“Clergywomen have been part of Methodism since John Wesley licensed Sarah Crosby to preach in 1761. Although women were ordained in the Methodist tradition as early as the late 1800s, it was the May 4, 1956 General Conference vote for full clergy rights that forever changed the face of ordained clergy.”
“As with many expressions of the Christian faith, it took The United Methodist Church and its forebears a while to capture Christ’s vision.
In 1770, the first Methodist woman was appointed a class leader in the United States; in 1817, women were allowed to hold prayer meetings but denied a license to preach; in 1884 Anna Howard Shaw’s ordination by the Methodist Protestant Church was ruled out of order; and full voting rights for women in the Methodist tradition were not universally recognized until 1956.
Since that time, however, God’s call to women as preachers, teachers, administrators, mission workers, treasurers, lay leaders, trustees, peace-with-justice advocates, voting rights’ workers, Christian educators, and evangelists has blown a fresh breath across the globe and throughout the Church on the wings of the Holy Spirit, despite the rise and fall of our denominational enthusiasm for addressing sexism, gender bias, prejudice, and bad theology.
God has done great things with us and, sometimes, in spite of us. Among the victories celebrated throughout our denomination’s history:
- one in four United Methodist pastors in local churches today are women, compared with less than one in 100 in 1972;
- of the 63 active United Methodist bishops around the world, 16 are women; in 2004 an unprecedented six women were elected in the same week as United Methodist episcopal leaders. The first woman bishop (the late Marjorie Swank Matthews) was elected in 1980;
- The United Methodist Church gave to the world the first African American (Leontine T.C. Kelly, 1984) and first Latina (Minerva Carcano, 2004) bishops in mainline Christendom;
- women comprise half of all students enrolled in United Methodist seminaries and seeking ordination;
- the United Methodist Women is the largest and most prolific mission working entity on behalf of women, children, and youth in our denomination, with ministries of education, discipleship, economic and social development, health care, advocacy, and empowerment in over 120 nations around the world.”