HiRho Y. Park, Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference
Oneness is something that many United Methodists are striving to understand as a worldwide church, especially what that means in the midst of gender, racial/ethnic, cultural, economic, and theological diversity among clergy leadership in the church. United Methodist clergywomen will gather two days prior to the World Methodist Council, (WMC) August 29–31, 2016, exploring the theme: “Birthing the Worldwide Church,” and engaging women leaders of the World Methodist Council (WMC). The gathering will be held at the Hilton-Americas Hotel and Conference Center in Houston, Texas.
This Global United Methodist Clergywomen Gathering will encourage UM clergywomen to learn from each other in a variety of ministry settings and locations, an opportunity to envision, articulate, and participate in leading the worldwide church as women clergy. Gathered UM clergywomen across the world will discuss about what excites them about future global ministry opportunities and what will be the greatest global challenges facing UM clergywomen in the future. This special gathering will strengthen networks of international relationships among UM clergywomen and other Methodist leaders, and most of all, we will imagine a model of being a global church as women.
First, we have much to celebrate. In 2006, UM clergywomen celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of full clergy rights for women in the Methodist tradition. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry organized the celebration in Chicago, Illinois. During our gathering in 2016, we will celebrate sixty years of full clergy rights for women in the Methodist tradition and twenty years of ordained deacons in United Methodism. Deacons are ordained to a ministry of Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice whereas elders are ordained to Word, Sacrament, Order and Service.
In 1956, there were twenty-seven Methodist clergywomen who received full clergy rights. By 2014, the number of UM clergywomen had grown to 11, 388 active and 2,525 retired clergywomen, among a total of 54,262 UM clergy, which means women account for 27 percent of all clergy. The number of female clergy grew 25 percent since 1992.
The number of lead women pastors serving churches with membership of one thousand or more has grown to 137 clergywomen as of 2012, compared to 64 in 2008. This is 114 percent growth within just four years.
The number of young clergywomen is growing also; 6 percent of elders are under the age of thirty-five, 39 percent of those are female. Seventy-five percent of all ordained deacons are young clergywomen as of 2014. According to the recent report from the Lewis Center, “Young Clergy Numbers Grow among Clergywomen,” in the last ten years, the number of young clergywomen elders has increased 10 percent (31 percent in 2005, 41 percent in 2015), the highest in the history of The United Methodist Church. The number of young ordained deacons who are women has increased 12 percent (68 percent in 2012, 80 percent in 2015 of all ordained deacons). Women local pastors represent a quarter of the entire number of the group.
Along with the celebration, we have challenges to address. There are only twelve active female bishops in the entire UM connection, ten in the United States and two in the Central Conferences.
What does this all mean to The United Methodist Church?
If this is “feminization of clergy leadership” in the church, what does that look like in the future? Here, I use the word feminization from the perspective of women advancing in ecclesial leadership and, of course, not supporting misogyny within Christianity.
How does women’s clergy leadership make a difference, especially when we are becoming, more and more, a worldwide church?
There will be no simple answers to these questions. However, I believe that the time is ripe for United Methodist clergywomen to explore responses to these questions. The Global UM Clergywomen Gathering in 2016 will be the perfect opportunity to do so.
Fundraising efforts continue to raise scholarships for those who receive minimum salaries and serve in Central Conferences. We want as many as UM clergywomen and seminarians as possible to be a part of this historic gathering in 2016.
Let us pray for one another across the globe so that UM clergywomen will meet face to face to imagine strong and prophetic leadership for the future of The United Methodist Church!
To register for the Global UM Clergywomen Gathering, please click here.
To give scholarship funds for clergywomen to attend, please click here.
. As of 2013, there were 14,957 clergywomen in the Central Conferences, including 6,567 ordained clergy and 8,390 local pastors (“Women by the Numbers,” http://www.gcsrw.org/ResearchMonitoring/WomenbytheNumbers/Archive.aspx, accessed October 2, 2015).
. A total of 1,350 serve large churches as of 2012 (General Council on Finance and Administration, April 2013).
. Lovett H. Weems Jr., “Young Clergy Numbers Grow among Clergywomen.” (http://www.churchleadership.com/leadingideas/updates/pdf/150909.pdf, accessed September 9, 2015).