Contact The Magazine
Women of the Word
Spring 2010 a publication of the Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church
Women of the Word Features 3
Q&A with the district superintendents A Biblical battle Ardmore pastor rides after circuit preachers
Leading laywoman practices saying yes
Have commission, will travel
One disciple’s story: Robyn Thompson-Goggs Gloria McGee Denton
OKC bombing survivor sends a message
Commission works for all women
One disciple’s story: Earleen Reedy
Deacon offers Christian caring amid crises
My first years were lonely
One disciple’s story: Barbara Brown Adonna Bridges
One disciple’s story: Randa Norman
10 12 14 17 18 20 22 24 26
CONTACT The Magazine
his edition of “Contact, the Magazine” is designed to celebrate the women of the Oklahoma Conference. Within these pages you will find some of the most moving testimonies and witnesses of how God is making a difference through these faithful women, clergy and laity, throughout the state. Some people still question the authentic calling of women to lead in the name of Jesus Christ. In spite of challenges, discouragements, and skepticism faced by some of those whose journeys are shared in this magazine, all these women have answered yes to God’s calling for ministry and mission from different backgrounds and perspectives. The women you will read about share a common characteristic: their stories are not about themselves but about their obedience to God’s calling. In that respect they follow in the tradition of other outstanding women such as Miriam, Deborah, Mary, Susanna Wesley, and Sarah Crosby (the first Methodist woman preacher). The articles of this issue remind us what the prophet Joel meant when he wrote: “…I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…” (Joel 2:28). God has empowered the followers of Jesus, men and women alike, to bear witness to the Creator’s mighty acts of salvation. The women featured witness in unique Oklahoma ways as they serve, teach, preach, pray, counsel, feed the hungry, and nurture hungry hearts. Some serve in places of high visibility; others minister in relative obscurity. Regardless, they and all women in the Conference possess the gifts of calling, enabled by God, to invite others to declare the Lord’s wonderful deeds. Rev. Dr. Joseph Harris Director of Communications COVER PHOTO: Dressed in period clothing, five Oklahomans represent the Christian witness by all women across the Church’s history. Seated at center is Rev. Kathy Coit, an ordained deacon, wearing her clergy robe. At left, Shelby Wieland wears a costume of the 1890s, when laywoman Frances Willard led campaigns for temperance and suffrage. In red jacket, Earlene Smith evokes the World War II era. Sue Ellis recalls the 1960s with her blue suit. Birchie Smith’s historic black dress of the 1870s includes a bustle; today’s United Methodist Women grew from that decade, when a small group of U.S. women raised funds to send a female missionary to teach in India. Photographed at Edmond First UMC.
is a publication of the Oklahoma Conference of The United Methodist Church Dr. Joseph Harris Holly McCray Director of Communications Editor firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
* The “Passages” facts found throughout this magazine are from The Flyer, the newsletter of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women in The United Methodist Church, October-December 2009.
1501 N.W. 24th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73106 www.okumc.org All contents copyright © 2010 Department of Communications. Postage Paid at Oklahoma City, OK. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to CONTACT, 1501 N.W. 24th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73106-3635.
Women of the Word
Q&A with district superintendents Three female superintendents now lead districts in Oklahoma Conference: Frankye Johnson, South Oklahoma City; Linda Harker, Muskogee; and Bert Potts, Stillwater. During a question-and-answer session facilitated by Joseph Harris, director of Communications, they explored the subject of women in career ministry.
Why is it important to discuss
gender and ministry?
Potts: Our future, for both women and men, is dependent upon all of us making certain we care for and remember future generations. We need to help them know the history, the journey women and men have shared together to arrive where we are today, as well as the vision that has guided us. In our relationships, we need to model the best of what family can mean. The more opportunities that are opened to encourage men and women to follow their calls, the more individuals will submit to God, whatever their unique situation. Harker: It is important to dialogue about this so we can help others better understand the issues. There is a need for support and affirmation of the gifts women bring to ministry. In such discussion, we learn to better affirm gifts … Potts: … the gifts of all Christians. It is important to create a culture or context in which every person, every Christian, realizes his or her own call to ministry, whether or not it is a call to
ordained ministry. We must affirm and lift up everyone’s special gifts.
Why did you choose ordained
ministry as your career?
(Potts entered career ministry in 1977, as a young adult. Johnson and Harker began their careers later in life, and both came out of denominations that did not employ women as pastors.) Potts: When Mickey and I were newly married and he was a student at Duke Divinity School, I searched for my direction in life. At first I thought it would be in music. As we both shared in his student appointments, I found myself loving every part of his ministry; I really overstepped my bounds. Thanks to a support group for divinity-school couples, someone saw my passion and asked, “Bert, don’t you think you have your own call to ministry?’ There were only three or four women at seminary at the time. I didn’t see myself as a pastor. I found a position as director of Christian education. Yet I decided I was called to preach in the halls as I did that educational work— and was granted a license to preach based on that call! (Then she read a book by Carter Heyworth, a woman studying to become a priest, and learned Heyworth’s engagement to another priest ended when he told her she was dangerous because she was trying to live out her call through him.) … Instantly I realized I, too, was doing that! Mickey and I discussed the
meaning of my call and decided we would risk our marriage so we both could be faithful to our calls. I knew it would be hard … a few weeks after I received a student appointment in rural Kansas, I learned I was pregnant. Johnson: I chose nursing as a career, and was very content in my little church, playing piano, teaching Sunday school, leading women’s retreats. As I was turning 40, I discovered I had experienced the call at age 15 and had forgotten. Twenty-five years later, I was at a place where I could hear God and with people who could support, confirm, and affirm call. Harker: I ran from it for a long time. Ordained ministry chose me through the persisting and loving call of God and God’s people.
Where have you found nurture
Potts: We could go on and on about wonderful people who have helped us. When I learned I was pregnant, I wondered if I had misunderstood God. During those days, pregnant women usually were not out in public—and certainly not in the pulpit! The chairperson of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee said, “If God is the One who creates life, and if God is the One who called you to ministry, who are you to doubt God?” Agnes remains an angel in my life. When I have struggle in difficult times, I remember her belief in me and how she stood up to support a pregnant woman in the pulpit. Continued on page 4
Why do some people object to a
woman as a senior pastor?
Harker: Lack of biblical education and understanding, and interpretation of Scripture. When I was pastor at TulsaFaith, some of our students who went to college came back very anxious. They had been told it was wrong for them to have had a woman as a pastor and, if I had baptized them, their baptism wasn’t valid. They were troubled. At their schools, they didn’t know what to say. Part of our Confirmation classes’ curriculum has got to be what we believe as United Methodists.
How have you seen clergywomen
Johnson: Some have been willing to walk into the lions’ dens. (We) can look to those who have paved the way for us to help the Church have a new vision for women. They endured some things we didn’t have to endure. Because of that, we stand on their shoulders. Potts: I can speak only from my experience. It shook the very foundation of our family when my son was told he would go to hell because he had a mother who was a preacher. Such statements were imprinted on all of us. What helped us—what helps all people in ministry— is the recognition of a Presence, of knowing you are never alone and you are not in this for yourself. It is a purpose so much bigger than any of us can fully describe. I think that is how families overcome strain and hurdles, no matter how new to ministry or how seasoned. It is the presence of Christ who sustains us.
What is your advice to
clergywomen who face barriers due to gender?
Potts: Be willing to go into places where you don’t feel comfortable. You don’t want to lose your passion or creativity, but you’ve got to remember the diversity of the flock—older,
overcome church or family hurdles?
younger, etc. It’s a balancing act. A lot of women feminize the Church to the point that a lot of men don’t feel comfortable there. Like a musician, you have to learn to have a fullness of voice; I think that helps break the barriers. Johnson: Don’t neglect your own spiritual life. Harker: First and foremost, remember your call. You are not there to prove anything other than what it means to faithfully live under God’s call. Love even when others aren’t loving.
