In Britain, the Primitive Methodist Church always allowed the ordination of women. In Britain the Primitive Methodist Church had full equal roles for men and women, but the Wesleyan Methodist Church only ordained its first deaconess in 1890, and after Methodist Union, the Methodist Church only started to ordain women again in 1974.
Today some Methodist denominations practice the ordination of women, such as in the United Methodist Church (UMC), in which the ordination of women has occurred since its creation in 1968, as well as in the Free Methodist Church (FMC), which ordained its first woman deacon in 1911. In the USA the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection, which ordained its first female elder in 1853, as well as the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches, which has always ordained women to the presbyterate and diaconate. Other Methodist denominations do not ordain women, such as the Southern Methodist Church (SMC), Evangelical Methodist Church of America, Fundamental Methodist Conference, Evangelical Wesleyan Church, and Primitive Methodist Church (PMC), the latter two of which do not ordain women as elders nor do they license them as pastors or local preachers; the EWC and PMC do, however, consecrate women as deaconesses. Independent Methodist parishes that are registered with the Association of Independent Methodists do not permit the ordination of women to holy orders. Some of the groups that later became part of the United Methodist Church started ordaining women in the late 19th century, but the largest group, the Methodist Church, did not grant women full clergy rights until 1956.
Mary Bosanquet was responsible for Wesley formally allowing all women to preach. In the summer of 1771, Bosanquet wrote to John Wesley to defend hers and Crosby's work preaching at her orphanage, Cross Hall. Bosanquet's letter to Wesley is considered to be the first full and true defense of women's preaching in Methodism. Her argument was that women should be able to preach when they experienced an "extraordinary call", or when given permission by God. Wesley accepted this idea, and formally began to allow women to preach in Methodism. Later, Wesley also licensed other women as preachers, including Grace Murray, Sarah Taft, Hannah Ball and Elizabeth Ritchie.
Wesley's appreciation for the importance of women in the church has been credited to his mother, Susanna Wesley. It is said[by whom?] that she instilled in him, and in his brother Charles Wesley, a fellow preacher in the movement, a deep appreciation for the intellectual and spiritual qualities of women. Susanna Wesley and other women in the early Methodist movement helped to evangelize and were active members in Methodist activities ranging from band classes to raising funds for the continuation of Methodism and managing educational institutions.
It has long passed for a maxim with many that "women are only to be seen but not heard." And accordingly many of them are brought up in such a manner as if they were only designed for agreeable playthings! No, it is the deepest unkindness; it is horrid cruelty; it is mere Turkish barbarity. And I know not how any women of sense and spirit can submit to it.
After John Wesley's death in 1791, several splits happened within the Methodist movement. The Methodist Protestant Church split from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1828 and, later in 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South split, leaving a separate Methodist Episcopal Church of the north. The Methodist Episcopal Church previously saw schism, with the departure of some individuals in 1841 resulting in the formation of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, out of which the Bible Methodist Connection of Churches was created in 1968. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South also gave rise to other denominations that split from it, such as the Congregational Methodist Church in 1852 and the Southern Methodist Church in 1940.
Wesley's death also marked a shift in the view on women in the church. Some denominations continued to officially sanction the status of women. In 1866, for example, Helenor Davidson was a circuit rider for the Methodist Protestant Church in Jasper County, Indiana. She later became the first ordained minister of any Methodist denomination. Starting at the end of the 19th century, the Methodist Protestant Church had not only begun to ordain women, but had also granted them full rights as clergy.
This was not the case for all denominations. During the next decades, the Methodist Episcopal Church reversed many practices, and publicly emphasized the domestic role of women, refusing to acknowledge their more public role as church leaders and preachers.
In 1880, despite support from the Alumni of the Theological School of Boston University, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church refused to ordain many of the female graduates. Some of the reasons given[by whom?] for this refusal were:
It was for the latter reason that Anna Oliver was not ordained in 1880 despite the fact she had graduated from Boston University School of Theology in 1876, and had served two churches with obvious success. In response, Anna Oliver and her supporters lobbied the General Conference to have all distinctions on the basis of gender removed from the Book of Discipline regarding status for ordination. Anna Oliver prepared pamphlets in which she outlined the reasons to remove the gender basis for ordination; such as the natural gifts and fruit of women to pastor, the sacramental needs of the mission field, the demands of charity, the Golden Rule and appeals to what John Wesley would do. In response, the General Conference not only denied the motion to remove the gender basis from ordination in the Book of Discipline, they revoked the licenses to preach of all those women who currently held them.
