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We were in seminary with T.C.!

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“We were in seminary with TC”
And we could not be more proud—or relieved—that this day has arrived. Of any of
us with gifts and graces for ministry, TC’s were always so clearly evident. To be able
to officially call her colleague, to be able to be in intentional community once more
as clergy living out our calls having done our best to prepare for them, this is a win
for the kingdom.

Together we celebrate the work of the church. Today is a day that reminds us of when Peter stood before the order of believers in Jerusalem for having baptized Cornelius and all his house. Upon hearing of the gifts the Holy Spirit had given these Gentiles, the council’s initial alarm transformed into affirming Peter's response--"If God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"

It is worth remembering both that the strength of the people called Methodist has often lain in the variety of ways for a variety of people to live out their calls, and that we have not always been certain of that. In many United Methodist Churches, licensed local pastors and district superintendent appointed lay speakers preach on Sunday mornings. Yet in the early days, John Wesley tried to maintain a separation of “preaching” for those who were ordained, and “exhorting” for those who were not. In response to Wesley’s complaint about Thomas Maxfield, a particular lay preacher, Susanna Wesley advised him, “Take care what you do with respect to that young man, for he is as surely called of God to preach, as you are. Examine what have been the fruits of his preaching, and hear him also yourself.”

After hearing him, John Wesley could only conclude, “It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good.” 1 Similarly, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of full clergy rights for women, and often brag that we have allowed women lay preachers from the beginning, we should remember that Wesley was also very cautious about female preachers. Historian Richard Heitzenrater attributes this caution to both the social attitudes of the day and Wesley’s desire to avert schism with the Church of England. Much like in the early church, women were finding a new freedom to answer God’s call among the early Methodists.

In 1771, Mary Bosanquet first exegeted the usual Scriptures being raised against her preaching, then appealed to Wesley’s reason about her experience. She made an argument that rings true yet today: “I do not believe every woman is called to speak publicly, no more than every man to be a Methodist preacher, yet some have an extraordinary call to it, and woe be to them if they obey it not.” 2 Unable to deny this, Wesley continued to carefully allow women lay preachers.

Without going into the full history here, the inclusion of both women and lay preachers in general was a matter that continued to be debated. We think we face a similar situation here: we are faced with the fruit of a person—no, many people—who do not fit neatly into our rules, and whose inclusion seems to threaten schism. But today we offer prayers of thanksgiving for once again responding to accept people who evince an extraordinary call to do God’s work in transforming the world.

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