What is one of your greatest joys
this past year?
Harker: Muskogee-Wesley started a bus ministry, picking up children and bringing them to worship. One Sunday in Advent, these children were leading in every part of the service, with an adult nearby to help them. The children were in the choir; they sang with their heart. They were taking up the offering. Then (Pastor) Marsha Purtell gave them a mission. She had them go and sit with people in the congregation so they didn’t have to sit alone. That truly was being the Church. Powerful.
Fran kye Joh
What is your advice to enhance
pastoral transitions in churches?
Johnson: We’ve got to lift each other up. Our brothers have to see the gift of God in us, embrace that themselves, and prepare congregations for it, just as we do cross-cultural and cross-racial appointments. There are biases; we’ve got to recognize that and begin to work on them. Harker: The Church has to understand there is a possibility some people will leave and not receive the gifts of a woman pastor. Potts: The best transition takes place when churches focus on their mission, not on their preferences. When congregations can state clearly the qualities needed to help them fulfill what they believe God is calling them to do as a church, wonderful things happen!
Women of the Word
A Biblical battle By Holly McCray
lergyman Gary Holdeman of Enid goes directly to the Bible to affirm women as Christian leaders. When others cite specific Bible verses, seeking to exclude women from ministry, he counters with more Scripture. The United Methodist Church declares in its Book of Discipline that all people are equal in God’s creation. But living out that statement is challenged by some people. Among the most difficult arguments to refute, Rev. Holdeman said, are negative views of women that are drawn from certain Bible verses. Holdeman, who is Enid District superintendent, advocates a broad view, one that considers together all Bible texts about a subject. His personal study has committed him to preach and teach the Biblical basis for gender equality. “The United Methodist Church has done a good job talking about this philosophically and politically, but we have not done a good job biblically,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve taken that battle to scriptural grounds.” “Our people don’t know how to answer” objections that cite individual “proof texts,” Holdeman said. Two New Testament examples of such texts are “Let women keep silence in the churches” and “Wives, submit to your husbands.” He chooses to regularly address this in his district visits to churches. He also taught two classes at the 2010 Muskogee District Local Church Leaders Workshop. The second session drew so many participants that it was moved to a larger room, he commented. Scripture references he uses come from both Old and New Testaments. Among them: Acts 2:17-21, I Corinthians 11:11-12, and Genesis 1:27-28. Women with prophetic gifts are named throughout the Bible, he noted. Holdeman’s grandmother helped him confirm his own call. He also credits outstanding teaching by an ordained clergywoman when he was in college. And he described as “100 years ahead of its time” a book published in the 1800s that advocated on scriptural grounds for the ordination of women, by B.T. Roberts, founder of the Free Methodist denomination. The superintendent is part of the group Christians for Biblical Equality, which supports holistic biblical interpretation based on gifts, not gender.
“In this job, I see the struggles good female clergy have. When I walk in as a male pastor, I don’t have that,” Holdeman said. “The Holdeman male pastors have to be talking about this; it’s seen as self-serving for a woman to do that.” Some audience members have walked out during his sermons on the subject. Others have walked up to him afterward and asked questions. He strives to use humor and Christian caring in his work. “There’s a whole generation out there who have not been told,” Holdeman said. Due to requests for copies of his sermon and notes, Holdeman has made them accessible online via the Enid District homepage: http://www.okumc.org/EnidDistrict
of the traveling shoes” women in ministry event for deacons, elders, lay preachers, students, retirees
st. luke’s united methodist church oklahoma city keynote speaker: bishop judith craig sponsored by the oklahoma
and the oklahoma indian missionary conferences, in coordination with the women’s leadership team south central jurisdiction firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Seay speaks during a contemporary worship service in Colvert Ministry Center, across from the main sanctuary of Ardmore-First UMC.
Ardmore pastor rides after circuit preachers By Jessica Moffatt-Seay, with writer Cindy Mason
was a church child. I have photographs of me as a 4-year-old, in the front row of a large gathering of senior adults at Tulsa’s Boston Avenue United Methodist Church. I roamed the room at church suppers, greeting anyone who would talk to me. I became fast friends in the kitchen with the cook, who would put me upon the counter and feed me melt-in-your-mouth rolls fresh from the oven. I love the image that at such an early age I experienced the connection of bread and love. I like to think the love in that kitchen through “the bread, the body of Christ broken for me,” helped convince me that Church was a good place to be. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t believe in Christ. I was born in New Orleans, and before I was 1 year old we moved to Tulsa, where my family began attending Boston Avenue Church. I am the daughter of a woman who, throughout her life, surrendered herself to God over and over and who modeled ministry for each of three children. My dad was in his own kind of ministry as a medical doctor. And I come from a long line of Methodist pastors: my maternal grandfather, his father, his father’s father, and his father’s father’s father. They were circuit riders. My grandfather Jess rode 12 miles on horseback every Sunday morning to preach in each of his assigned churches.
Aunt Gussie was a Nazarene preacher. She gave our family an understanding that it was not unthinkable a woman might be called to preach. My own ministry calling came when I was in college, majoring in Speech Communication and Public Relations at the University of Tulsa. I wanted to communicate the grace and love of Christ. That led me to want a degree in Theology. The call to preach came while I was in seminary and began to see and know more women called to ordained ministry. I served as an associate pastor for 12 years at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa and then was appointed senior pastor at First UMC in Bixby. In 2009, I was assigned as senior minister at Ardmore’s First UMC. My lifelong faith can be a handicap when talking to those who are skeptical or have not grown up in church culture. That’s when I thank God for team ministry. In Bixby, it was a joy to serve alongside Mark Whitley, who had been a Christian for only about one-third of his life. Most of his life he had been an atheist. His personal experience helped him relate to nonChristians when I sometimes found it difficult. As the senior minister at Ardmore, I believe leadership is about relationships. Leading relationally means listening to people. It is about creating an atmosphere where even the softest voice is heard and taken seriously. My training as a certified dispute resolution mediator has provided valuable skills in helping two sides find common ground while preserving the relationship. I have known suffering on a variety of levels, and each experience has served to deepen my understanding of the love, grace, and presence of the risen Christ. In October 2006 I was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery and further medical treatment. But cancer has been only one of the bumps on this road I travel. I believe that when you suffer, you can either go darker or deeper. You can go to a very sad place and stay—or you can go deeper than ever before with Christ. By God’s grace, I have travelled to the deeper place. My experiences also have allowed me to receive the blessings of the people in this great Church I serve. My older sister is a minister in High Point, N.C. She knows a boy who told his sister that he wants to be a preacher when he grows up. The children had known only my sister—a woman— as their minister. The little girl asked her brother, “You want to be a preacher? Can boys be preachers?” It’s a new day. Ordained Elder Jessica Moffatt-Seay has a master’s degree from Candler School of Theology and completed the graduate degree program of the Chateau de Bossey in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a three-time clergy delegate to General Conference. She and her husband, Chip, who owns an insurance agency in Ardmore, have a daughter, Hannah. Cindy Mason is a freelance writer in Oklahoma City.
Photos provided by Cindy Mason
Women of the Word
Jessica Seay assists at Loaves and Fishes, Ardmore’s community food pantry. Responsibility for the pantry rotates among churches.
P assages 1888:
Frances Willard, laywoman, was one of five women elected as delegates but denied seating at the Methodist Episcopal Church’s General Conference. Women were first seated as General Conference delegates:
Church of the United Brethren;
the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; and in
the Evangelical Church.*
Judy and Loyd Benson of Frederick enjoy a mountain view in Tom Steeds State Park with some of their grandchildren.
