Wellsprings: Seasons of Hope and Grace for United Methodist Clergywomen

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By Elizabeth A. Lopez, Minnesota Annual Conference

[Note: At the author’s request, most of this article was left unedited.]

One of the gifts of moving to Minnesota has been experiencing all the seasons in new and exciting ways. In Texas where I grew up and spent the majority of my life, the seasons of fall, winter, and spring were short. Life in New Mexico had brought some beautiful color to the seasons. Seasons in Minnesota are spectacular in my opinion.

Fall is my favorite season now, for I had not experienced the incredible shades of red, yellow, gold, and orange that coat the landscape in such a way that seem to last and last until the last leaf drops. Spring is my second favorite, especially because of the blooming of tulips and peonies, which I had not experienced before. Summer is the time when all the neighbors and I finally come out and once again share in each other’s life. Winter has kept us indoors and dormant to the life-giving conversations and connections that give us hope and grace, at least in my neighborhood. I must admit that weather with a temperature below zero is always amazing in that we actually survive in it. Yet winter is that quiet, dormant time for reflection.

Seasons have framed and continue to frame my ministry, giving it the natural ebb and flow of life. Seasons mark the ways in which I journey in my ministry and experience the richness of the colors of the landscapes of the people and faith communities I serve, the planting and growth of spiritual vitality and discipleship, the life-giving conversations and connections that make us the people of God and the body of Christ, and the quiet, dormant times of inner soul work that gives me the strong foundation of my faith. The seasons of ministry are what have grounded me in the hope, grace, and love of God in Jesus Christ. The seasons of ministry in all their joy and challenge, promise and possibility, birthed WellSprings, A Journal for United Methodist Clergywomen.1

Seasons provide an incredible opportunity and invitation for creativity. To be invited to think about what it means to have this journal renewed, reawakened, and regenerated after six years, in this season of the twenty-first century is more than a joyful celebration. It means that “the women” continue to gather, the story continues to be told, and the “wellspring” of who we are as United Methodist clergywomen is bubbling up anew with promises and possibilities. To “smell the vision” in a new way is to wait with eagerness of what can be.2

Just as seasons change and affect the landscapes of our lives, our relationships, and our culture, they also change and affect our understanding and ways of doing ministry.

As I thought about the regeneration of this journal, I found myself rereading my editorial piece, “The Editorial Circle,” from the first volume. Wow! I could still feel that energy. I could still feel the creativity and hope of what the journal could be when Kathy Sage and I began to dream in the summer of 1987 about what the journal could do. I remember telling her that women’s ordination statistics are great, but we as United Methodist clergywomen are much more than that. What if, we wondered, we had some way of hearing the voices of our sisters in ministry? What if we invited our sisters in ministry to tell their stories that would connect and bond us together? I said, “Kathy, we’re missing out on what could perhaps be the most exciting, connecting thread of our ministry. I listen to clergywomen’s stories, music, struggles, celebrations, pain, poetry, sermons, ideas, and experiences. I see the expression of ministry in their art, and there is no place for all of this to be collectively shared and experienced by others.”3

In that summer of 1987, when the life-giving conversations and connections somehow had a different freedom, a seed was planted. It took the seasons of fall, winter, and spring to care for, nurture, water, and love this seed and to experience the light of those who came to join us in this new adventure. Then in the summer of 1988, WellSprings, A Journal for United Methodist Clergywomen came forth in all its splendor—clothed in its brilliant colors of women’s stories, poetry, music, art, and, yes, even statistics.

While I reread that first issue of twenty-two years ago, I remembered the incredible joy of connection to my sisters and the connectedness of how we had all struggled so hard just to be heard, affirmed, and recognized for our calling by God. I celebrated the stories of our foremothers in ministry and the gifts of hope and grace they had given and left for us. I recalled how we, the editors and guest editors of this journal, worked so hard to capture all of our sisters’ stories so that this journal would become a lifeline and voice for so many. It would be a journal for United Methodist clergywomen. We hoped that lives would be touched, energized, transformed, and connected. They have been.

Just as seasons change and affect the landscapes of our lives, our relationships, and our culture, they also change and affect our understanding and ways of doing ministry. They affect how we see and understand ourselves as United Methodist clergywomen. We, the Church, and ministry today are not who and what we were then. We are in a very different season in the twenty-first century. The lenses with which we now look at our world, Church, and ministry and at who we are as clergywomen have changed.

