Black clergywomen conference offers respite

By Sheron C. Patterson
Special to UM News Service

ROCKVILLE, Md.—A gathering of 150 black United Methodist clergywomen provided a place of respite from the day-to-day isolation faced by many of the women.

The Aug. 3-6 gathering was the 27th annual meeting of the Black Clergywomen of the United Methodist Church included women from five jurisdictions. The theme of the meeting was “Breathing God’s Promises; Giving Voice to What Matters,” and the women spent four days learning, listening to powerful preaching and attending workshops.

The Rev. Maxine Allen, national secretary for the group, said breathing is a luxury for many black clergywomen.

“This year’s theme was especially pertinent to what we experience, as we look at what is happening with the Black Lives Matter movement,” Allen said. She added that many are the first or the only black clergywoman to serve in their appointment and in many cases are “the other.”

Many black clergywomen are placed in positions or appointments “where their voices are muffled or being not being heard at all,” said Allen, who is the Arkansas Conference assistant director of mission and ministry for mission field engagement. “Some dare not speak for fear of retaliation by their conference structures. We must come together to gain strength for the journey and for mutual accountability.”

Reaching out was high on the clergywomen’s agenda. They started the conference with a partnership with the international hunger relief group Stop Hunger Now. It was the second year that the clergywomen packaged meals with Stop Hunger Now. This year they packed more than 10,000 meals and donated $2,000 to the organization.

The clergywomen also sent a $2,000 gift to the children of the nine people killed at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.; and supported the memory of the first African-American United Methodist woman bishop, Bishop Leontyne T.C. Kelly, with a $2,000 gift to the Gulfside Retreat Center in Waveland, Miss., where an outdoor worship center named for Kelly is planned.

The group’s national president, the Rev. Telley Lynette Gadson, pastor of Saint Mark UMC Taylors, S.C., launched the conference with a rousing sermon entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Breath.”

The Rev. Yvette D. Massey, pastor of Central UMC Atlanta and vice president of Black Clergywomen, preached on “What if the women shut up?” Her sermon was based on the scriptural text of I Corinthians 14:34-35, in which the Apostle Paul tells women to be silent in the church.

Massey recounted her own experience of being told to be quiet in the church. After she’d preached the eulogy at a funeral, a woman—whom she did not know—“approached her, placed a crumpled letter in her hand, and disappeared into the crowd.” The message—she should not be preaching because she was a woman.

The Rev. Pamela Lightsey, associate dean and assistant professor at Boston University School of Theology, was given the 2015 Justice Advocacy Award for her work in Ferguson, Mo., and for advocating justice in the Black Lives Matter movement. In a plenary, “Giving Voice to What Matters,” Lightsey told the group, “We must move from being reactive to proactive. Stay in the word of God.”

Retired Bishop Violet L. Fisher, episcopal adviser to the group, urged them to be bold and fearless in her sermon, which was preceded by a video of her bungee jumping.

Fisher’s boldness two decades ago started the career of the conference’s keynote speaker, the Rev. Cindy Trimm of Bermuda. Fisher was preaching in Barbados when she heard Trimm preach. She invited her to enroll in college and live with her. Now Trimm is an international, nondenominational preacher and teacher with numerous million-selling books.

The Rev. Patterson is communications officer for the North Texas Conference.