Leading laywoman practices saying yes By Cindy Mason
ho is Judy Benson? You have probably heard her name or heard about one or two Church events in which she has been involved. But what is her personal faith story? Her bio reads that she was the first female elected as Oklahoma Conference Lay Leader and chairs the Conference Board of Laity. She was the first laywoman elected to lead Oklahomaâ€™s delegation at a General Conference ... Do you know she also serves the Church beyond Oklahoma? Most recently she was chosen for the Connectional Table, and she was tapped for two groups dealing with big questions about the future of the denomination. Judy, along with her husband, Loyd, will travel to the Philippines in April for some of this volunteer service ... Perhaps you know Judy, a former president of Oklahoma Conference United Methodist Women, founded the annual Mother-Child Retreat ... Maybe you have heard her speak on a Sunday morning at your church. And she regularly teaches at Local Church Leader Workshops ... Judy commits herself to her home church, too, in Frederick. She directs a musical drama there every Easter. She has fed members of the high school football team at her home during their playing season. When Loyd led the State House as its speaker, Judy brought together legislatorsâ€™ wives in Christian fellowship and service projects. Yes, it is apparent that Judy is committed to living out her discipleship on all levels. But what makes her want to volunteer in all these ways? How does she balance doing and being?
Women of the Word Here, Judy responds in her own words. God blessed me with wonderful Christian loving parents, brothers, and sisters who gave me a good self-image, so I was born with big-time blessings. Because we lived in the country, my parents didn’t go to church. However, I learned my first song, “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” sitting with my mom in a brush-arbor revival at Corum when I was 2 years old. I learned Bible stories at her side while my dad fished. My fourth-grade teacher prompted the beginnings of my faith by saying, in a school election, “All these girls would be good because they’re all Christian girls.” I remember thinking, “Christian? What’s that?” So when Bobbie Alice Hefly asked me to go to Vacation Bible School with her, I went. And when God spoke to my heart during an invitation, directing “Judy, say yes to giving me your life,” I went forward, saying, “Here I am, Lord, forgive my sins and take me into your family!” At that point I really wasn’t sure what that even meant. But I went to Sunday school, church, and children/youth group and began my life of listening, resting, trusting, and following. And I loved it! At church camp, when I was about 14 years old, I felt God definitely was calling me. That tug—voice—actually, nag—was so strong. At that point, I thought if God was calling me, the only place to go was China. I definitely didn’t want to go to China. After about two weeks of God pulling at my heart, I got tired of the persistence. “God, I really don’t want to go to China, but if that is what you want me to do, I’ll go!” Well, God didn’t want me to go to China. God just wanted me to give my life, listen to his promptings, and be willing to say yes. So I’ve spent my life listening to God. Thoughts come to mind, nudges to my heart, that I know aren’t mine. Sometimes they are in a Bible verse, a devotional, a word from a friend, or just the Spirit’s prompting. I might be driving or involved in an everyday task; I’ve learned there is
always a reason. I’m supposed to share with someone, take an idea to a group, call a person, or lift someone in my prayers. As I try to stay tuned to God, he gives me opportunities. I’m always amazed at the opportunities, because I’m certainly not as equipped as some others. But I feel if God opens a door—and I do believe God opens those doors—I need to go through and trust God to be with me along the way, taking me where He wants me to go. At times I’ve felt too young, too inexperienced, too old, too far away, too female, too rural … never been there, never done that … and I still said, “Lord, You put me here. You work through this to whatever purpose You have in mind.” I believe God creates each one of us with unique gifts to be utilized for God’s glory, to touch lives with the love of Jesus Christ and, in our own ways, make the world a better place. I want to use what God has given me. I believe in people and the gifts they have to offer. When we all work together, it is amazing what we can do in the name of Jesus Christ. Cindy Mason is a freelance writer in Oklahoma City.
Judy Benson, in dark blue sweater at top, strives for a team approach in the work of the Oklahoma Conference Board of Laity.
Have commission, will travel By Holly McCray
P assages 1956: the Methodist General Conference voted to grant full clergy rights to women.* Women number about 10,000 among 45,000 total clergy in The United Methodist Church.* Oklahoma Conference has 598 active clergy. Of that total, 171 are women and 427 are men. (current Board of Ordained Ministry statistics)
hen Diana Northcutt was 3 years old, her grandmother watched her standing atop an ottoman and preaching. “She always knew I would end up in ministry,” said Rev. Northcutt. Now a grandmother herself, Northcutt has baptized her own grandchildren. She recalled the dates of those baptisms as easily as people remember family birthdays. The sacraments—baptism, Holy Communion, Bible study—are especially treasured by this clergywoman who is appointed as director of Christian Discipleship for Smaller-Membership Churches in Oklahoma Conference. Her eyes brim with tears when she talks about the first worship service she organized for Hispanics in a rural northwestern Oklahoma community. A Cinco de Mayo party included worship led by the praise band from a United Methodist Hispanic fellowship at Guymon. “I told God that I’d consider it a success if 20 people showed up. Sixty children and 40 adults showed up. I was in awe,” she described. “Somebody had asked me for Bibles. I got a Petree grant to buy Spanishlanguage Bibles. We did the worship service and passed out Bibles. These old men would come up and hug me, tears running down their faces. That was the first Bible anyone had given them that they could read.” Northcutt reads extensively. Bookcases line her office in Oklahoma City at the United Methodist Ministry Center. She grew up on a Colorado ranch, where “I would take a book and go hide” from chores, she commented. She also travels extensively, due to her Conference post. Some of her childhood was divided between school years in El Paso, Texas, and summers at the ranch. She also lived in Germany and Missouri before settling in Oklahoma, during the period she was married to a man in military service. All that traveling probably contributed to her ease on the road, leading church consultations across the state almost every Sunday. Spiritual formation for young people is at the heart of that role. Northcutt last year transitioned to the post from directing Local Church Youth Ministries. Early in the former role, she learned no youth groups had been started in the Conference in 20 years, according to the Journal. “My job was to help smaller churches find a way to do youth ministry, but you can’t have a healthy youth group if you don’t have a healthy church,” Northcutt explained. “In a three-hour consultation, the first hour might be about youth, but the rest was talking about church structure. In a small church, everything is done congregationally; it’s family-based.” Thus the focus of her assignment changed, and now her title matches the holistic approach to ministry she develops with leaders in smaller churches. She defines a small-membership church as one with 100 or fewer people attending worship. “You can’t just hire anybody. But you can raise up someone who has a love or calling for youth and train them to stay in that community, to have sustainable youth ministry,” Northcutt said. Two Oklahoma ministries she has developed respond to the Church’s desire to
Photo by Holly McCray
