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Women in ministry find hope for a radical journey

Apr 05, 2011

Seminary conference highlights preaching and finances for women in ministry and offered hope and encouragement to women who are following God's call.

By Toya Richards

“Women in Ministry: A Radical Journey” was the theme of a recent conference at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and those in attendance were challenged to step out in ministry with God, grace and guts.

The April 1-2 conference was sponsored by Women at the Well, a student-run, racial-ethnic women’s organization on the Seminary’s campus. The event began with a Friday evening worship service featuring The Rt. Rev. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, the 117th elected and consecrated bishop of the 13 Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, and continued on Saturday with workshops led by Louisville Seminary faculty.

“The concept of the radical journey is important because racial-ethnic women often live and work in a context that is oppressive,” said Dawn Ellicott Clinkscale, Women at the Well co-chair and a second-year student in the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree program. The hope is to equip women as they face their ministry environments, she said.

Women need to know that “they are empowered by God and by the spirit of God to make a difference in their communities,” Ellicott Clinkscale said.

Bishop McKenzie’s sermon set the tone for the conference, which included a diverse group of women from the campus and Louisville community. Using as her text the story of the woman who meets Jesus at the well in John 4, the bishop talked about what it takes to rise above adversity to answer a call to ministry.

“It takes God, grace, and guts,” said McKenzie, whose election in 2000 marked the first time in the more than 200-year history of the AME Church that a woman had obtained the level of Episcopal office. “The woman who met Jesus needed all three,” she said.

The woman at the well, who had a questionable past and probably felt she could not escape it, had a “divine encounter,” and “her past was no match for the future God had in mind for her,” said McKenzie, whose pastoral ministry also includes leadership and professional growth mentoring for women.

“Jesus broke through that day,” she said. And “God does the same thing for us.”

McKenzie also stressed that “the power of the story is the journey from the well,” and the preached word that the woman proclaimed from that point on.

That message of the radical journey for women in ministry also was echoed during conference workshops.

The Rev. Dr. Debra J. Mumford, the Frank H. Caldwell Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Louisville Seminary, led a session on “Radical Preaching for the 21st Century.” The workshop examined the topic looking at the life of Jesus as well as radical preaching women from the contemporary world.

Among other things, the radical preacher knows without a shadow of a doubt who sent her, Mumford said. “It is easy to lose sight of the one who sent us. We start believing that ministry is all about us,” she said.

Yet the radical preacher reminds herself that she was sent by God to minister to the people of God on behalf of God, Mumford emphasized.

Tenants of radical preaching also include understanding that “the anointing makes a difference,” that ministry “must be prophetic,” and that your life will be the greatest sermon you will ever preach, she said, adding that radical preaching is “proclamation of the gospel for individual and social revolution in order to realize the kin-dom of God on earth.”

As part of Mumford’s workshop, participants also participated in hands-on work, developing and writing sermons in groups.

The Rev. Dr. Dianne Reistroffer, Professor of Ministry, director of Methodist Studies, and interim director of field education at Louisville Seminary, followed with her workshop, entitled “Women in Ministry: Managing Money and Power.” She talked about establishing a balance between the substance that God desires for God’s people and the unnecessary stuff that people gather around them.

“God wants us to have substance,” but sometimes what we fill ourselves up with is junk, she said. Goal setting, communication, and planning are all essential, said Reistroffer, who shared her own financial story.

First-year Master of Divinity degree student Aritha Berroa said she was inspired by all aspects of the conference. Bishop McKenzie is “a powerful woman of God” who has such authority, she said.

“Being a young black woman and moving into the ministry, it is nice to see strong black women in the church who are able to get up there and stand their ground and say what it is they have to say,” said Berroa, whose call is to Army chaplaincy.

One of the greatest takeaways from the event, she said, is embracing “walking in the authority that God has called me to do and being confident in my calling.”

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