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Bishop encourages clergywomen to keep knocking on doors

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

Retired United Methodist Bishop Judith Craig urges women to keep knocking on doors, like the unrelenting widow in the Gospel of Luke.
Aug. 21, 2006

By Linda Green*

CHICAGO (UMNS) — United Methodist clergywomen attending an international consultation were challenged to be like the persistent, sassy, forever present, importune woman in the Bible who never ceased to knock on the door of the unjust judge.

Referring to Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:1-8, retired Bishop Judith Craig cited the woman who kept after the judge until he finally gave her justice.

“Is there any woman more worthy of being the great-grandmother of United Methodist clergywomen than that woman?” she asked. She encouraged the clergywomen to not give up seeking what is theirs.

United Methodist clergywomen attending the 2006 International Clergywomen’s Consultation Aug. 13-17 celebrated 1956-1976 as the first two decades of full clergy membership rights for women in the denomination, and they marked the 50th anniversary of winning those rights at the church’s General Conference. The clergywomen also paid tribute to their sisters who had led the way in ministry and remembered those who’ve died since the 2002 consultation.

The 1,500 United Methodist clergywomen came from the United States, Sierra Leone, the Philippines, Congo, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Katanza, Angola, Germany, India, South Korea, Liberia, Norway, the Dominican Republic and Ghana.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

"How many times have you heard that this is not your place, this is not your agenda, you don't belong here?" Bishop Violet Fisher asks.

Craig, of Powell, Ohio, and Bishop Violet Fisher, who leads the church’s New York West Area, gave the clergywomen biblical role models in separate sermons on persistence and faithfulness to God’s call.

More knocking needed

Craig described the woman in Luke as unyielding, assertive and aggressive. “We know her. She was a widow. She was somebody who had no advocate. She was someone who was due a settlement that had not come her way.”

Though the judge did not care about her situation, she wore him down with her constant knocking and pleading. “He finally acted justly, not out of some wonderful sense of what was right but because he just could not stand up to her,” she said.

If someone so unjust can be persuaded, imagine what prayer can do, Craig said. Jesus used “a pushy broad” to make a point about God’s generosity in “our lives of prayer.”

Whenever Craig said something that resonated with the clergywomen, they expressed their delight by making the motion of knocking on a door.

The bishop told the consultation participants that the Scriptures are full of women doing what they needed to do and what God intended them to do against all odds. “Sometimes they caused a dust storm, sometimes a significant backlash and at other times they just did what they did.”

Clergywomen today, she said, “are a wonderful sorority” and come from a line of women who took on powerful men, defined laws and scruples, and stood by Jesus’ side. “We are daughters of those who knocked on doors. We are the sisters still knocking on doors. ... We must really believe what Jesus said: Knock and it shall be opened to you,” Craig said.

Today’s clergywomen are the daughters of “many importunate, stubborn, called, eternal women,” she said. “We are daughters of an endless line of splendor (and) named God’s persistent and faithful women (who were) knocking until their knuckles were raw.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

Clergywomen knock in agreement with Bishop Judith Craig.

Racial and ethnic clergywomen are still knocking for fairness and equality in appointments and for acceptance, she said. “More knocking (is) required,” she said. “There are doors still to be opened.” She also encouraged the clergywomen to not forget those women who preceded them from other denominations.

Craig thanked those who knocked on the doors to help elect women to the episcopacy and those who “took doors and turned them on their side and made them bridges across chasms of obstacles.”

Jesus used the widow to also show the power of persistent prayer, she said. This is the door that opens the empowering, lifting presence of the Holy Spirit.

“It is more than our determination that it is at stake here,” Craig said. “It was more than a demand on a personal level that opened the doors we celebrate.

“We are the heirs of women of deep and abiding faith; women who knew their limitations, but also knew their possibilities when they yoked their sense of call with a life of prayer.”

Anointing gives strength

Fisher focused on the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with costly oil from an alabaster jar or box. The disciples were angry with Mary for what they considered to be wasteful, but Jesus chastised them because she performed a service for him.

The woman’s actions were not appreciated and she was seen as overstepping her divine role. “How many times have you heard that this is not your place, this is not your agenda, you don’t belong here?” Fisher asked.

“How often do we find persons who impose their value systems upon us?” she asked. “They tell us who we ought to be, where we ought to go, what our tasks ought to be about … and so many of us home into that,” she said.

She told the clergywomen that if they know they are in the body of Christ and have the anointing of God’s spirit on them, then they don’t have to answer to any system.

“Anointing is a divine capacity to carry out ministry in the name of Jesus Christ,” Fisher said. “It is the goodness and the providence of God. ... (It) is the covering of the spirit that equips us and pushes us out into the ministry in the name Jesus.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

Bishop Judith Craig speaks to 1,500 clergywomen at the 2006 International Clergywomen's Consultation.

Since anointing gives spiritual authority, freedom and strength, and brings results, she encouraged the women to relax in the flow of the spirit and to get out of the boxes that society has placed them in. She told them to be like Mary, to feel the anointing, and believe that nothing can separate them from their ministries and God’s love.

“We cannot allow systems to lock us out,” Fisher said. “We cannot allow the institutions any longer to say there is no place for us.” She urged them to be bold and audacious and to move out in the splendor and authority that is theirs.

“Our sisters did it in the past. They took those bold steps, and we have to say, ‘As for me, I am going to be God’s servant and work in God’s world today.’”

In the anointing, Jesus told his disciples to leave Mary alone. “Surely he is saying today, to all those forces out there, to ‘leave my women alone. They are the kingdom; they are part of my plan.’”

As Mary poured everything out, Jesus saw it as a testimony of what was going to happen to him, Fisher said. The bishop referred to the song made popular by Gladys Knight and turned into a spiritual by the late Rev. James Cleveland, “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.”

Reciting the lyric, she said: “‘If anyone should ever write my life story, for whatever reason it might be, between the lines of pain and woe, He (Jesus) is the best thing that ever happened to me.’”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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

Related Audio
Bishop Judith Craig: "Ah, that insistent widow!”
Bishop Judith Craig: “Scripture is full of such women.”
Bishop Violet Fisher: “Anointing is the divine capacity.”
Grace Huck: “There is neither male nor female in Christ.”
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