GCAH Reviews Whitely-Fields Book

WPA Commission on Archives and History

11/10/2021

 

The United Methodist Church's General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH) in its e-mail update occasionally includes reviews of books which are not scholarly journals, but are "worthy of note."T he November 2021 update included an article by Rev. Pat Thompson highlighting two books, one by a Western PA Conference clergywoman, the Rev. Josephine Whitely-Fields, and the other a collection of papers from two conferences in the United Kingdom.  The article is below. 
 
  • Women, Preachers, Methodists, John Lenton, Clive Murray Norris, Linda A. Ryan, eds. Oxford, UK: Oxford Center for Methodism and Church History, 2020. pp. 390. $19.84.
  • Josephine Whitely-Fields, Pioneer Black Clergywomen: Stories of Black Clergywomen of the United Methodist Church 1974–2016. Bloomington, IN: Westbrow Press, 2021. pp. 211. $17.05.
 
Although women have been a major part of Methodism and have had a major influence on Methodism since its origin over 300 years ago, it has only been within the last 50–75 years that there has been an intentional effort to recover the stories of these women and to examine carefully their influence on the denomination—especially the stories of women preachers, who have been present in Methodism since its outset but whose stories have rarely been told until recently.
 
No woman influenced the founders of the Methodist movement, John and Charles Wesley, more than their mother Susannah. The 350th anniversary of the birth of Susannah Wesley in 2019 was marked by two major conferences held in the UK to recognize this milestone. Women, Preachers, Methodists is the collection of papers presented at those two conferences including four papers focusing on Susannah Wesley—her history and our heritage, her political marriage, her views on female education and her views on women preaching. The next seven papers focus on several women preachers and their “extraordinary call” and how the acceptance (or not) of women’s preaching evolved over the past 300 years in the UK in Welsh Methodism, Primitive Methodism, Bible Christians and Wesleyan Methodism. The final three papers are reflections by three contemporary clergywomen.
 
Altogether these papers present an enlightening and inspiring picture of the rather astonishing number of women preachers who have been present in Methodism in the UK and how they overcame the many challenges that women preachers have had and still continue to confront as they answer their call from God.
 
In Pioneer Black Clergywomen, Josephine Whitely Fields interviews nine women (including her own story), asking them a set of questions which describe how their childhood and early years influenced them as they experienced and answered their call to the ordained ministry and how that call played out in their later years.
 
As in the stories of the women of the UK, these, too, are inspiring and enlightening and often untold stories of the difficulties which women of color have faced in the United States as they answered and lived out their call to preach, most often against difficult odds.  

In addition to the expected issues of racism and prejudice against women preachers (especially women of color), two experiences stood out for me in this book. First, in terms of deciding whether to answer the call to ordained ministry, several of the women addressed the issue of economics which was raised either by their families or which was of concern to them personally—that is, could they make a sustainable living on the salary they would receive as a clergywoman?
 
This concern went beyond the issue of whether women receive a lower salary than men to the issue of whether as clergy they would receive a salary commensurate with what they would receive as a physician/dentist or electrical engineer, for example. This is a sad commentary on the value which society places on the role of clergy in general.
 
Second, every one of these women expressed that one of the disciplines in their lives that has sustained them over the years of their ministry was that of a strong prayer life which enabled them to meet the on-going challenges of fulfilling their call. All nine of these women are incredible prayer warriors. 
 
The stories of all these women are an inspiration to anyone who may be considering answering the call to the ordained ministry and are an important addition to the history of women in the Methodist movement in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
 

 


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