Methodists across the 50 states will celebrate the 50th year anniversary of the milestone decision granting full clergy rights to women in the United Methodist Church this year with special ceremonies, worship services, videos, publications, and other related resources.
All 63 United Methodist Conferences (districts) have special activities planned for the commemoration, according to the United Methodist News Service. These activities will recognize the 50th anniversary of the landmark decision that allowed women to have the same rights as male pastors, and will precede an international celebration slated for Aug. 13-17 in Chicago.
This year also marks a milestone for women in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the Episcopal Church U.S.A. Since last year, the PC(USA) has held several regional celebrations for the 100th anniversary of women as deacons, the 75th anniversary of women as ruling elders, and the 50th anniversary of women as ministers of Word and Sacrament. The ECUSA, meanwhile, is celebrating the 30th year since the ordination of its first female clergy.
The 8-million-member UMC is the largest of the three denominations and the only one that has mandated each of its districts to recognize and celebrate full clergy rights for women.
In 2004, the UMC General Conference passed a resolution that stated: in 2006 every annual conference of the United Methodist Church will celebrate the anniversary by honoring the names of the conference's clergywomen, past and present ... and that in 2006 every local congregation observe the celebration of full clergy rights for women."
Some conferences plan to go beyond the required recognition. For example, the Baltimore-Washington conference will feature all-female cadres of Bible study leaders and preachers as an emphasis on womens contributions, according to the UMNS.
Tom Price, the director of youth ministries for the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, told UMNS that when he learned of the 50th anniversary, he thought about the girls in the conference youth ministry and the opportunities they currently have.
"It occurred to me that they've grown up in a world where they can expect to be anything they want to be," Price said. "They are not really aware of how recently there were few options for women."
In Virginia, the celebration will feature a processional with vested clergywomen entering from different doors and sitting in the midst with lay delegates, friends or family, according to Neola Waller, spokesperson for the celebration. The service will also feature a special music score composed by the son of a Virginia clergywoman to honor the 246 female elders who have served the conference, according to UMNS.
Methodists have traditionally recognized the calling to ministry for clergywomen since the time of its founder John Wesley. The first license clergywoman was Sarah Crosby, who was selected by Wesley to preach in 1761. Although women were ordained as early as the late 1800s, it wasnt until May 4, 1956 that the denomination voted for full clergy rights. This meant that any woman who was ordained and in good standing would receive an appointment to serve in the ministry.
There are currently about 9,500 United Methodist clergywomen, representing about a fifth of the total group of ordained Methodist ministers.