reach young people: The Academy of Youth Workers, which is a year-round curriculum, and summertime JEM Camp (Junior-high Effective Ministry). Northcutt will be a dean at two youth camps this summer, in her 23rd consecutive year filling a dean’s role. She also spent about 12 years pastoring churches and eight years as adult co-chairperson of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM). “My grandfather was my minister growing up, and my great-grandfather was a pastor, so Church was innate behavior,” Northcutt said. “Both of them were district superintendents in the Evangelical United Brethren Church.” Her dedication to the spiritual formation of young people is lifelong. She taught a seventh-grade boys youth group when she was a high-school senior. Even in Germany, she was a youth and children’s worker. “Youth is my calling to ministry,” she stated simply. After she became a single mother with two children, and “still doing youth work all the way,” she pursued a master’s degree and was consecrated as a diaconal minister, a laity designation. In the 1990s, youth ministry was entertainment-based, Northcutt said. Mission service projects were minimal. “In my opinion, spiritual formation for the youth was neglected.” Rev. Diana Northcutt follows the paths of historic circuit preachers; she travels She wanted to make a difference. She regularly as a Conference consultant for smaller-membership churches. When she told God she would attend seminary “if every is at home in Oklahoma City, she is a flower garden enthusiast. semester was paid off before I got to the next. to take students and help form them into pastors. They were And it was. I graduated (from Phillips Theological Seminary) always willing to let you try new things, walk with you and with no debt.” guide you in the process,” Northcutt said. Northcutt was ordained as an elder in 1998. “In harvest time, every Saturday morning I would have a “I look for people’s abilities and not their gender. I’ve bushel of something on my porch: tomatoes, watermelons, etc. moved past that. I think we make our ministry what we They gave me gifts for Christmases and birthdays. They knew choose to make it,” she said. my salary was low, and so they took care of me in other ways. She admits to challenges in her life. Yet, “even when I It was a great start.” have been in low places in my personal life, there has never Today among her biggest joys is knowing teens with been a doubt that God was there.” whom she worked in the past 20 years have become ordained She continued, “There have been times I felt I couldn’t clergymen and women. “I don’t think I was the reason they pray. It says in the Scriptures that even when you can’t pray, entered ministry. I just hope I had a little intersection in the Spirit prays for you. That’s always been a comfort.” their lives, and I’m hoping I can continue to be a mentor,” She named the first congregation she pastored as a Northcutt said. tremendous example of Christian caring. “Their ministry was
Let them see that you love god
By Robyn Thompson-Goggs
curious twist to my family is that my brother is a Baptist pastor. Our conversations through the years have been interesting, but even with his viewpoints he has come to respect my call and witnessed its effectiveness in sharing the Gospel. I recognize the defining mark of a good pastor is not gender, but heart. The best advice I ever received in ministry came from an Oklahoma clergyman who was my mentor and is my friend today. He said, “The key to ministry is love the people. Let them see that you love them and that you love God.” Those wise words have guided me well over 10 years of ministry. I grew up very active in my home congregation of Putnam City United Methodist Church. My mother modeled faith and church commitment for me; youth leaders and pastors gave me opportunities to discover my gifts and use them. I was 15 years old when I felt God calling my life to some kind of service in the Church. I was encouraged to apply for the Bishop’s Scholarship at Oklahoma City University. Awaiting the response letter, I began to feel very insecure. Before we opened it, my mom and I prayed over the letter. She said, “If you didn’t get it, God will open another door for you to follow His plan.” I did get the scholarship, and God continued to open doors to make clear the path of ministry. After seminary at Perkins, I had the opportunity to serve three years in the British Methodist Church in England, where I met my husband. That was one of the best doors God opened for me. I was appointed in one of the poorest areas of that country. During those years I grew spiritually and depended on God more than I ever had allowed myself. I learned about the relational aspect of ministry, how people are so much more important than programs. I learned about commitment and humility from the clergy there, giving their best to a struggling church. I learned
One disciple’s story:
the meaning of ecumenical, because my closest friends were an Anglican vicar and Catholic priest. We were all trying to do ministry Thompson-Goggs together; there was no competition. Serving overseas taught me to be less ambitious and to trust the Holy Spirit more than myself. Now I am in my seventh year at Hennessey. In all of my appointments, I have been blessed with great lay people who have taught me about faith and serving and have given me much grace in my growing pains. I also have been blessed on this journey by people who guide me with wisdom that comes from years in the ministry of the Church. A pastor has the great responsibility and opportunity to remind people of the sacred in everyday life. What an amazing calling! The ah-ha moment where life and faith intersect causes me to rejoice. It is an honor that I can say to people, “Let’s pray about this right now,” and it doesn’t seem awkward or unnatural. I have been surprised how easily I can lose my joy if I don’t revisit often why I followed the call to ministry and my love for God. It also is easy to lose devotion time with God and instead busy myself with the tasks of ministry. The Church needs clergy who inspire hope, joy, love, and faith; we must continue to stay connected to our Source of those gifts. A sign hangs above my desk: “The Kingdom comes when I make at least one person’s life better every day.” I hope I make a difference as a disciple every day. Listen to God’s Spirit speaking to your spirit. Trust your call and your identity as a child of God. Look for the doors that open. Ordained Elder Robyn Thompson-Goggs serves Hennessey UMC, Enid District.
Robyn Thompson-Goggs 12
Women of the Word
One disciple’s story:
Gloria McGee-Denton I had grand plans By Gloria McGee-Denton
Literally weeping in awe and humility at every Ordination
prayer of a pastor carries such comfort to some. I’m surprised at how easily I genuinely love the members of my ministries, how I’m constantly challenged by the passion and enthusiasm of my Wesley Center students, and how I so often wish I could sit at the feet of some of the matriarchs in my church and let them teach me. I also am surprised at how expensive seminary is, how much paperwork there is, how the want-list and need-list of a ministry can be so long—and how God always seems to provide for the need-right-now items. I’ve got tons of advice for others, female or male, who may be considering a career in ministry. A few I think are helpful:
Service I’ve ever attended.
Handing a thirsty person a cold drink of water or driving a
know the shepherd’s voice, we must know the voice of the Lord.
nail in a homeless person’s new house.
If you don’t know that it’s God’s voice you heard lead you into
hat are some of my greatest joys?
Placing bread in someone’s hand and saying the words, “The body of Christ, broken in love for you.”
Hearing children retell stories of their faith.
That moment in a meeting (no kidding) when someone
Laying a water-soaked hand on the head of a 77-year-old and
suddenly believes all things are possible with God. telling him, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Getting paid to love God and love others—what a life! Some days I look around and just can’t believe I am a clergywoman. I wasn’t raised in church or in a Christian family, so ministry didn’t even exist to me when I was younger. I had grand plans for my life—to be a war correspondent, a heart surgeon, a foreign ambassador, even a race car driver. Once I accepted Jesus as Lord and Leader of my life, at age 14, none of those were as exciting or important anymore. Nothing at all but sharing Christ with others was worth my whole life. And so it was at age 17 that I gave myself to be used for God’s will and work in whatever form that might take. My mom wanted me to be a writer or lawyer. My dad wanted me to be a stockbroker or find a cure for cancer. I sometimes feel my family doesn’t know what to do with me as a pastor, but they never tried to talk me out of it. I’ve planted seed; I’ve watered; I’ve even been part of the harvest. God has always been the source of growth. But there’s always more planting, watering, and harvesting to do, so any difference I’ve made pales in comparison to the difference I want to make. I’m surprised at how people continue to invite me into their lives in such significant ways, and how the presence or
Just as sheep are able to follow the shepherd because they
this work, it will be hard to stick with it. Other voices have told me I’m too conservative or too liberal, too tough or too soft, not gifted enough, not a real pastor because I’m a woman. This tells us a lot about our preconceived notions of gender, race, and ministry. 2.
Go ahead and let yourself fall in love with your work—and then find a way not to work all the time.
3. A pastor’s life can become very complicated. Faced with the need to multitask and work miracles and please everyone and achieve world peace, keep it simple. Visiting Palestine a few years ago, I was overwhelmed by the oppression, and asked God how I was to respond to both needs of the world and of my community. Loud and clear, God provided the answer: Feed my sheep. I trust that in growing God’s people I make the impact God intends. 4. Don’t even try to go it alone. Probationary Elder Gloria McGeeDenton leads UM campus ministry at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Durant, and serves Colbert UMC, Ardmore District.
OKC bombing survivor sends a message By Boyce Bowdon
Three Oklahoma women are current members of worldwide Church committees: Rev. Blesville Yap of Bartlesville and Donna Roberts of Tulsa, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, and Judy Benson of Frederick, The Connectional Table. (Journal, 2008 South Central Jurisdictional Conference)
early 15 years have passed since a bomb destroyed the federal building in downtown Oklahoma City, killing at least 168 people, injuring about 700, and changing forever the lives of thousands more. Ruth Schwab, a member of First United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, remembers. She was there. And she has a message for us. “April 19, 1995, began as one of those gorgeous spring mornings we often have in Oklahoma,” Ruth recalls. “The sun was shining. It was a little bit brisk, but not cold.” For 23 years, she had worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. She was development representative for Native American programs. “I helped Indian families secure funding to build homes,” she explains. “I loved my job. When the topic of retirement came up around the office coffee pot, I remarked that I planned on becoming the oldest living HUD employee.” In 1995, Ruth was recently divorced and raising five children. The oldest was a student at Cameron University in Lawton. The others—ages 9, 11, 13, and 15—lived with her. On the morning of April 19, two of her children had caught the bus to junior high, and she had taken the others to elementary school. “I was running a few minutes ahead of my usual schedule,” Ruth says. “As I drove toward our office, I was humming a tune and thinking, ‘God’s in his heaven. All’s right with the world.’” Her supervisor, Sherry Hunt, was attending a meeting in Washington, D.C., leaving Ruth as acting chief of the department. “Sherry had a paid parking space under our building, and let me use it when she was gone. So, I parked in her space and took the elevator to the HUD office on the eighth floor. I signed in at 8:58. Usually, I signed in about 9:15. Since I was getting to work a little early, I could leave by 5:30 and get home in time for Casey’s ball practice.” Four minutes later—at 9:02—Ruth was seated at her desk. A co-worker told her to return a call from Sherry in Washington as soon as possible. While dialing, Ruth also reached to turn on her computer. “The instant I touched the computer, there was a horrendous boom,” Ruth says. “For a split second I thought my computer had exploded. Then it seemed like I was being hurled down a dark, black tube.” People 55 miles away felt and heard that boom. But Ruth’s computer didn’t cause it. A 4,700-pound bomb had been detonated in a rental truck parked as close to the building as Timothy McVeigh could get it. The bomb blew off more than a third of the face of the nine-story building. Ruth’s desk was less than 20 feet from the part ripped off by the blast. When Ruth regained consciousness, she was on the floor, bleeding profusely from lacerations, especially to her face, neck, and arms. Both eyes had been cut by shards of glass that pelted her. “I couldn’t see anything,” Ruth recalls. “I hollered, ‘Is anybody there?’ “The sweetest voice I’d ever heard answered back. It was my co-worker, V.Z. Lawton.
Women of the Word “When he got to me, V.Z. gave me his hanky, typical of the gentleman he is, and said, ‘Stay right here. I’m going to try to find us a way out.’ “He came back right away, helped me stand up, and we started inching our way through debris. Pretty soon, we met another co-worker. He joined us and helped V.Z. move debris. We got to the stairs on the east side of the building. I walked on my own strength a few feet. Not being able to see was a blessing in a way—I was spared from seeing the horrible sights. We didn’t get far down the stairs before we were blocked by debris that we couldn’t move or get around. But right away rescue workers made it up the stairs to us. They lifted me over the debris and carried me out of the building.” Ruth was rushed to Presbyterian Hospital. The cuts she suffered required more than 200 stitches. She was given four units of blood. Doctors from nearby Dean McGee Eye Institute—who had gone to the hospital to help—cared for her. They doubted her right eye could be saved, but held out hope for the left eye and did all they could to repair it. She went into surgery at 10:30 and came out about eight hours later. After three days in the hospital, Ruth was released. Her
sister and brother-in-law drove her home. “The day after I got home, I was telling my kids about my friends who were killed in the building. Evidently, the swelling in my left eye had gone down a little. All of a sudden I could see something. It looked like polka dots. In a few seconds, my vision cleared up some more, and I could tell I was seeing flowers and balloons all over the room. I knew I was going to be able to see again.” The balloons were in celebration of Ruth’s 47th birthday. She had lots to celebrate. The following week, Ruth had another eye exam. Specialists were pleased she was regaining vision in her left eye, but they confirmed her right eye could not be saved. They replaced it with a prosthetic eye that looked and moved naturally. “The area around my right eye keeps changing,” Ruth explains, “That means the prosthetic eye has to be changed from time to time. I guess I’ve had a dozen replaced.” Ruth has had other surgeries to repair severe damages to her jaw and to remove extensive scars. Since the bombing, Ruth has remarried. She says she is having fun again with family and friends. She is on the praise Continued on page 16
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Ruth Schwab visits the Oklahoma City National Memorial outdoor site. A dear friend and co-worker was one of those killed in the 1995 bombing.
schools and churches that cared for her kids; and people all over the world who prayed for her and for others who were hurting. When Ruth got home from the hospital, friends brought so much food she ran out of room to store it. She says, “It was such an outpouring of love, and it brought me comfort.” Taped to one casserole bowl was a card with Scripture written on it: “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal” (Jeremiah 30:17). Ruth peeled the card off the bowl and stuck it on her refrigerator where she could see it often. “I left the card on the refrigerator for years. It reassured me God would heal me. Praise God, he did heal me,” she exclaims. “When some people hear I was in the bombing, they ask if I was hurt. They are surprised when I tell them my face and neck and arm were cut terribly and that I lost my right eye. They say they could never tell. I just laugh and tell them when God heals you, he does a really good job.” Ruth points out that she needed emotional healing as much as physical healing. “Some people are afraid to say they are hurting emotionally because they are afraid people might think they are less of a Christian than they should be. That’s baloney! Humans hurt, and Christians are humans. We have bad days, just like everybody else.” Ruth says one source of her emotional distress was her struggle to understand why God permitted so many dreadful things to happen. Here are some questions she weighed: “Why did God allow Timothy McVeigh to blow up the Murrah Federal Building and cause so much pain and suffering for so many of us? “If I hadn’t gotten to work 15 minutes earlier than usual that morning, I wouldn’t have been in the building when it was bombed. Did God want me to be there for some reason? If he did, why? “Thirty-three of my co-workers at HUD— including one of my dearest friends—were killed in the bombing. Some were much better Christians than I am. Why did God take them and leave me?” Today Ruth has stopped wallowing in questions no mortal can answer. “When I get to heaven, I’ve got a long list of questions to ask God,” she quips. “But when I get there, the questions that once bothered me so much won’t matter to me any more.” Photos by Boyce Bowdon
team at First Church and on a special team that prays for the pastor. “God has made me whole: body, mind, and soul,” Ruth says. “He’s worked through so many people.” She says those who helped include co-workers; rescue workers who crawled through the devastated building, knowing it might collapse at any moment; surgeons and other medical personnel;
Women of the Word She points out that, over time, God helped her realize it’s OK for her to admit she’s hurting and it’s OK for her to admit she can’t understand why things happen that she thinks God shouldn’t let happen. “I have accepted that I’m human,” she says with a smile. A Christian counselor helped Ruth and her children work through troublesome emotional issues. Friends stood by her. And she says God used another source to help her heal: The Bible. “Sometimes in the middle of the night I would need help. Another surgery was coming up the next day or something else had me down. When I had times like that, I didn’t want to call a friend and disturb them. And I didn’t have to. My Bible was always there for me, and I turned to it lots of times. When I really got into the Word, God made it real to me. Passages became lifelines I could hold onto, and God used them to pull me through.” Here are some passages Ruth says were especially helpful: Psalms 46:13, Genesis 50:20, John 16:33, Philippians 4:8-9 and 4:11-14.
Ruth says it’s still painful for her to think about the bombing. She says her reason for sharing her story in this magazine is not to rehash her pain. “Any good that can come from the bombing, I want it to come, and if I can help someone else by telling what God has done for me, I welcome the opportunity. My goal is for God to get the glory He deserves.” Ruth is clear about the message she hopes to send. “Lots of people are hurting from all kinds of losses. I want to say to them, ‘God pulled me through when it looked like there was no hope for me. I don’t know what situation you are in, but I know this: God can pull you through, too. He can heal you and make you whole.’”
Rev. Dr. Boyce Bowdon, retired Oklahoma Conference director of communications, continues a freelance writing career.
