Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi reminded Western Pennsylvania clergywomen recently that the struggle for full clergy rights for women in the denomination was not easy – and “we still have a lot of work to do.”
The Bishop said female clergy and her district superintendents have told her that there are still churches in Western Pennsylvania where they are told that the congregation doesn't want a woman pastor or they don’t want a black person as pastor. "They speak this out of their mouths! In 2016!” the Bishop said.
“I also was told that there are some pastors in this annual Conference who preach from their pulpits that the Bible speaks against the ordination of women,” she added. “Now when we find that, we are going to correct it. We still have a lot of work to do!"
Bishop Moore-Koikoi was the speaker at a luncheon celebration of the 60th anniversary of full clergy rights for women in the denomination. It was sponsored by the WPAUMC Commission on the Status and Role of Women, chaired by Peggy Ward of Greenstone UMC. The event was held Nov. 9 at Salem UMC in Wexford.
"It’s not about promoting female pastors over male pastors,” the Bishop said. “It’s about the fact that we will not reach our God-given potential until ALL of us reach our God-given potential together. If one element of our population is discriminated against, is diminished, then we all are diminished," she emphasized.
Rev. Bob Zilhaver, who serves on the executive committee of the denomination's General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCOSROW), talked about an amendment to the denomination's Book of Discipline that was approved at the 2016 General Conference and will go before annual and central conferences for ratification in 2017 and 2018. Known as Paragraph 4, Article IV, for the part of the Discipline it amends, it is designed to prevent exclusion from church organizational units based on gender, age, ability or marital status. He provided a handout to explain the changes.
Zilhaver, a long-time advocate for women who have been victims of sexual misconduct, encouraged anyone affected by misconduct to contact GCOSROW's Director for Sexual Ethics and Advocacy, Becky Posey-Williams. Detailed information is available at UMSexualethics.org.
In her message, Bishop Moore-Koikoi noted that God has always used women to show who God is. She named several from the Bible, saying that she would be preaching to the choir if she told the clergywomen about:
Haggar, who had a revelation some would say that she was the first who had an experience with God and to know who God is and to declare it;
Deborah, who had to use her discernment and her wisdom from God and to help to rule and to judge the people;
Anna and how she went to the temple every day and how she prayed and how immediately when the baby was brought in she knew who the baby was and she declared who the baby was;
The woman at the well whose story converted a whole village;
The women who were disciples who were with Jesus even to the end.
“And you all know the stories of some of the women in this annual conference who God has been using to reveal God’s self and you know those stories…but you all know the struggle,” the Bishop added.
"John Wesley was kind of reluctant...,but when he saw the Holy Spirit moving in women," he said he'd let them preach, she pointed out.
In 1880, Anna Howard Shaw and Anna Oliver were refused ordination rights by the Methodist Episcopal General Conference, but Shaw, joined the Methodist Protestant Church and was ordained in the New York Annual Conference. In 1889 Ella Niswonger was the first woman ordained by the United Brethren Church.
But they were limited, Bishop Moore-Koikoi said. “They were ordained as local preachers. They didn’t have full rights, they didn’t itinerate, and they didn’t have benefits. They were limited in what they could do.
"At every single General Conference from1939 until 1956 the issue of women’s ordination was discussed on the floor," the Bishop pointed out. "In 1946, the Evangelical United Brethren Church actually said they were NOT going to ordain women.
“In 1956, women were given full rights as elders in the denomination, but you might not know about some of the discussion on the floor,” said the Bishop. “You might not know that prior to 1956, there were some individual annual conferences who voted to ordain women and give them their full rights as elders in defiance of the rules.
“In 1956 there were folks who got up on the floor and talked about tradition and scripture and how tradition and scripture prevented women from getting full rights. A female lay pastor, Mrs. Henry Adner argued against full clergy rights because, she said, Would you want a woman to be your bishop?”
“But in spite of the debate and largely in part because of the work of some of the women’s societies at the time, when the vote actually came to the floor women were given full rights!
"Today we are still working to have full rights,” she said. “Still there is a major difference in salaries of female clergy, whether deacons or elders, and male clergy – a huge gap. In our denomination, of the 177 churches that worship over 1,000, guess how many are led by women? Just 3! We still have a lot of work to do!"
In Western Pennsylvania in 2015, for example, the average cash compensation of the 30 highest paid female senior pastors was $47,910, while the average for the 30 highest paid male senior pastors was $73,336.
"I just happen to believe -- because I trust who God is -- that there are women in this room ... and out there...who have something unique and remarkable to say to the world about who God is," the Bishop said. "They have a voice that needs to be unleashed so that the world has a better understanding about who God is!”
**Jackie Campbell is communications director for the Western Pennsylvania Conference.