“I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Women and Ministry

Well, you know, you think a conversation has ended and then it just comes back up again. At least this time it was in a positive manner. This time it was encouraging, not discouraging. This time I was reminded of all the many reasons I am thankful to be "the small town."

It has not always been that pleasant. Recently, a group of people left from my congregation to form a new church. One of the main reasons: You guessed it. Women in ministry.

So, here I am a 27 year old female serving in ministry. This is my first appointment and in the first six months an entire group leaves the church to begin a new church. Why? Because I am here. This summer will mark the 54th year that the United Methodist Church has been ordaining women into fully connected ministry. That is right, over 50 years ago we, as a denomination, affirmed the call that God placed on the lives of many talented women. Over 50 years later, we are still talking about whether or not this is biblical. You know, I understand that the women who were ordained in 1956 were subject to lengthy conversations about this topic, but I am not sure I understand why this is still a debate in many local United Methodist Churches. I find it a bit on the redundant side, but that is just me.

Often we have taken the words of the Apostle Paul out of the historical context in which they were written. We have taken his words and used them to hinder many individuals instead of uplifting others, spreading the gospel, and proclaiming the good news like they were intended to do.

I am attaching an article from the United Methodist Church about this matter. I love the United Methodist Church. I love the manner in which the focus tends to be social justice oriented but yet all grounded in the redeeming love of Christ. What to talk with me more... Just let me know!

Why Do United Methodists Ordain Women When the Bible Specifically Prohibits it? By Tom McAnally

This question is usually prompted by Paul’s comments in I Timothy 2:8-15 (NRSV):

I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

United Methodists take this scripture, like all scripture, and reflect on it critically in light of their Biblical and theological inheritance.

Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, believed that the living core of the Christian faith was "revealed in Scripture, illuminated by tradition, vivified in personal and experience, and confirmed by reason." In the United Methodist Church this way of examining Scripture and doing theology is sometimes referred to as the "Wesleyan quadrilateral."

Wesley’s position, and the position of the United Methodist Church, is that Scripture is primary. The United Methodist Book of Discipline notes, however, that the Christian witness, "even when grounded in Scripture and mediated by tradition, is ineffectual unless understood and appropriated by the individual. To become our witness, it must make sense in terms of our own reason and experience."

What matters most, according to the Discipline, is that "all four guidelines be brought to bear in faithful, serious, theological consideration. Insights arising from serious study of the Scriptures and tradition enrich contemporary experience. Imaginative and critical thought enables us to understand better the Bible and our common Christian history."

One reference from Paul may appear to rule out the ordination of women but United Methodists also take into account other scriptural references as well as our tradition, experience and reason.

* The creation stories of Genesis tell of God making female and male in God’s own image. God placed them in the garden to work in harmonious partnership.

* Old Testament prophets call for justice, speak out against inequities, and stand with the oppressed.

* Jesus Christ had women as friends, disciples and witnesses,. He challenged the conventional beliefs of his day that women were inferior and men were superior.

* The Apostle Paul called the people of God to create a world where the gifts of both women and men are celebrated and used, where "there is neither male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28).

The United Methodist Church, by polity and practice, supports the full inclusion of women in every aspect of church life. Among groups that specifically work to eliminate sexism and promote the full inclusion of women are the Commission on Status and Role of Women, with offices in Evanston, Ill., and the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, with offices in Nashville, Tenn.

The Methodist Episcopal Church licensed and ordained women as local preachers in the early 1920s. However that position changed in 1939 at the time of union with the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church. In 1956 full clergy rights were granted to women in The Methodist church. The last of the mainline Protestant denominations (The Episcopal Church) did not approve ordination of women until 1976.

The United Methodist Church has 8,124 clergywomen serving in some capacity, according to a 2001 statistical report by the church's General Council on Finance and Administration. Of that number, 4,572 are elders in full connection. In contrast, the church has 28,101 male clergy in full connection. The denomination has 43,965 clergy leading congregations or serving in ministries beyond the local church.

If you are a woman and feel called by God to ordained ministry, contact:

General Board of Higher Education and Ministry Section of Elders and Local Pastors Rev. Marion A. Jackson, Director of Continuing Education for Ministry (and Clergy Women Concerns) PO Box 340007 Nashville, TN 37203-0007 615/340-7391; FAX: 615/340-7395 E-mail: mjackson@gbhem.org

Tom McAnally is the retired director of the United Methodist News Service.

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