Commission works for all women Connie Taylor reported Oklahoma Conference’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) has undertaken new activities and approved a new logo, shown at left. The group plans at the 2010 Annual Conference to present embroidered stoles to the newly ordained deacons and elders, and embroidered certificates to those newly commissioned. The items are created by a cottage industry at Cookson Hills Center. COSROW initiated giving such gifts at the 2009 conference. Rev. Taylor said COSROW leaders also are working to recruit commission members from each district. “In order to highlight what women are doing, we felt district representatives can keep us better informed and report on not just clergywomen but women leadership in the churches,” she said. “Our focus is as advocates for the rights of all women.” Taylor, who chairs COSROW and is the pastor at Cleveland and Hominy churches, Stillwater District, recently reviewed some clergy statistics in Oklahoma. She tracked back almost 10 years. “Numbers teach us things,” she said. In Oklahoma Conference across that time span, the number of female pastors increased from 8 to 11 among the 100 churches with highest salaries, Taylor said. Among the top 30 based on salaries, the number of women as senior pastors remained steady: one. She also noted three district superintendents are female and a number of women lead Conference boards and committees. Taylor reported 23 percent of ordained elders are female, Taylor according to the 2009 Oklahoma Conference Journal statistics. “We have a lot of good examples of women in leadership. We can educate people about what great work our women are doing,” she said. “I think leadership selections should be based on gifts, experience, and education, not anatomy.” She said the General COSROW organization site has useful Internet resources that can be downloaded, including Bible studies and slide presentations. Go to www.gcsrw.org. —Holly McCray
From my darkest hour, God called
By Earleen Reedy
t was from my darkest hour that God called me into service as a clergywoman, providing the comfort, joy, and wholeness for which I longed. My husband was serving the Avant United Methodist Church at the time of his unexpected death. The congregation encouraged me to begin the process that would allow me to stay in ministry with them. After much prayer and consultation with our district superintendent, I attended the Conference licensing school and am currently enrolled in the Course of Study program at Saint Paul’s School of Theology. However, it is evident God began preparing me for ministry years earlier. As a teenager, I was active in the leadership of the Methodist Youth Fellowship and, as a young adult, served on committees in my church. I completed the course for Lay Speaker. And United Methodist Women had a major role in this journey. As a district and conference UMW officer, I was provided training opportunities that helped develop my leadership gifts and encouraged me to grow spiritually. Through these experiences I sensed a call to ministry. I began working toward a college degree, with the intention of going on to seminary. Full-time employment and raising children slowed my educational pursuit, and I redirected my time and energy in the ministry of all believers. So, 24 years later, when asked to consider serving in the pulpit ministry, I rejoiced at the opportunity. I’d been a part of the Avant congregation since 1988, and I began serving as pastor in 1999. After many years as a pastor’s spouse, I had a pretty good understanding about what is involved in being a pastor. I was somewhat surprised by how
One disciple’s story:
Earleen Reedy 18
Pastor Earleen Reedy is also treasurer for the City of Avant.
natural the move from laity to clergy felt to me. We have a history together at Avant that seems to lessen challenges between pastor and laity. Communication can be challenging; because we are a small congregation, it is easy to think everyone knows what is going on. This is far from true, and misunderstandings can be the result! I do recall that, shortly after I began serving, someone asked me a difficult theological question. My response was along the lines of: You wouldn’t have expected me to know that just three weeks ago. It made me aware that when you hold the title of clergy, regardless of how recently bestowed, people expect you will have answers. I always come from the Bishop’s Retreats and the Orders’ Meetings with new physical and spiritual energy. And though my yearly appearance before the District Board of Ministry can bring anxiety, once I am in that circle, receiving their prayers for my ministry, I am overwhelmed with nurture and support. Some of my greatest joys are the people God has placed in my life. Working with children is delightful. It is a wonderful feeling to have a young child respond with something that confirms they truly get it. Present with people during their darkest hours, I often look to the words of Paul: “The God of all comfort, who comforts
Women of the Word
us in all of our troubles so that we may comfort others, sharing with them what we have received from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4, my paraphrase). As a bi-vocational pastor, I am also the town clerk/ treasurer of our community, population about 400. This
position at City Hall enables me to have contact with lots of individuals. It is not unusual for me to have prayer with someone coming in to pay a utility bill or just stopping to visit. I’m blessed that people feel welcome to share their concerns as freely at this place of business as they would within the church—maybe even more so, for some are reluctant of organized religion. It is never too late to respond to God’s call! I cannot imagine a more rewarding career. Local Pastor Earleen Reedy serves Avant UMC, Bartlesville District.
P assages 1878:
Avant UMC has been Earleen Reedy’s church home since 1988.
Photos by Anita Reding of the Skiatook Journal
Oklahoma laywomen began organizing for mission as early as 1878. Elizabeth Fulton Hester established the Woman’s Connectional Society in Indian Territory, at Boggy Depot, as part of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
Three women recognized in the early 1900s for ministry in the Methodist Protestant Church in Oklahoma: Maud B. Ford, ordained in 1918, and Winona A. Hill, in 1934; and Flora Bell Jennings, who entered ministry in 1933. (Research by Christina Wolf, Oklahoma Conference archivist)
Mary Gaudreau, center, serves disaster rations for lunch during a Spiritual and Emotional Care Team training event in the Southwest Texas Conference.
Deacon offers Christian caring amid crises By Holly McCray
n 2009, Mary Hughes-Gaudreau of Guthrie worked in 14 states, providing spiritual and emotional care as a national disaster consultant for UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief). In the first month of 2010, she was anticipating a new assignment: to southern Florida, where refugees were arriving after an earthquake in Haiti. She also was grieving for her UMCOR co-workers killed in that quake. Tragedy is pervasive in Rev. Gaudreau’s work. Her response is to move toward it, to help those suffering because of it. Some might be overwhelmed by such ministry amid crises. Instead, Mary is blessed. “I have seen the wonder that happens in the midst of great difficulty,” she said. “I have seen people get better. I keep hearing testimony from people dealing with great challenge. In the midst of that, they see how God is working in wonderful ways. To watch the resilience, dignity, and grace of people as they walk through tragedy is powerful.” She continued, “For me, coincidences or serendipity or God-incidents are fairly important in crisis situations. I watch for them because they give us hope. They don’t keep us from walking through the difficult times, but they mark the path for us a little at a time.” Hughes-Gaudreau Hers is a highly specialized ministry. Yet Mary said she has long known she was called to serve God by combining the social sciences and a Church career.
