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Book chronicles women’s struggles for full clergy rights

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April 10, 2006

By Vicki Brown*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — A book recounting the stories of the first women to receive full clergy rights in the Methodist Church has been published by the denomination’s Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Courageous Past–Bold Future chronicles the historic journey of the first women to receive full clergy rights and looks at challenges still facing clergywomen 50 years later.

”The stories of the women in these pages carry hope for the younger generation of United Methodist women. They are living narratives that bear the pain and joy of ministry that represents the paradox of Christ’s call,” said the Rev. HiRho Park, director of Continuing Formation for Ministry at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

The book was published in conjunction with this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1956 General Conference vote giving full clergy rights to women clergy in the Methodist Church. It recounts the stories of the 27 women who were received on probation at the 1956 legislative assembly.

Written by the Rev. Patricia Thompson, the anniversary book also tells the stories of three women elders from the Methodist Protestant Church still serving that year, as well as women elders in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which merged in 1968 with the Methodist Church, forming the United Methodist Church. Thompson is pastor of Puffer United Methodist Church, Morrisville, Vt., and Wolcott (Vt.) United Methodist Church.

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The Rev. Patricia Thompson

First-person accounts of more than 280 women who were the first in their annual conferences or central conferences to receive full clergy rights are included. In the United States, these are the stories of the first woman in every annual conference in every ethnic group represented in that conference to receive full clergy rights. Many of the stories recounted in its pages have never been told and recorded in one place before, Thompson said.

”This has been an exciting project for a couple of reasons,” she said. “First has been the discovery of four Methodist Protestant women who were ordained as elders in the 1870s in Kansas and Missouri before Anna Howard Shaw was ordained in 1880, along with the first African-American woman to be ordained an elder in the United Brethren Church in 1904.”

The stories reveal that God indeed calls women to the preaching ministry, Thompson said, and they reflect the strength, courage, personal pain and sacrifice that it took for women — especially women of color — to answer that call.

Bishop Judith Craig said the book is “a marvelous way to gather the cloud of witnesses that surrounds the descendant sisters and daughters given birth by the wonderful array of ‘firsts’ recounted.”

”And the last chapter makes it clear that the journey is not finished. More challenges confront women who feel the call to ordained ministry and the United Methodist Church, whose polity insists on their inclusion,” said Craig, compiler of Leading Women: Stories of the First Women Bishops of The United Methodist Church.

Courageous Past-Bold Future is available at Cokesbury bookstores ($24.95, ISBN 0-938162-00-4), and may be ordered by calling (800) 672-1789 or online at

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

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

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