Our recent women candidates attending seminary have shared with me their hopes, their stories of excitement, and their encounters with new peers, which only confirm that today we are in a new season of how ministry is perceived, understood, lived out, and challenged. As I “experience” clergywomen in their twenties and thirties, who energize and give me hope in all kinds of ways, and what they share about their world of life-giving connections, it is a given for them to be on Facebook with “tons of friends,” tweeting on Twitter with all sorts of folks as a means to reach out to members of their congregations as well as to unchurched young adults, texting to be constantly available and in communication, and, of course, to be using YouTube. I recently received a link to YouTube from one of my women seminarians so that I could see, hear, and experience her first sermon. How incredible to be connected and in life-giving conversations in this season of the twenty-first century!

As I think about the regeneration of this journal and what it means to me, I also know that we continue to be surrounded by those clouds of witnesses and prophetic voices of our historical past that voiced the truth with grace. These prophetic voices affirmed and encouraged our calling to ministry, empowered us to fight the injustices of patriarchy and language, framed and gave new meanings to feminist, womanist, and mujerista perspectives in our context as clergywomen, and gave us the means, strategy, fortitude, and power to make it possible that women would be bishops, district superintendents, and both General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates. These prophetic voices also fought to establish a General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, proclaimed to us the social and racial injustices in our Church and society and gave us the challenge to address these, grounded us in the kind of spirituality that allowed us to see and experience the divine feminine, formed us into a community that gave us ongoing wellsprings of hope and strength, and invited us to experience a grace that was loving and embracing in the midst of all we were experiencing. In addition, these voices helped us see, understand, and experience what inclusiveness means, accompanied us through all the pain that ministry has so often brought,and kept us going by offering incredible hope.

These critical, life-sustaining, and life-giving prophetic figures were given voice through this journal so that it has been a powerful gift. When I hold and read the issues of WellSprings of so many years, “I can still feel it, hear the call, see the power, smell the vision” of the women who have gathered and still must be gathering. 4In its first years, this journal empowered us as women to speak with one another by enabling us to say what we could not say in our local churches and communities. This journal was a voice that empowered us to claim our identity, and the Church became more of what it is called to be because of us. It can do it again.

As I think about the regeneration of this journal, knowing and believing that what frames our past also shapes our future in new and powerful ways, new thoughts emerge for me.

How will our prophetic voices be new? How will we form ourselves into a new twenty-first-century community of United Methodist clergywomen whose forms of new communication now embrace the Internet, Facebook, text messaging, Twitter, and much more? What will our identity, our narration, and even our context for ministry look like? What will the new soundtrack of our lives contain? What will be the new issues for us as United Methodist clergywomen? What will our theology and language look like and say in this new season? Where will our voices be heard, and how will we empower not only ourselves but also other women to be in ministry with us?

For me, regeneration of this journal means that we continue to have a voice, a means to address these and much more. We have an opportunity for community to shape the Church. As our denomination continues to change, what hope will we offer and what will we do to be the difference? Just thinking about this question brings me deep feelings of joy and excitement and reminds me of the journal’s legacy and meaning. With Marion Jackson, Anita Phillips, HiRho Park, and Nan Self leading us, I celebrate the continuation of this journal. I celebrate the incredible truth, grace, and hope that we as clergywomen give each other. Thank you!

Kathy Sage, Lynn Scott, Susan Beehler, and I journeyed toward a belief that we as United Methodist clergywomen could impact and even change the Church. We did. May this new editorial circle and all who join in the journey have the same belief and provide us with new voices by which we can still transform the Church. For what we cannot do alone, we can do together.

“See the power, smell the vision, feel the world, feel the movement! The women must be gathering!”5


1 The title was changed to WellSprings: A Journal of United Methodist Clergywomen in 2009.

2 The expression “smell the vision” is found in the hymn written and composed by Susan R. Beehler,”The Women Must Be Gathering,” in Wellsprings 9, no. 2 (2001): 15.

3 Elizabeth A. Lopez, “The Editorial Circle,” WellSprings 1, no. 1 (1988): 4–5.

4 Beehler,”The Women Must Be Gathering,” 15.

5 Ibid.

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