Women of the Word Perhaps her birthday was a portent. Mary is the daughter of Audell and the late Rev. Clayton Hughes. Her birth coincided with an Oklahoma Annual Conference and involved a last-minute scramble to locate her father. “Growing up, I spent every birthday at Annual Conference, or at my grandparents’ house and they announced my birthday at Conference. Many times I stood by the fountain at St. Luke’s, looking at the clock for 7:27 in the evening,” she said. At age 19, she worked as an associate youth minister. She majored in Religion at Oklahoma City University and earned a Master of Divinity from Phillips Theological Seminary. She also worked for United Methodist Counseling Services in Oklahoma City. Mary is a licensed professional counselor and an ordained United Methodist deacon. “As people of faith, we live in this tension between the reality of suffering and our belief that suffering is not the final word,” Mary said. “I feel so blessed to be able to work with an agency that is called upon to respond to some of the most difficult situations that individuals, congregations, annual conferences, and communities endure.” Mary and her husband, Jeff, a speech pathologist, have three children. Daniel, 24, is a member of Tulsa-St. Paul’s UMC; Stephen, 22, and Lauren 19, are students at Oklahoma State University. “We make it work,” Mary said about parenting and her unpredictable work schedule. Her longest deployment, three weeks, occurred after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. Among her 2009 assignments were ministry in southern Oklahoma, after a tornado at Lone Grove, and in Iowa, after flooding. More recent work has focused on disaster preparedness and training nationally. Mary’s leadership has united complex personalities and surmounted faith barriers. Last year she chaired a group with representatives from about 50 national organizations involved in disaster response. Its name: the National VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) Emotional and Spiritual Care Committee. She said the committee’s work brought her joy. A statement of consensus by the group secured unanimous approval by the National VOAD membership. “This committee is broadly interfaith—United Methodist, Presbyterian, Jewish, Buddhist, Scientologist, Southern Baptist—as well as subject-matter experts on the National Guard, Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, and mental health. It’s a fascinating mix of people,” Mary explained. “We accomplished 10 points of consensus on the way we will behave together in settings. One of my great joys was to watch that group join together because it’s about the people we serve and not about us. We did that by building trust across the barriers, being honest about our differences, and by
remaining focused on what’s really important. I’m astounded by the servant hearts that came to the surface in that process.” She concluded, “I’m blessed with opportunities to work across denomination and faith lines, and to work with the thought-leaders of spiritual and emotional care across the nation.” Numerous United Methodist groups have turned to Mary for training as spiritual and emotional caregivers. She recalled one of the more unusual settings for that training: a cinderblock building with a sawdust floor, at a Georgia campground built in 1823. And last year there was the retreat held on a 65-foot schooner, sailing Gulf waters. Four years after Hurricane Katrina, UM recovery workers in Mississippi asked Mary to lead their “50,000-mile spirit check.” “I noticed storm clouds brewing and the captain studying them,” Mary said. “He followed an odd navigation pattern; I realized he was skirting the worst of the storm, so we missed the worst of the downpours. He was able to negotiate us through that, and all we had to do was trust him.” The God imagery was unmistakeable. Mary ignored her agenda. “There were dolphins swimming beside us. The captain’s son jumped out and swam with them. I am still astounded by the God-incidents that happen, and I hope to always be.”
Following Hurricane Katrina, national disaster consultant Mary Gaudreau, right, surveys damage with Rev. Terry Hilliard of Mississippi.
My first years were lonely By Holly McCray
P assages Ross
U.S. women comprise 44 percent of the membership on toplevel United Methodist boards and agencies.* Overall membership in U.S. churches is almost 60 percent women.*
hen Susan Ross began study for ordained ministry, she was one of only six women in the seminary’s Class of 1972. And during her early years as a pastor, walking into the Clergy Session at Annual Conference felt to her like walking into a fraternity meeting. More than 30 years later, “it’s no longer a fraternity meeting,” she said recently. “Now lots of churches have had the experience of a female pastor. It brings me joy to know that little girls growing up in churches I’ve served will always know they can be pastors.” Rev. Ross is among the first ordained clergywomen in Oklahoma Conference. She has encountered some challenges as a woman in career ministry, and she has advice for people considering God’s call. Ross said she did not know any women who were pastors when a friend in high school questioned her desire to become a missionary. That was in the mid-1960s, and her activities beyond the school day were centered in the youth group at Lawton’s Centenary United Methodist Church. The friend thought Ross should consider becoming a pastor. Ross went to Oklahoma City University and then attended an event at Saint Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Mo. Among the speakers was Theressa Hoover, who for many years held the top staff position in the Women’s Division of the Church’s General Board of Global Ministries. Ross described, “It was a powerful experience for me. I had a revelation that I’d be in seminary if I was a guy. Then I thought: Why is that holding you back?” Within days, the public-school English teacher met with a seminary official. But she encountered a roadblock. Remember, her quest began in the early ’70s. An admissions official tried to talk her out of her decision. She was required to take a test—and clergywoman was not one of the career categories listed. Ross convinced the official that ordained ministry truly was what she wanted to do. Her first assignment after seminary was as an associate at Ponca City-First UMC. Ross said she found the senior pastor “very willing” to let go of assumptions that a woman should only work with women and children. Ross also was the first ordained woman elected as a clergy delegate to Jurisdictional Conference. But after divorcing her clergyman husband, Ross was told by a clergy leader that “I couldn’t run for General Conference because my slate wasn’t clean any more,” she remembered. “Of my early years in ministry, the most difficulty was with leaders within the Church structure and less with lay people.” The single mom is a grandparent now. Her children, in their 30s, live in Stillwater and Dallas, and she has three grandchildren. Ross has co-chaired the Oklahoma Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women. During her tenure, the group advocated for inclusive language.
Women of the Word She helped design and lead a celebration at the 2006 Annual Conference that marked 50 years of ordained ministry by Methodist women. “My first five years were pretty lonely,” Ross said. “There were very few of us (clergywomen). Several women who were Local Pastors were very helpful and supportive … Today the ministry has changed so much. Most of the time I’ve felt I was in partnership with people.” She talked of a laywoman “coming to my defense” when they followed up with a Sunday morning visitor who got out the Bible to argue Ross’ calling was wrong. “People are afraid of what they don’t know and don’t understand,” Ross said. “It’s clear to me that my call is from God and God’s intent is for all human beings to equally share in ministry.”
Walking with people through the events in their lives is one of her greatest joys as a pastor, Ross said. “Being there for them in both priestly and pastoral ways brings me fulfillment.” She advised others considering God’s call, “Keep listening. Talk to people who are in ministry. Listen to people and hear them, but also listen to your own heart. Let the place in your heart where God speaks also be a part of that listening.”
Ordained as an elder in 1977, Susan Ross serves Skedee and Pawnee-First UMC, Stillwater District.
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Sickness is a temporary inconvenience By Barbara Brown
hen I told him that God had called me to full-time ministry and that I was enrolling in seminary, my father replied, “If God has called you and you know He has called you, then you’d better be found doing what He’s called you to do.” That is what I would share with anyone who aspires to ministry. My journey to ordained pastoral ministry began when I was about 8 years old. (It’s a long story.) From that experience, I knew I was called to teach and, in every aspect of my life, there has been an element of teaching, even when I was employed by the Army. God called me to preach in my 20s; I tried to make it teach, reach—anything but preach. God has a sense of humor, though; as soon as I vocalized my objections, I started seeing women in pastoral ministry everywhere. In my 30s, I accepted God’s call. My immediate family was a little skeptical initially. And there were some relatives and friends who thought I should have my head examined for leaving my career in the federal government. Attending and graduating from seminary was a means to have my call validated. I was ordained as an elder in 1996. I felt a seminary education was necessary in order to withstand the resistance in the Christian community toward women pastors. Most surprising is that there is still resistance. In the years I have been in ministry, I have met people who were very vocal about how they felt about women preachers. I made the choice to obey God rather than man. Another challenge has been my health. In 1995 my kidneys failed. I became extremely ill while I was the pastor at Paul’s Chapel in Hugo. In a Paris, Texas, hospital, I awoke to hear myself saying, “The trying of my faith works patience in me, but I will let patience have her perfect work, that I may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing” (James 1: 3-4). Over and over, I sang the first phrase of that Scripture. I also remember hearing, “This is a temporary
inconvenience.” Those two memories and confessing the Word of God have seen me through peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis, lots of hospital Brown visits, catheter replacements, blood transfusions, two transplants, and more. BUT God has kept His promise to be with me. I chose not to see myself as a sick person, and my confession was and is positive. I am the healed of the Lord. Sickness is a temporary inconvenience. I think the difference I have made as Christ’s disciple has been within my congregations, through preaching and Bible study, encouraging and seeing people grow spiritually. I have discipled congregations to take God’s word and translate it into practical, day-to-day applications. Over eight weeks last year in the churches I serve, we focused on Biblical Financial Study. This helped participants develop personal plans for evaluating their financial responsibilities, incremental saving, and getting out of debt. The members of both churches I serve in Muskogee provide me with joy and fulfillment. It is a blessing the way they work together and care for one another, including the homebound. The congregations are emphatic about contributing 100 percent to the Apportionment and take active part in mission support and community activities. They have been instrumental in encouraging me, too—and helping me play. Sometimes I forget to do that. I rejoice that both churches have had numeric growth; I also rejoice that they desire to grow spiritually as well.
