When the 1956 General Conference voted to approve full clergy rights for women, I was 5-years-old. Our son Jason was 5-years-old when a local newspaper journalist paused in his interview with me to ask Jason if he wanted to be a preacher when he grew up. He appeared mystified and then replied, “No, that’s a girl’s job!”
Life continues to shift for us all. This year, at Annual Conference in June, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the granting of full clergy rights to women.
What’s emerging, 50 years after May 1956? Now that half of seminarians are women? Now that women are district superintendents and bishops and pastors of churches of all sizes and characters and in all sorts of places? What is being birthed in The United Methodist Church?
We sit in circles more. In circles we look at each other, we speak to each other, we engage each other. United Methodist Women have gathered in circles for years. Our encircling God draws us inward, onward. There are fewer podiums and high pulpits, more chairs, more round tables, more walking away from notes, more remote microphones.
Our communities are becoming stronger. We see in many places authentic engagement, space for speaking truthfully, listening carefully and careful reflection. There is a renewed honoring of silence. We engage in covenant life with others.
Organization is becoming more gentle and inviting. We create what is needed to accomplish the mission discerned and embraced. We see simpler organizations that are more transparent and more accessible.
Storytelling is increasing. Narrative preaching continues to develop among us. We see our stories in the light of the biblical narrative.
Mutuality is increasing. We express more readily our need for one another and for God. We are experiencing the ways our ministries depend upon the faithful ministry of our sisters and brothers. We welcome one another and rejoice in God’s latest gifting. Mutuality increases in The United Methodist Church, not in every place, but in enough places that we are encouraged toward expansive welcome for every spiritual gift. As we grow in hospitality toward the gifts of clergywomen, we expand our capacity to embrace every giftedness in Christ.
Fifty years out, God’s fullness in us is still emerging. Watch for it.