Clergywomen Gather in Houston to Empower the Future of UMC Leadership

Beth Neil
September 1, 2016

Methodists from around the world gathered this week to celebrate the leadership of women clergy at the United Methodist Clergywomen’s Global Gathering hosted by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) in Houston. Over 450 attendees from 27 countries, speaking six different languages met to build relationships, celebrate advancements in opportunities for women leaders, and envision a United Methodist Church that engages full participation of its world-wide membership.

The women celebrated the 60th anniversary of full clergy rights for women, the 20th anniversary of full clergy membership for deacons, the 200th anniversary of the Course of Study, the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and the 150th anniversary of the Board of Education.

“The UMC has been a place of empowerment because of women who broke through the stained glass ceiling of male-dominated clergy leadership,” said Rev. Dr. HiRho Park, director of Clergy Lifelong Learning at GBHEM.

Rev. Dr. Beauty Maenzanise leads prayer alongside HiRho Park and Victoria Rebeck.
Rev. Dr. Beauty Maenzanise leads prayer alongside HiRho Park and Victoria Rebeck.

The gathering kicked off Monday evening with a procession of women clergy from around the world and an opening worship service planned by Rev. Dr. Beauty Maenzanise, Division of Ordained Ministry, GBHEM, and Rev. Dr. Cynthia Wilson, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Helen Cunanan, an elder based in the Philippines, asked the clergywomen, “Are we still seeking crumbs from Jesus?” in the evening’s sermon.

With unique challenges around the world, Victoria Rebeck, director of Deacon Ministry Support, GBHEM, highlighted this special and rare occasion to connect with a large number of clergywomen in an inspiring and nurturing environment. “You have the opportunity to encourage each other to face these challenges with faith and grace, knowing that you have clergy sisters standing with you.”

Panel discussions throughout the three-day gathering focused on topics such as: Transforming the Church Communities and the World; Clergywomen and the 2016 General Conference; Clergywomen’s Leadership Across the Global Connection; Clergywomen: Equity and Justice; Women and Theological Education; a Conversation with Women Bishops; Church Changers, World Changers; and Birthing a Worldwide Church.

The discussion on global connection was born from eight regional clergywomen consultations facilitated by GBHEM around the world between 2011 and 2013. A pre-event survey indicated that many participants had an interest in learning from clergywomen of other regions about their ministries. The organizers of the eight regional consultations spoke during the Global Connection portion of the event, and participants built partnerships by having round table conversations, led by professional UM clergy coach, Sharon Vandegrift.


Karli Pidgeon
Karli Pidgeon

Recognizing the value of input from all generations, the gathering deliberately incorporated women from varying United Methodist leadership positions, clergy categories, and stages in the process toward licensing or ordination. “Young people are not the magic solution for the future of the church,” said Karli Pidgeon, a young clergywoman. “We have to work together intergenerationally for a future global church.” Pidgeon was part of a panel of young women clergy, facilitated by Sheila Bates, director of Student Faith and Leadership Formation and Collegiate Ministry at GBHEM. The panel focused on the adage from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

The young clergy panel provided a jumping point for participants, asking them to consider what it takes to really come alive in ministry and realizing that we must acknowledge who we are, and also who our neighbors are. “What can you do in your setting that can make a difference, not only for women, but also your neighbors?” provoked Laura Steed.

Furthermore, Kelly Connor spoke to her passion for education. “The saints around us have much to teach us, we can’t rely solely upon our own experiences.” The panelists challenged the participants to ask themselves what they can take back to their community to make this church what God has called it to be.

Rev. Dr. Kim Cape

“Together we form a community that worships, prays, learns and listens. We have a chance to delight in the truth of other clergywomen, make new friends and see friends of long-standing,” said Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, general secretary, GBHEM. “I have always been inspired, encouraged and awed by the witness and power of my women colleagues.”

Newly elected women Bishops

The women celebrated this summer’s election of seven women to the episcopacy, four of whom are women of color. The new bishops received, with the gift of a pectoral cross, the pledge of prayerful support from the clergywomen present.

“UMC clergywomen continue to break stereotypes and disrupt the marginalization of women in the church with their prophetic leadership. May God our creator grant a new vision to raise up the new generations of women who will carry out the mission of the church faithfully into the future,” added Park. 

As part of a celebration of the 20th anniversary of full clergy membership of deacons, the elders, deacons, and local pastors present, considered how to intentionally enhance clergy partnerships to lead churches to minister outside the walls of the church.

During closing worship, Bishop Joaquina Filipe Nhanala of Mozambique Episcopal Area, Africa, urged attendees to take action, saying “the time is now, my dear sisters. The harvest is ready.”

About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to prepare global leaders for a global church and the world. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call on their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.

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