Ordained Elder Barbara Brown of Muskogee serves both Spencer and Honor Heights UMCs.
One disciple’s story:
Barbara Brown 24
Women of the Word
One disciple’s story:
Adonna Bridges This journey is not about you By Adonna Bridges
ecause of the love of many people and my answer to Christ’s calling, I came to be a clergywoman. The calling of Christ came when I was a youth, serving as a Sunday school teacher in the Fletcher United Methodist Church. That church was our strength and spiritual haven as my grandparents and other family participated in following Christ’s great commission. I attempted to serve Christ through a 20-year lay worker’s career. I was a middle- and high-school teacher in a variety of curriculum areas, directed a religious education program, and journeyed as a military wife. Our home was a Christ-filled place as my husband, Popcorn, and I raised two sons and completed first careers. Throughout, Christ was patient, but firm that I was to give my total life to answering the call. Serving as Lawton District Lay Speaker encouraged me to give time to prayer. When I retired from public education, the right thing was to say yes to full-time ministry. My two sons and their families are supportive of everything I desire to do in the Church. Now that I am widowed, they do question me about driving the curving, hilly roads to Gracemont late at night from hospital visits in Oklahoma City. It seems weird they worry about me that way —I used to do the same thing when they drove to college at night. In the years I have served here we have become a busy church: studying, fellowship, evangelism, hospitality, and supporting district and Conference activities. The greatest joys have been to witness and share the good news of a risen Savior. A super moment during my first year was the baptism of a pair of children: a boy, age 3, and girl, 2 weeks old. All
the baptism moments have been sacred. Each newly baptized member is so special and brings such joy as he or she grows in Christ. Assigned as a pastor who is female, my initial thought was I would have to work at winning the support of the congregation. Momentarily, I had forgotten that the pastorate was always God’s plan for me. But God is so good. There was an immediate warmth and love, and I felt welcomed. The ladies of the church even helped me move in and straighten up the parsonage, and their hospitality is still boundless. A letter by a church’s pastor from another denomination came to me in my role as Ministerial Alliance leader. He said he would not participate in the alliance with a woman as a member. It was a while before I could forgive and smile at him whenever I met him. God continues to tell me that the final word will be the word of God. You must be patient, be a good listener, and keep a sense of humor. I hope no one who goes into the ministry expects to learn everything in one session of class. This journey is not about you; it is about the connective Church and God’s divine plan. It involves far more than a single experience or one person’s desires. There are many involved in all forms of ministry, and God will show the way to each one.
Local Pastor Adonna Bridges of Fletcher serves Gracemont UMC, Lawton District.
I give the credit to god
By Randa Norman
fter my husband, Bill, entered the ministry in 1976, a whole new world opened for me. I had been teaching and raising our children. The older children had married (our youngest son was still at home). I had time to pursue some opportunities available to me. One of those was United Methodist Women. I became active in the local UMW unit, then at the district level, and eventually the Conference level. I was given many opportunities to study, teach, and lead. I led retreats, taught in Cooperative Christian Schools of Mission, and spoke on numerous occasions. In January 1992, my husband suffered a massive aneurysm. For weeks, he teetered between life and death. Bill recovered, but his health remained fragile. Had the ministry ended just as he was to be ordained? Had all those years of schooling been for naught? In July 1993, I was teaching a study of Matthew at the School of Missions when I received a call from District Superintendent Joe Harris. The outcome: I accepted an assignment to lead two smaller churches in the southern part of the state. Asked what I would preach, I responded, “I don’t know, but it will have to be from Matthew, since that is all I’ve done all year.” I turned to the lectionary—and found that, from August through Advent, the Gospel readings were from Matthew! At the churches, I discovered I was the first female pastor in the region. I learned of three men in the congregations who were refusing to accept a woman as pastor. The wives of two urged them to give me a chance, and those men became two of my strongest laity partners in ministry. One ultimately entered
One disciple’s story:
Randa Norman 26
career ministry himself. Across about five years, the third man also came to accept my ministry. At his request, I was at his Norman bedside at the time of his death. I give all the credit to God. While serving eight years at those two churches, 43 people were received through professions of faith. The churches’ support for the Scouting programs earned the Bishop’s Award of Excellence five times, and all the Boy Scouts who were active in the churches when I arrived earned their Eagle awards. Bill and I both officially retired in 2001. Then I served as pastor at Redemption United Methodist Church in Ardmore, before we eventually moved to the Oklahoma City metro. We now attend OKC-First United Methodist Church, where we have served Communion in the chapel and I teach adult Sunday school and work with Celebrate Recovery. Bill volunteers one day each week at Skyline Urban Ministry’s McKee Center. I will continue to use my God-given talents as long as I have breath; I cannot do anything else. I would rather wear out than rust out.
Randa Norman of Edmond is a retired Local Pastor.
Giving to God first By Kristin E. Van Nort Last year John and Tawyna McCammon were like most American families. They had a car payment, several credit cards in their pocketbooks, and anxiously awaited each paycheck so the bills could be paid and groceries could be bought. John and Tawyna both worked. However, John seemed to work all the time, taking any chance at overtime to earn extra money, trying to get a little ahead, but just getting by. The McCammons’ pastor, Rev. Michael Fletcher-Taylor, preached a sermon on The McCammon family: Tawyna and John and their giving to God first. John and Tawyna wanted to tithe children Brayden and Mackenzie and occasionally did, but most of the time there was nothing left once the bills were paid. noticed a big difference since her parents took FPU. There is As the economy began to turn, John was laid off from his a lack of stress in the house, her parents no longer fight over job, creating more stress and less money for his family. However, money, and there is room in the family budget for extras for God was working and moving in their lives even during this Mackenzie and her younger brother, Brayden, who is 2. difficult time. “Tithing has made all the difference in the world. It’s the At their pastor’s urging, John and Tawyna signed up for love and joy we receive from giving that has made the most Financial Peace University (FPU), a 13-week financial literacy difference in our lives,” said John and Tawyna, smiling. program. They had never heard of the program or the author “I know we are not where we want to be financially, but we Dave Ramsey, but knew they could benefit from the class. are getting there. We are on the right track,” continued Tawyna. “It’s amazing how one little class will change everything,” “We are in charge of our money. Our money is no longer said John. “We made a commitment to tithe after the first week,” controlling us.” said Tawyna. “When we give to God first, the money is always there for everything else.” In the several months since the class, the McCammons have paid off more than $5,000 in debt and saved $1,000 in their emergency fund. “We paid off my car and eight credit cards since taking Financial Peace,” said Tawyna. “We stick to the budget every month.” If your church is interested in hosting a Financial Peace Not only have John and Tawyna gotten control of their University class, contact Mike Wiley at the Foundation. We also finances, they also have become more involved in their church, offer Equip, which takes FPU to the next level and teaches your St. Matthew’s United Methodist in Tulsa. entire congregation the importance of being debt-free and “We only attended on Sundays before, but now we are here the biblical principles of financial freedom. Financial Peace three or four times a week helping and doing activities,” said University and Equip are available to any congregation and John. have the potential to change the giving culture of your church. Tawyna now teaches senior high Sunday school while John plays in the worship band. John also serves on the board of trustees and chairs the Radical Hospitality Committee. “We are closer as a family now, too,” John added. John formerly worked 70-80 hours per week, seeing his children through photos and videos and talking through text messages. He had difficulty sleeping at night, missed family holidays, worried about money, and often argued with Tawyna about money. 4201 Classen Boulevard “One night I told God, ‘If you can do it better than me, go Oklahoma City, OK 73118 right ahead.’ Nothing has been the same since,” he said. (405)525-6863; 1-(800)259-6863 Mackenzie, John and Tawyna’s daughter who is 9, has
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