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UMNS# 491-Pioneer women pastors share stories, advice for ministry

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Thu, 17 Aug 2006 17:48:21 -0500

Pioneer women pastors share stories, advice for ministry

Aug. 17, 2006 News media contact: Linda Green * (615) 7425470* Nashville {491}

NOTE: Photographs are available at

By Linda Green*

CHICAGO (UMNS) - Three clergywomen pioneers told more than 1,500 women pastors that they were just following God's call when they became part of the first group of Methodist women to receive full clergy rights.

Marion Kline, Grace Huck and Jane Ann Stoneburner Moore are the only surviving women of those first 27 who received full clergy rights in 1956. Another member of the group, the Rev. Grace Weaver, died July 18.

The three pioneers addressed an Aug. 15 celebration of full clergy rights for women in the Methodist tradition, held during the 2006 International Clergywomen's Consultation Aug. 13-17. They shared their stories about how they faced discrimination and acceptance during their clergy lives.

Clergywomen have been part of Methodism since John Wesley licensed Sarah Crosby to preach in 1761. Although women were ordained in the Methodist tradition as early as the late 1800s, it was the May 4, 1956, General Conference vote for full clergy rights that forever changed the face of ordained clergy in the denomination. The effect was that any woman in full connection and good standing would receive an appointment.

Today, 9,749, or one in five clergy, are women, and 16 women are active bishops.

Lessons learned

"In over 65 years of ministry, I've learned a few things," said the Rev. Grace Huck, 90. As she addressed her successors, she provided them with four "Rules for Walking on Water," basing her message on Matthew 14:22-33.

The first rule is to recognize Jesus. That happens when one prays and participates in all means of grace. "This is very important," she said.

Obeying the call is the second rule. Huck urged the clergywomen to recognize Jesus' voice and not be distracted by personal desires or lesser gods.

Next, she told the women they must "get out of the boat." Adhering to this rule is not easy, she said. "It takes courage and faith" because once the call of Jesus is recognized, "then you need to answer. It is frightening, but it is necessary if you are going to walk on water."

Huck, who lives in Spearfish, N.D., told her clergy sisters that keeping their eyes on Jesus is the fourth rule. Acknowledging that Christ is most assuredly already known to the women sitting in the audience, she said, "walking on water is the most difficult."

When attempting to walk on water, she told the women that "dangerous waves" will confront them. One of the most dangerous waves, she said, "is to forget that you were called to be a minister of the gospel and to be caught up in the fact that you are a woman." Never forget that there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus, she said.

She reflected on the initial negative reaction that one congregation had to having her as a minister in 1945 - a decade before the 1956 vote.

"When the district superintendent told them that he was going to send a woman to that church, one of the men pounded on the back of the pew and said, 'There will no skirts in this pulpit while I am alive,'" she said. But that man soon saw her as simply his pastor and not a woman, and he supported her, she said. She has published her memories in a book called God's Amazing Grace.

Huck urged the clergywomen to not let gender distinctions or waves of discrimination become distractions and "make you sink." If one has been truly called and seeks to witness for Jesus Christ and the love of God, "Jesus will lift you up," she said.

"Keep your eyes on Jesus. You can walk on water, which is the equivalent of doing the impossible, if you keep your eyes on Jesus."

Crossing the river

When Marion Kline began her ministry in Wisconsin, a pastor urged her to take a church of her own. Her response, she said, was, "I can't. Women don't do that." She was soon persuaded to take a rural appointment in a small Wisconsin town. She said it was difficult leaving the large city of Seattle for a "little country town. I knew nothing about the country," she said.

Kline, 94, of Des Moines, Iowa, spoke about her loneliness and not being accepted by some, but "the main church almost forgave me for being a woman because I worked with the youth."

She later transferred to another church, then enrolled at the predecessor of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. Although "I'd been preaching a year and a half, I decided that I better learn how," she explained. She graduated in 1950, was ordained and began working for the Wisconsin Conference Board of Christian Education.

Kline told the story of how in 1955, when it looked like the 1956 vote for full clergy rights would go through, her bishop told her that he would not have a woman as a member of his conference.

"It was easy for me to go to the Detroit Conference. There was an opening just on the other side of the river." She was welcomed by Bishop Marshall Russell Reed, whom she said was proud to be one of the first bishops to admit women. She first retired in 1976 and then again in 1986.

"Back then, I could have never imagined that I would in a room like this, of women ministers, district superintendents and bishops. Just see what God is doing," she said.

'Ordination is passion'

"I am profoundly moved to be here speaking of the event that shaped my life," said the Rev. Jane Ann Stoneburner Moore, 75.

Following the advice of a pastor who urged young Ohio Methodists to become experts in all fields and to use their know-how for the good of the church and society, she graduated from Yale Divinity School and other master and doctoral programs as a scholar of African studies. She served in various ministries in the Methodist church for more than 49 years. She transferred to the United Church of Christ after marrying a United Church of Christ minister.

Referring to the PBS advertisement that tells people to be more passionate, she said, "Ordination is passion." A proponent for equality, she told the clergywomen they must use the empowerment they have received to advance the equality of all people.

A trained sociologist, Moore asked what effect women's ordination has had on the church and what effect clergywomen intend to have in the next 50 years.

"Today in the United States, there are dominating forces against equality, and they infest our institutions. There are forces that plan to break up our mainline Protestant denominations," she said. "There are forces at work to undercut the principles of our democracy. There are forces that plan to reduce the size and the influence of the middle class on which democracy depends."

Mustering power is a "daunting task," she told the clergywomen, but if they deny their power or are afraid to use it, "the world would be worse for it."

She encouraged the clergywomen to use their power and positions to help and empower lesbian couples who want to "commit to an enduring relationship."

"We need strategies to prevent the disasters that come from abuse, poverty, armies and empires," she said. "We need to envision new ways for reconciliation in all realms of life and in all parts of the world" - Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Kashmir, Darfur, the Korean Peninsula and the United States of America, she said.

During the consultation, the clergywomen celebrated each decade of ordination since the milestone vote in 1956. Said the Rev. Lyssette Perez, a staff member of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries: "I think we have a bold future."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or


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