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Local Church Celebrates 50 Years of Women in Ministry

2006 is the 50th year that the Methodist denomination has been ordaining women to full elder clergy positions. On Sunday, Rev. Jeanne Knepper led her North Portland congregation in a special service remembering the struggle to win this access.
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."

University Park United Methodist Church | UMC Resources for 50 Years of Women Clergy | UM Reconciling Ministries Network | NW Community of Welcoming Congregations

Reverend Violet Bolliger, my Grandmother, was one of these Women in Ministry 10.Jul.2006 16:50

Wes Brain

Violet Annie (Littlefield) Bolliger

My Great Grandparents Harry Sherman Littlefield and Nettie Belle Hardesty met as employees of the Pendleton Woolen Mills and were married December 24, 1899. Their oldest child Violet Annie was born January 21, 1901 in Union, Oregon. Violet spent most of her childhood in the Portland area. She began pastoral work at the early age of 17 in Gifford, Idaho, while still attending high school.

Violet graduated from the North Pacific Evangelistic Institute, Portland, Oregon, and then Asbury College located in Wilmore, Kentucky. She also took additional studies at the University of Oregon , the Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas, and the Pacific School of Religion in Seattle, Washington.

On Easter Sunday in the year 1928 Violet married Rev. Paul Bolliger. He was born in the year 1903. Following her marriage, Violet was ordained a deacon in the North Indiana Conference of the Methodist Church in 1930. Paul Wesley, my Uncle Wes, was born June 2, 1929, and my Mother, Evangeline, was born July 2, 1931.

Rev. Paul Bolliger passed away August 15, 1946. He was Pastor of the Hoyt Street Methodist Church at the time of his death.

After her husband's death in 1946, Violet continued as Pastor at Hoyt Street Methodist Church. Later she served simultaneously as Pastor of the Errol Heights and Ellis Street Methodist Churches and subsequently was assigned to Methodist churches in Estadada, Shedd, Grants Pass, Talent, Gold Hill, and Sutherlin-Wilber. She was one of the first women ordained an elder in the United Methodist Oregon Conference.

After her 1971 retirement as a voted associate member of the Methodist Oregon-Idaho Conference, she returned to active service at churches in Reedsport and Gilchrest. She retired again in 1977 and lived in Portland. Grandma Violet Bolliger passed away June 14, 1984 at age 83.

One other interesting piece of history of this family tree on my Grandmother's side is the direct lineage to Roger Sherman who is my fifth Great Grandfather. Roger Sherman was a Senator from Connecticut. He can be seen on the back of a two dollar bill. Grandpa Sherman signed four documents: The Articles of Confederation, The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and The Bill of Rights. I quite imagine that Grandpa Sherman is rolling in his grave these days, but that is another story.

This information comes from "Generations of Littlefield Tracks Across America, A Family History" by Cassius C. Martin.

50 Years of Women as Methodist Clergy 13.Jul.2006 14:12

Deborah Maria

What a wonderful celebration University Park UMC had! I can imagine the lively discussion over issues past and present. I wish I had known in advance about the service...the topic. Thank you to the Rev. Dr. Knepper for bringing the special occasion to her congregation's attention.

50 Years of Women as Methodist Clergy 16.Jul.2006 14:46

David White davidwhitepdx@yahoo.com

I couldn't feel prouder of being a member of this wonderfull, diverse and unique congreation. It's truly a God sent to have both Marcia and Jeannie as my pastors.
Both Spirit-filled individuals!!!

David White
Education Chair
Lay Member to Annual Conference
University Park United Methodist Church
Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon