Historian: women's place in Methodism inconsistent
(UMNS) - Early Methodism may have accepted women's participation more
than in subsequent years, according to a historian who has specialized
in the topic.
Jean Miller Schmidt said John Wesley, who founded
the Methodist movement in England in the 18th century, did not feel he
could authorize women preachers as the Quakers did in his time, but he
extended "the extraordinary call" to them as well as to men.
encouraged women to perform a diaconal role, often calling on them to be
the "visitor of the sick," a specific office in the classes or small
groups he created to foster the spiritual life of believers. Women were
welcome to pray in public, witness and exhort, noted Schmidt in an
address to the Fifth Historical Convocation Aug. 16, held in conjunction
with the annual meeting of the United Methodist Commission on Archives
Schmidt, the Gerald L. Schlessman professor of
Methodist studies at United Methodist-related Iliff School of Theology,
Denver, received the 2003 Distinguished Service Award for her
contributions to United Methodist history. She is particularly
interested in North American religious history of the 19th and 20th
centuries. She is the author of Souls or the Social Order: the Two-Party
System in American Protestantism and Grace Sufficient: A History of
Women in American Methodism.
Although women were pioneers in the
Methodist movement, men held the institutional power and eventually told
women that their place was in the home, she said.
Mary L. Griffith of Mauch Chunk, Pa., who appealed to the General
Conference - in writing because women were not allowed to speak. Like
others, she felt called to preach but ordination was denied to women.
She pointed out that women were two-thirds of the membership of the
church and that women were being shut out of the functions of the church
because of their gender.
"If God calls, how can the church
refuse the call without coming into controversy with its divine master?"
Schmidt quoted Griffith's message of 1880.
women "stand on the shoulders" of laywomen who struggled to serve,
Schmidt said. She noted that the United Methodist Church, beginning in
1980, has elected 14 women bishops.
"We give thanks for all that has been accomplished," she said. "But the struggles still go on and go on."
the commission meeting, the Rev. Justo L. Gonzalez was named to receive
the 2004 Distinguished Service Award. Born in 1937 in Havana, Cuba,
Gonzalez has taught at the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico, Candler
School of Theology and the Interdenominational Theological Center, both
in Atlanta, and Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. The author
of more than 75 books, he edited the 14-volume Spanish edition of The
Works of Wesley.
In other business, commission members voted to
forward a resolution to the 2004 General Conference asking every annual
conference and every congregation to celebrate 50 continuous years of
full clergy rights for women in 2006.
The voting members also
reviewed a resolution calling for establishment of an African-American
Methodist Heritage Center, but after discussion decided to suggest an
endowed position for a librarian at the church's present center on the
Drew University campus. The librarian would preserve ethnic minority
materials and make them broadly available to the church and the public.
totaling $28,000 were awarded to assist in the ongoing maintenance of
11 heritage landmarks related to the history of the United Methodist
Voting members also agreed to recommend to General
Conference the addition of another such landmark. New Hope Baptist
Church in Boston, formerly Tremont Street Methodist Church, was the site
of the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church's Woman's Foreign
Missionary Society in 1869.
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