Celebrating Women’s History Month: Women Answering the Call
By: Matthew Johnson Connectional Ministries and Communications Assistant
|Rev. Ruth Wood, first woman ordained by the Methodist Church in Miss., gives a stole to first women ordained—Rev. Paulette Buford-James during ordination at the 2016 Session of The Mississippi Annual Conference. Photo courtesy of Greg Campbell Photography
In 1958, two years after the General Conference had given full clergy rights to women, Rev. Ruth Wood simply answering the call of God and became the first woman ordained by the Methodist Church in Mississippi. Today, many vital roles in the life of the local church and the conference are filled by women, who in following in the trailblazing path of Rev. Wood, are simply answering the call of God in their lives.
Rev. Victoria Baldwin is the district superintendent for the Hattiesburg District. As a young pastor she witnessed that some congregations were not receptive to a female pastor.
“It has been quite a ride,” said Baldwin. “I was rejected by two churches they were thinking about appointing me to.”
Rather than holding on to the hurt from those rejections, Rev. Baldwin let it go and progressed in the calling God placed on her life. After multiple years of successfully leading congregations across the Mississippi Conference, Rev. Baldwin ascended to the role of district superintendent, DS. In that role, she has mentored female clergy and prepared congregations for the arrival of new pastors who may not be what they’re used to.
|Rev. Victoria Baldwin - photo courtesy of Greg Campbell Photography
“As a DS we tell the people we have black, white male and female clergy that we appoint, so be prepared if your new pastor isn’t what you’re used to,” said Baldwin.
Rev. Emily Sanford is the first female lead pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in Tupelo. Rev. Sanford was ordained by the Mississippi United Methodist Conference’s first female bishop, Hope Morgan Ward, in 2011. She is thankful for the women clergy who helped prepare the way for her.
“I’m just very aware of the sacrifice of female clergy and laity,” said Sanford. “So many have paved the way, and I am very grateful for the women who went before me.”
As the chair of the committee on the status and role of women, COSROW, Sanford is thankful for how far women clergy have come in the Mississippi United Methodist Conference but acknowledges there are still challenges.
“We have come a long way, but there are still places that don’t want to accept women clergy and there are disparities in clergy pay based on gender.”
|Rev. Michelle Shrader and Rev. Emily Sanford - photo courtesy of Facebook
In June, COSROW will be hosting the inaugural Celebration of Call Sunday. This day honors, women clergy according to Resolution 6A from the 2021 annual conference in recognition of Rev. Ruth Wood and all her sisters in ministry. On this Sunday churches are encouraged to uplift female clergy and celebrate their role in the church.
By answering Gods calling in 1958, Rev. Wood blazed a trail that continues to encourage many women pastors to answer God’s calling in their own lives. There are currently more than 150 women clergy members in the Mississippi United Methodist Conference serving as inspirations for future generations who hear the Lord’s calling. Rev. Baldwin perfectly sums up the reward of women clergy.
“You’ll miss out on a blessing, if you miss out on females in the pulpit,” said Baldwin.