United Methodist Female Pastors Struggle For Acceptance

August 28, 1991|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff writer

At an international conference earlier this month, four United Methodist female pastors from Carroll found support among their spiritual sisters in their shared struggle to gain acceptance as church leaders.

"We share the stories and struggles, joys and concerns that tie us all together," said the Rev. Joan Carter, pastor of Union Street United Methodist Church in Westminster. "We try and gather every four years to celebrate who we are as United Methodist women and support one another with spiritual renewal."

One struggle clarified at the conference was that of getting fullrecognition as church leaders, Carter said.

The United Methodist church has supported the ordination of women since 1954, but the practice did not become widespread until the women's movement gained ground in the '60s and '70s.

"Some churches don't accept women as pastors and some denominations still don't ordain women," Carter said. "All of us are still struggling with that and still have to deal with persons who don't want women as pastors."

Carter said these parishioners cannot separate a woman pastor's femininity from her role as a spiritual leader.

"We have to get them to look beyond us as women to see us as their pastor," she said.

The 980 women who attended -- out of more than 4,000 female United Methodist clergy in the UnitedStates -- gathered in St. Charles, Ill., Aug. 5-9. The theme of the convention was "Illumination of the Holy."

About 10 percent of theUnited Methodist clergy are women, said the Rev. Nancy Webb, pastor of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in New Windsor. The Carroll pastors are members of the the Baltimore-Washington conference, a subdivision of the church that has more than 40 female ministers, the largest number of any conference in the country.

"We celebrated our different cultures: African-American, Hispanic, Korean, Philippine and American Indian as well as the white cultures," Carter said.

Activities during the convention focused on the diversity of the women and the international flavor of the meeting, said Webb.

Cultural celebrations and worship services occurred in the evenings.

"There wereclergy women from most every continent," she said. "Asia and Africa were well-represented."

In one session, four 8- to 12-foot puppetsportrayed the female view of American history through women of different nationalities, Webb said.

The program began with an American Indian puppet describing her view of how the tribes related to the land, followed by the European puppet talking about how her people tookit from the natives.

Next came an African-American puppet describing how blacks were mistreated and brought to the United States as slaves. Finally, a Philippine puppet -- representing all other nationalities -- discussed the minority point of view.

"Then there was a confession of ways we hurt each other and grace and healing extended to one another," said Webb. "It was really great to see women of different ethnic backgrounds and interest groups finding support and celebration and solidarity with one another."

In the mornings, ministers met in small prayer groups to discuss different ways to pray, Carter said. Afternoons were spent in workshops on issues relevant to the daily life of a pastor.

"A woman would preach about how we work inour urban or rural church or working as associates with men," she said. "We also discussed how we as blacks serve in white parishes and managing our time with our churches and personal lives."

She said the ministers intend to keep up their relationships.

"During the course of the week, we met together at small tables in groups of eight or 10," Carter said. "We're planning to stay in touch with one another to suggest books that were helpful or new ideas to do."

Webb said the conference helped her realize more clearly how painful it is for people to explore sensitive issues, such as the various types of physical abuse.

"At the very same time we think we're being so open,we're inflicting pain on somebody else," she said. "Everybody has some history that they bring with them: child or sexual abuse, physicalabuse, racism, sexism. Just as we think we're doing a great job, we're tromping another one of our sisters into the ground."

Webb saidwhile these issues should be discussed, people should take others feelings into account when debating them.

Other women who attended from Carroll were the Rev. LaReesa Smith, pastor of St. Luke's in Sykesville and Mount Gregory in Howard County, and Suzanne Weber, pastor of Morgan's Chapel in Woodbine.

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