Celebrating Clergywomen during Women’s History Month, Part 3

March 26, 2024 |

For Women’s History Month, the Rev. Julia Singleton shared in her essay last week responding clergywomen’s memorable “Wow” moments of their ministries. In part three this week, she shares their answers to her third question, “We owe so much to those who came before us. What woman inspired you in your journey?”

Rev. Grace Pak

“As an Asian clergywoman, because our ministry history in the UMC is very short, there were not many Asian clergywomen who have come before to pave the way for me,” answered the Rev. Grace Pak (left). “I and many Asian clergywomen have become trailblazers, being the firsts in our ministry settings, working very hard to prove to the local congregation, as well as to the system of the UM Conference, that we are called and capable.

“For me, my Asian clergywomen colleagues were and still are the ones who inspire and encourage me in my journey through their tenacity, resilience and passion for Christ and his Church.

Rev. Sooah Na

The Rev. Sooah Na said, “Feeling called by God, I engaged in theological studies during college. It was then that I realized the limited opportunities for women in ministry, often restricted to roles like children’s ministry. Even with a gift for worship leading and preaching, I was frequently steered towards these traditional roles. I prayed for guidance, asking God where God called me to serve.

“My desire to connect with a female pastor was met when I heard Reverend Young Seon Kim preach at our college chapel,” she recalled. “Her words about Joseph’s dreams during difficult times resonated with me. Her calling journey with The United Methodist Church, which values female pastors, inspired me to pursue my calling abroad. Today, I draw strength from the many women pastors and mentors who have paved the way, whose stories of faith, ministry, and leadership continually inspire and reassure me that I am not alone in this journey.”

Rev. Dr. Tanya Linn Bennett

The Rev. Dr. Tanya Bennett named named several female pastors who taught her how to balance personal life and ministry. One of the best pieces of advice she gave Bennett was to split her day into thirds: morning, afternoon and evening. “So, if I have morning office hours, and I have a meeting in the evening, I’ll go watch my daughter’s field hockey game in the afternoon.”

She said, “I also look to women who have been theological educators in times when the opportunities for most female academics were extremely limited by the patriarchy.  They endeavored to create new knowledge that informed the ways in which women were and are shaped as religious leaders.”

Women of color also inspire Bennett, “especially those who end up in cross-racial appointments and have to make a way not only as women, but as black and brown women. And our LGBTQI and non-binary siblings in Christ who need to pursue their call to ministry. I’m always challenged by the idea of allyship because I feel it needs to be an invitation not an assumption. But I strive to be in partnership in the struggle for justice in our church.”

Bennett then told me about the extraordinary line of laywomen she comes from who have done incredible ministry in their lives. She could honestly write a book about them. There have been men who have inspired her too, including her dad who was a pastor.

The Rev. Stacy Gonzalez is not the first clergyperson in her family either. She shared that her mom inspires her, and she thinks it’s so special to be a mother-daughter pastor duo.

Rev. Tracy Duncan

The Rev. Tracy Duncan said, “There was never just one woman. What I was blessed with growing up was having the opportunity to see female clergy, which was rare back in the 1960s. And even though it was the 1960s in the African American church context, I was glad to have several women who could serve as role models to what it means to be called as clergy and as female.

“Mostly what I garnered from them with their strength of character, faithfulness, and ability to work through challenges,” Duncan explained. “So, they would remind you of the need to be creative in the midst of whatever was on your plate, but also to hold your ground because of God‘s call upon your life.

“So, these women were my aunts and close family friends. I watched them work as missionaries, Christian educators and even handle the role of pastor, and sometimes the more challenging role of being an assistant pastor. But they did so with great strength and great humility and for that I am thankful.”

Rev Alicia M Juliá-Stanley

The Rev. Alicia Julia-Stanley listed many who have inspired her on her journey: “My aunt, Tití Carmen, who put up with all my questions, as I figured out my way through life. My spiritual grandmothers, Doña Esther (the town’s nurse) and Doña Monsita, who was a missionary for many years in Africa and Latin America. My Mami, who was a survivor in all the ways that count.

She also found inspiration in some Eastern PA Conference clergywomen: the Revs. Mindy McKonly and Michelle Bartlow. And Bishop Susan Morrison: “I loved to see the faces of people when she parked her little red sports car in front of FUMCOG (First UM Church of Germantown) for her installation service.”

And Bishop Peggy Johnson, “for calling me as life brought loss after loss of loved ones, including our son-in-law, Scott.” She recalls with perpetual awe and thanks to her bishop for “praying for him, giving him a prayer shawl and sending him cards and email as he faced his second brain tumor surgery and fight. I will never forget!”

Rev. Julia Singleton

I give thanks for these clergywomen who shared their stories with me. And I give thanks for the all whose stories have inspired, guided and strengthened generations of clergywomen to do this work and fulfill their call in faithful service to God.

*The Rev. Julia Singleton is the pastor of Fox Chase UMC in Philadelphia and serves on EPA’s Conference Communications Committee. She has been appointed to Lehman Memorial UMC beginning July 1 as their first female lead pastor. She can be reached at pastorjsingleton@gmail.com.