Members of the University Park United Methodist Church read from transcripts of the May 7, 1956, meeting of the Methodist "General Conference" during which the vote and deliberations took place. The readers spoke not only the remarks, but also the names and jurisdictions of the speakers, as is tradition in Methodist governance, giving the remembrance a very personal feel.|
Rev. Knepper tied the excerpts together with historical details -- including the ironic selection of the hymn that convened the session as it prepared to vote: "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind."
Clergywomen have been part of Methodism since John Wesley licensed Sarah Crosby to preach in 1761. But before 1956, significant policy barriers existed that prevented their service from being matched with recognition and authority. According to "When Women Were Priests" by Karen Jo Torjesen, this constraining of women's leadership to a shrouded, semi-private sphere dates back to practices in the early church.
After the readings, women in the congregation who had served in some clergy capacity were invited to speak about their work. Of UP-UMC's small congregation, six women had served or were pursuing some form of ministerial work -- ranging from mission work in the Philippines to ministering at Assembly of God church in partnership with a husband. Today, nearly 12,000 United Methodist clergywomen serve in clergy positions of the the United Methodist Church at every level, from bishops to local pastors.
Rev. Knepper invited the congregation to compare the situation then concerning women's rights with the situation now concerning gay clergy. The United Methodist Church has waffled on the question of extending clergy rights to LGBT folks, and most recently defrocked several practicing gay clergy. University Park UMC is one of an ad-hoc group of Methodist churches that has taken matters into their own hands, declaring themselves to be supportive of the full inclusion of LGBT folks in the life of the church. In 2000, the congregation declared itself willing to employ an openly gay pastor, which paved the way for the appointments of Rev. Knepper and Rev. Marcia Hauer, both openly lesbian.
"The moment that we change a rule is not the moment that we change hearts," said Rev. Knepper Knepper. "But God has called us to this task -- this work of opening to the movement of Spirit."
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