This year is the 60th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Methodist tradition. It was such an honor to be commissioned as a provisional elder on such a momentous year. In honor of the 60th Anniversary, I thought I would share some of the histories of Methodism and women with you, and when Methodism came to the point of ordaining women.
From the beginning of the Methodism movement, women always played a significant role. I believe it was rooted in John Wesley's (the founder of Methodism) mother, Susanna. Susanna Wesley spoke English, Greek, Latin, and French, and educated all 17 of her children. Her girls were required to read the same number of hours a day as they did house chores. Susanna was strong minded even in politics, and often did not agree with Samuel, her husband.
In 1770(1), Mary Evans Thorne was appointed to lead a class meeting in Philadelphia. She is believed to have been the first woman class leader in America. Class meetings were much like our small groups or Sunday School classes today. They were the foundation of the Methodist movement and the place where people came to know Christ for the first time.
In 1781(1), John Wesley shocked his peers when he authorized Sarah Mallet to preach saying that she must "proclaim the doctrines and adhere to the disciplines that all Methodist preachers were expected to accept." Notice that he did not ordain her, but he authorized her. She was allowed to preach, but she was not given authority with the sacraments.
In 1835(2), Pheobe Palmer was leading prayer meetings out of her home in England. She became transformed by the prayer meetings, and her husband Walter and herself started to preach throughout England. Pheobe and Walter traveled preaching, but Pheobe was the better known of the two. Pheobe was also a writer. Her best-known book was The Way of Holiness, which is considered the foundation for the Holiness movement. She also inspired the temperance leader Frances Willard and the co-founder of the Salvation Army Catherine Booth.
In 1956(3), the General Conference of the Methodist Church adopted the full clergy rights for women. Maude Keister Jensen was the first woman to be ordained. Maud was a missionary to Korea(3) and a member of the Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference. Before this General Conference's approval of full clergy rights for women, women were ordained as "local preachers" and appointed as supply pastors, but were not giving voting rights in the annual conference nor were they guaranteed pastoral appointments. She died at the age of 97 in October of 1988.
It's interesting to note, when we lay the history of women in Methodism alongside the history of the United Methodist Church, the ordination of women predates the official beginning of the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church started in 1968 when the Methidst Church (1939) and the Evangelical United Brethren Church (1946) merged. That means that the United Methodist Church has only been in existence for 48 years.
1. The United Methodist Church http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/timeline-of-women-in-methodism
2. General Commission on Archives and History http://www.gcah.org/history/united-methodist-church-timeline
3. United Methodist News Service http://archive.wfn.org/1998/10/msg00122.html
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