by the churchwide Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

The study will be posted at the COSROW Web site in early July, according to M. Garlinda Burton, the agency's chief executive. "Local churches are free to download it and copy it," she said.

A follow-up to last year's 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in The United Methodist Church, the study is a way to reclaim the "lost history" of women called to preach the Gospel, she explained.

"The full history of the faith is that women have always been carriers of the word of God," Burton said. "It's not about being politically correct; it's about being biblically correct-faithful to our Christian roots and our call."

Studying women's gifts

Anna Oliver

The Rev. M. Lynn Scott, director of a ministry called Sabbath Way LLC, is the editor of "Women Called to Ministry." The study's main writers are the Rev. Kabamba Kiboko, biblical scholar and the first clergywoman ordained in the Southern Congo Annual Conference, and the Rev. Laceye Warner, a historical scholar on the faculty at Duke Divinity School. Delia Halverson, a longtime Christian educator and author, wrote the leader's guide.

"We almost named the study 'Continuing the Tradition,'" said Scott, "since women's ministry is not new in the past century of women's movement toward full rights and ordination, but continues a long history of women's leadership of our sisters Eve, Deborah, Hannah, the Samaritan woman at the well, the Canaanite woman, Julian of Norwich, Belle Harris Bennett, Thelma Stevens and more."

The first session of "Women Called to Ministry" deals with the concept of the outsider and insider and, as an example, shows how Jesus' ministry was challenged by a Canaanite woman who was an outsider.

Anna Howard Shaw  

Session Two focuses on the call to ministry that all have through baptism. Kiboko writes about how Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well challenged the boundaries of racism, tribalism and gender discrimination "through a transforming conversation" and uses the perspective of women at the well in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Women's identity-often defined by rules and roles in society rather than the acceptance of one's identity as a child of God-is the focus of the third session. The interpretation of the story of Eve in Genesis provides a dialogue for that focus.

The way in which inquiry can lead to faithfulness and a deeper sense of knowing is the topic of the fourth session. Brokenness and wholeness-as related to the full participation of women in the church-is the theme of the fifth session.

 The final session focuses on how to move on and explore, challenge and claim the call "to participate in God's reign, where all are called to ministry." Women won the right to ordination in what was then the Methodist Church in 1956.

Biblical, denominational roots

The denomination's Social Principles affirms "with Scripture the common humanity of male and female, both having equal worth in the eyes of God. We reject the erroneous notion that one gender is superior to another, and that one gender must strive against another, and that members of one gender may receive love, power and esteem only at the expense of another."

Scott said she hopes the study will assist both women and men "by learning of our biblical and historical roots, and with the invitation to ask how their life in Christ is ministry in the world." She believes congregations that have never had a clergywoman could particularly benefit.

Burton noted that the growing number of women in ministry today serves as both a reminder and an opportunity to The United Methodist Church to "see and celebrate and be challenged by the gifts of women."

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

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