Women, who have long supported and strengthened the mission of The United Methodist Church, are stepping into the pulpit in greater numbers every year. There has been a dramatic increase in clergywomen at every level, from local pastors to bishops. As of December 2016, nearly 12,300 United Methodist clergywomen were serving.
The UMC was the first mainline Christian denomination to have a woman bishop, and in total, has elected 33 women bishops, 17 of whom were active as of 2019.
Clergywomen in The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies have a rich history, dating from John Wesley’s mid-18th century pronouncement of women’s call to preach as “extraordinary.”
In 1847, the United Brethren Church commended the first woman to preach, approving licensing and ordaining women, and granting conference membership in 1889.
The Methodist Protestant Church ordained its first woman deacon in 1866, and its first elder in 1875, although Anna Howard Shaw, ordained an elder in 1880, is perhaps the most well-known.
In 1920 the Methodist Episcopal Church granted women the right to preach, and, in 1924, decided to ordain women as local deacons and local elders.
The approval of full clergy rights for women by the 1956 General Conference of the Methodist Church was commemorated in 2006 by The United Methodist Church’s year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary.
Firsts for United Methodist Clergywomen
- Maude Jensen became the first woman full member of an annual conference soon after the 1956 General Conference.
- Sallie Crenshaw became the first African American woman to be ordained in The Methodist Church in 1958.
- Margaret Henrichsen was the first woman district superintendent, appointed in 1967.
- Marjorie Swank Matthews was elected the first woman bishop in 1980.
- Leontine T.C. Kelly was the first African American woman bishop, elected in 1984.
- Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher was the first woman president of the Council of Bishops, serving one year beginning May 2002.
- Minerva G. Carcaño became the first UMC Hispanic female bishop in 2004.
- Rosemarie Wenner was elected bishop for the Germany Episcopal Area in 2005, becoming the first woman bishop to serve outside the United States.
Hear from Fellow Clergywomen
Explore Wellsprings, a podcast journal for United Methodist clergywomen. It is published annually in April.