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Bishop celebrates God’s grace on clergywomen’s anniversary

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Bishop Sally Dyck

May 8, 2006

By Victoria Rebeck*

MINNEAPOLIS (UMNS) — A United Methodist bishop called May 4, 1956, a day of “prevenient grace” for clergywomen.

Bishop Sally Dyck, leader of the denomination’s Minnesota Area, preached May 4 at a service recognizing the 50th anniversary of clergywomen receiving full clergy rights in the United Methodist Church. The celebration took place in Wesley United Methodist Church, next door to the Minneapolis Convention Center, where the Methodist General Conference cast the historic vote exactly 50 years earlier.

More than 100 United Methodist clergywomen from Minnesota and across the United States marched into the sanctuary wearing their clerical robes. About 60 laypeople and clergymen also attended.

During the service, Dyck noted that some clergywomen present had not yet been born at the time of the vote, or were small children not yet thinking about careers.

“There was only one path for women like me” in her faith community in 1956, she said. “And I scarcely had the imagination to think beyond that path myself. But God was at work without my even knowing it.

“Thank God for prevenient grace because it is at work before we even have an imagination of who we can be and what we can do.” “Prevenient grace” refers to the belief that God’s grace is present in one’s life before that person even knows God.

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A UMNS photo by Julie Price

Ordained women process in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the denomination granting full clergy rights to women.
Dyck recalled that after delivering a speech at her eighth-grade graduation ceremony, her pastor congratulated her by saying, “It’s too bad you’re a girl; you’d make a good preacher.” It was through her college chaplain, a woman who was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), that she encountered “her calling made flesh” and realized she could be an ordained clergyperson, Dyck said.

After the one-hour service at Wesley Church, which included communion, the clergywomen recessed out of the church and down Grant Street to the convention center next door. The clergywomen walked behind beribboned banners marking the decade of their ordination. Each pole held a ribbon for each Minnesota United Methodist clergywoman ordained during that period. There were only three ribbons on the 1956-65 pole, but two rows’ worth on the 1997-2006 pole.

The celebration continued with a luncheon, where participants heard a recounting of the history of Minnesota women clergy in the United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations. Three women and four men delivered an enlightening and sometimes humorous readers’ theater skit with quotes drawn from the Daily Christian Advocate record of the debate on the clergywomen’s rights motion. The record showed that many of the objections to the proposal focused on the difficulty of appointing a woman pastor to a church that refused one.

“Pity the poor district superintendent is the sum and substance of most of the arguments (against women’s full clergy rights) that have been presented,” said one delegate who supported the motion. “When I was a district superintendent, the only time I needed any pity was when I was at the mercy of fellow district superintendents.”

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A UMNS photo by Julie Price

At the anniversary celebration, United Methodist clergywomen rejoice in song.
Following an example in the Book of Habakkuk 2, worshipers were encouraged to write on a sheet of paper their visions for the future, which were displayed at the convention center. A number of the postings addressed inclusion: broader recognition of the ministry of ordained deacons and the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the ranks of the ordained.

Half a century after women gained fully clergy rights, nearly 12,000 United Methodist clergywomen serve the church at every level, from bishops to local pastors.

“The struggles we encounter on account of our gender aren’t the worst things that can happen to us,” Dyck said. “They can make us strong and develop our inner resources, even our trust in God.”

*Rebeck is director of communication for the Minnesota Annual Conference and an ordained United Methodist deacon with full clergy rights.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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