Two years later, Anna Howard Shaw, who received her theological degree in 1878, was denied ordination by her presiding bishop, who felt that there was no place for women in the ordained ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church. She left the church and was ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church that same year. She later went to be an activist in women's suffrage, and her advocacy contributed to women eventually gaining the right to vote, although she died before the 19th amendment was passed.
Margaret Newton Van Cott, an American Methodist preacher born in 1830, devoted her life to evangelism and holding revival meetings across the country.
In 1939, the Methodist Protestant Church (with the exception of the Mississippi Conference that continued the Methodist Protestant Church), the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South merged, forming the Methodist Church. In the Methodist Church, women from the Methodist Episcopal Church-South gained the right to ordination, while the Methodist Protestant women gave up full clergy rights in the merger. The politics used to justify this were said to be that the new denomination already faced sufficient problems. The Louisiana Conference, for example, had five women who had recently been ordained, Fern Cook, Nettie Mae Cook, Lea Joyner, Elaine Willett, and Anna Ruth Nuttall. The newly formed Methodist Church recognized their ordination and accepted them into the conference, yet offered only a few actual appointments.
By 1945, only 3 remained in the conference. One of these women, Lea Joyner, was never given an official appointment. She was told, "no church will have you." She was given a vacant lot and $5,000 and told to start her own church in Monroe, Louisiana. When she died in 1985, she held the distinction of having the longest pastorate in the Louisiana conference, and the largest Methodist church in the world pastored by a woman. The church she started in 1952 had over 2,200 members.
In 1942, the Fundamental Methodist Conference split from the Methodist Church and it does not ordain women. The Evangelical Methodist Church split from the Methodist Church in 1945 and does ordain women as elders.
On May 4, 1956, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the General Conference of the Methodist Church approved full clergy rights for women. This was done by adding one sentence to the Book of Discipline: "All foregoing paragraphs, chapters and sections of Part III [of the Book of Discipline] shall apply to women as well as to men." Bishops were now required to appoint every pastor in good standing, regardless of gender. Maud Jensen was the first woman to be granted full clergy rights after this decision, in what is now the Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference. Grace Huck was another woman accepted into probationary status as part of this historic vote, and she was received into full connection in 1958. She recalls the resistance to her ministry by a male member of her church in one of her early appointments. She has been quoted as saying that when the district superintendent told the congregation he was appointing a woman minister, one man shouted, "there will be no skirts in this pulpit while I'm alive." She also noted that he later became one of her best supporters.
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The Church of the United Brethren in Christ started ordaining women with full clergy rights in 1889.
In 1946, the Church of the United Brethren in Christ united with the Evangelical Church to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The Evangelical Church had never ordained women. The Bishops from both churches agreed to not ordain women in the newly formed church, but there was never a vote on it at annual conference. Many churches continued to ordain women with full clergy rights.
In On 2 July 1974, the Methodist Conference in Bristol ordained 17 women as presbyters (ministers). The number of women ministers has grown to roughly equal male ministers. In 1993, Kathleen Richardson was the first woman to be elected President of the Methodist Conference (leader of the Methodist Church in Britain).
Although the original Primitive Methodist Church in Britain allowed female preachers and ministers, the current American branch of the Primitive Methodist Church does not ordain women as elders nor does it license them as pastors or local preachers; the PMC does, however, consecrate women as deaconesses.
In 1861, the American Free Methodist Church reported the fact that women served as preachers and in 1864, the General Conference of the Free Methodist Church created a class of lay non-pastoral ministers known as evangelists, who were both men and women. In 1911, the Free Methodist Church started ordaining women as deacons and in 1974, the FMC started ordaining women as elders.
In 1968, when the worldwide United Methodist Church was formed from the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, Methodist women clergy were afforded the right of full connection.
In 1980, the first woman, Marjorie Matthews, was elected and consecrated as a bishop within the United Methodist Church. In 1984, the first African-American woman, Leontine T. Kelly was elected and consecrated as a bishop. In 2005, Rosemarie Wenner was the first woman to be elected bishop outside the United States. She was elected by the Germany Central Conference.
Over 12,000 women serve as United Methodist clergy at all levels, from bishops to local pastors. As of 2006,scholarship program, which has over 40 participants and more than 22 graduates with doctorate degrees in theology.16 women had been elected as bishops. To try to address the lack of women of color in faculty positions at United Methodist Seminaries, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry created a
The 2015 Discipline of the Evangelical Wesleyan Church stipulates: "Women may be received on rial and into full connection and be ordained deacon, on the same conditions as men, provided always that this shall not be regarded as a step toward ordination as elder."
In the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection, Antoinette Brown was ordained an elder by Luther Lee in 1853, becoming the first woman to receive holy orders in that denomination (then the Wesleyan Methodist Church).