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Event gives clergywomen sense of empowerment from peers

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

The Rev. Margaret Battiest and her daughter, Jennifer Battiest, speak at the 2006 International United Methodist Clergywomen's Consultation.
Aug. 21, 2006

By Linda Green*

CHICAGO (UMNS) — Cars, planes and trains brought 1,500 United Methodist clergywomen together to celebrate their past and proclaim their future.

Participants from around the globe came here Aug. 13-17 to hear sermons from bishops, participate in a banquet celebrating the 50th anniversary of full clergy rights for women, and purchase books by women who’ve written about women in ministry.

Each participant in the 2006 International United Methodist Clergywomen’s Consultation attended four of 42 workshops on a host of topics, including:

  • Building relationships between lay and clergywomen;
  • Peacemaking in a multi-faith world;
  • Balancing parenthood and pastoral ministry; and
  • Learning how to bring passion, purpose, prayer and play into church

Annual conferences, individuals and schools produced a variety of films to commemorate the anniversary celebration, and clergywomen screened the offerings Aug, 14-15.

During the four-day event, clergywomen learned about the lives of the women bishops when the robes come off. The assembly heard from German Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, the first woman elected to the United Methodist episcopacy outside the United States, and Bishop Minerva Carcaņo, the first Latina bishop in the denomination. They examined the advances clergywomen have made in the last 50 years and celebrated the leadership and the gifts of women clergy.

Some clergywomen also signed a declaration encouraging the ending of the war in Iraq, bringing the troops home by Sept. 21 and establishing a concrete peace plan.

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

Clergywomen join the performance ensemble, "Wing It," in dance.

During the consultation, participants were urged to sign a “bloody knuckle petition” from supporters of full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in the church. The petition came in response to a sermon by retired Bishop Judith Craig who spoke of the continued knocking of groups of people who want to enter the church. Signatories agreed to help open United Methodist doors that deny people with those orientations full membership rights, full marriage equality, full ordination rights and full access to denominational funding.

Native American clergywomen formed a Native American Clergywomen’s Association on Aug. 14. Their conversation centered on the need to develop a system for networking and mentoring. The group of 30 Native American clergywomen from seven annual conferences also said it wants to cooperate with other denominations to conduct an inter-tribal clergywomen’s gathering. The 2006 consultation was the largest gathering of Native American clergywomen within the denomination.

Why did you come?

When asked why they attended the gathering, participants offered a variety of reasons; answers generally focused on the empowerment they received by being with clergywomen from around the world.

“I came to celebrate women being in ministry for 50 years. I am here to be with my clergy sisters and with other women who want an inclusive church for all persons and to get my praise on,” said the Rev. Charlene Zuill of the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference.

Zuill was especially impressed with the witness of the bishops. “I am amazed at their presence, their leadership and the ways in which the church is really going to be turned upside-down because of the presence of all the women called by God that are assembled together.” She told United Methodist News Service that she is inspired to encourage other women who are experiencing a call to ministry.

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

Attendants at the consultation celebrate the 50th anniversary of full clergy rights for women.

The Rev. Katie Cannon, an African-American clergywoman in the Presbyterian Church, said she attended the consultation “because I love worship, and the Methodist women do it right. They do it super good,” she said. Cannon is the author of Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community. “I did not know my writings were making that significant a difference,” she said.

The Rev. Renee McCleary of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference said the consultation is a manifestation of the importance of women gathering in community. “I am here because I knew that ministry was going to happen here, ministry that I personally needed,” and to have fun, she said.

McCleary appreciated the opportunity to converse with women from other areas and to pray, worship and cry together. It was an opportunity “to know that we are in the presence of the movement of the spirit of God, and if we allow ourselves to let go ? there is transformation that will occur, healing will occur, encouragement will come, if we will just open up and let it all in.”

The consultation was enjoyable and spiritual, according to the Rev. Jackie Chandler of the South Indiana Annual (regional) Conference. “I love being in the gathering with women. It is so spiritually inspiring for me and helps me feel renewed and at home in my calling to ministry.”

The Rev. Cheryl Bell of the Kansas West Annual Conference did not want to miss the opportunity to be with other clergywomen from around the globe. “It was an opportunity to nourish my soul, my spirit,” she said. “Each time I am with my sisters, I keep thinking that I want to do this more and more.”

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

Clergywomen join their hands in dance.

Bell found the worship services beneficial. “There is nothing like the input from a variety of cultures and people coming together. ... There is nothing like God’s women coming together to worship and praise God. It is contagious, and I love that.”

The Rev. Sandra Griggs of the Tennessee Annual Conference attended the 2002 consultation in San Diego as a seminary student, and she delighted in meeting the women from across the world that were there to celebrate their ministries. When she learned the 2006 gathering in Chicago would celebrate the 50th anniversary of clergywomen receiving the same rights as men, “I thought this would be a good time to come.”

She most appreciated the bishops showing the clergywomen who they were and how they keep their sanity through pastimes. “Ministry is hard,” she said.

?Change was slow’

Bishop Susan Morrison, who retires in September, served as the episcopal liaison to the task force that planned the consultation. She said that while the 1956 General Conference action “opened an official door that was embarrassing to have closed, change was slow ... The anniversary is a reminder of that action and a celebration of the leadership of women clergy.” The event was sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Before the consultation, the board’s Women of Color Scholars Program was celebrated with an Aug. 11-13 gathering. Professional women at United Methodist seminaries and theological schools began the program in 1988 to address the absence of ethnic-minority women teachers and researchers in their institutions. Forty women have participated since then, and 22 have advanced degrees in religious studies as a result.

The clergywomen were also introduced to “Wing It,” a performance ensemble from Oakland, Calif. The nine-member group specializes in “in the moment” dance, theater, song, wit and wisdom “on life’s scary themes,” according to the group’s biography. The ensemble turned what it learned from the gathering into dance, drama and song.

During the consultation, the clergywomen also participated in a silent auction of the banners used in the worship services. Proceeds from the banners, designed by the Rev. Miyoung Paik from South Carolina, benefited the Georgia Harkness Scholarship Fund. In 1939, Harkness accepted a position at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, becoming the first woman to teach theology at a Protestant seminary in the United States. She was an early advocate of full clergy rights for women in the Methodist Church.

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

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

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