Women in the Church

March 8, 2020

As I was asking the Lord what he wanted me to preach about this Sunday, he spoke to my heart and told me to see what this specific date honors.  I then discovered that March 8th is International Women’s Day, and I knew right away that he was not only guiding me in this sermon, but affirming my role in the church as well. 

Having wanted to be a pastor as a young child, but discouraged by my father who was a strict Lutheran, I gave up on the idea and even fell away from the church until much later in life.  I did open a Christian bookstore in December of 2009, and it was there that I was guided into the Methodist church.  I credit two people specifically – Pastor Jill Bunker and Pastor Mark Amenda.  I knew Jill since she was a child as she is the younger sister of my late second husband, Jeff Cockream.  One day, about ten years ago, Jill came into my bookstore and asked me what I thought about the verse, 1 Corinthians 14:34, which says, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”  I don’t remember my exact words, but I basically said I believed Jesus had great respect for women, even when others did not, and told her that if she felt led by God to serve in whatever capacity he was calling her, then she should listen to the Holy Spirit, and not allow one verse that was written to a church in the 1st century to stop her.  Jill went on to become a lay speaker at Mazon United Methodist church, and invited me to come hear her one Sunday, which I gladly did.  She then invited me to attend again the following Sunday, even though I was attending a different church at the time, and I met Pastor Mark, who encouraged me to also become a lay speaker, and then go into candidacy to become a local pastor, as Jill did also.  It was a childhood dream come true and goes to show that often we must wait for God’s timing in answer to our prayers.

I think if I had been born in the 1700’s instead of the 1900’s John Wesley would have been my hero.  He stood up for women in an era that it was even more unheard of than in the era in which I was born.  Why?  Because John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, authorized a woman to preach in 1761.  He granted a license to preach to Sarah Crosby, who continued to preach until the day that she died.

Wesley's appreciation for the importance of women in the church has been credited to his mother, Susanna Wesley, who instilled in him, and in his brother Charles Wesley, a fellow preacher in the movement, a deep appreciation for the intellectual and spiritual qualities of women.

John Wesley's views on women can be found in a sermon he wrote in 1786 entitled, "On Visiting the Sick".  In this sermon, he attacks the requirement of submissiveness that was often imposed on women of the time:

“It has long passed for a maxim with many that ‘women are only to be seen but not heard.’ And accordingly many of them are brought up in such a manner as if they were only designed for agreeable playthings! No, it is the deepest unkindness; it is horrid cruelty; it is mere Turkish barbarity. And I know not how any women of sense and spirit can submit to it.”

John Wesley also removed the word "obey" from the marriage rite he sent to North America in 1784.

But sadly, after Wesley’s death, most of the churches arising from the Methodist movement did not continue to support the role of women as spiritual leaders and refused to ordain or license women in the church.  There are exceptions, such as Anna Shaw, born in 1847, who was a leader of the women's suffrage movement in the United States. She was also a physician and one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States.  Her childhood sounds much like my own!  It was written that she felt a call to preach from an early age, and as a child, she would spend time in the woods near her house, and stand on tree stumps to preach to the forest.

Fast forward and finally, on May 4, 1956, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the General Conference of the Methodist Church finally approved full clergy rights for women. This was done by adding one sentence to the Book of Discipline: "All foregoing paragraphs, chapters and sections of Part III [of the Book of Discipline] shall apply to women as well as to men." Bishops were now required to appoint every pastor in good standing, regardless of gender. Maud Jensen was the first woman to be granted full clergy rights after this decision, in what is now the Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference.  This was two years before I was born.  In 1980 Linda Wilberger Egan wrote a hymn titled “The First One Ever”, which sings about how Mary was the first to know of the birth of Jesus, the Samaritan woman was the first to whom he revealed he was the Messiah, and women were to first to see him after the resurrection.  It was added to the United Methodist hymnal in 1989, and is Hymn #276.  “Woman in the Night”, Hymn #274, was written in 1982 by a man named Brian Wren, and speaks about 8 women in the Bible, and urges us to “Come and join the song, women, children, men; Jesus makes us free to live again!”

I sometimes think if I had been raised as a Methodist, my life might have turned out differently, but then I remember that God is in control, and everything happened according to His plan.  I was not ready in God’s eyes until I was in my fifties, and then he put all of the pieces in place.  Even Moses lived for 40 years in Egypt and then another 40 in Midian before being called to deliver the Israelites. 

So if God has put a dream in your heart, a calling in your soul, but you get frustrated and think it is never going to happen, I urge you to not give up.  Just trust his timing, and not your own.  Because “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  (Romans 8:28).  Amen.


"You Say"  (Lauren Daigle)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg9Eu7jF14A

"Up Again"  (Dan Bremnes)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VK2s9-nTJko