Women in Ministry in North Alabama

I keep a picture in front of me in my office in Birmingham. It is a picture of Patsy’s grandmother, Bessie Parker, the first the first ordained woman in South Carolina Methodism, ordained in 1956. Bessie Parker was a mentor and she performed our wedding. Perhaps more importantly, she was a remarkable leader in the growth of churches in South Carolina.

In 2006 we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women as elders in United Methodism. In the last five decades, women clergy have been leading our Conference in some remarkable ways. For instance, The Reverend Clauzell Ridgeway Williams, only two years out of seminary, is working a near miraculous transformation at Sweet Home United Methodist Church in Gadsden. Clauzell is growing a church that has not grown for decades. The Reverend Deborah Moon founded a new, very special church while she was still in seminary, Genesis Church in Guntersville. She now serves a thriving church, Goshen United Methodist Church. Deborah is relentless in her determination for a church to grow and to reach out to the world in the name of Jesus. The Reverend Mary Bendall has created and leads “The Bridge” services at First United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa. This means that Mary is preaching to one of our largest Sunday morning congregations — a congregation that has been created under her leadership. The Bridge is doing some remarkable things in pioneering worship and outreach. We sent the Reverend Julie Holly to our Discovery Church, a new church that was in a great deal of difficulty. Julie, using new web based resources for communication, as well as her interjected leadership is giving Discovery a rebirth ministry.

One of my frustrations, in utilizing women clergy leadership, is that we have a comparative small number of women clergy in North Alabama. This means that we really need our talented clergy serving as effective pastors. My job, and the job of the District Superintendents, is to get every church the best leadership it needs to be faithful to the mission that Jesus Christ has given that congregation. This means that in calling women to Conference leadership we have at times been frustrated because we do not want to rob congregations of effective clergy leaders.

Nevertheless, our Conference is being lead by some remarkable women clergy leaders. The Reverend Elizabeth Nall has established a new level of Children’s Ministries in the North Alabama Conference, wonderfully fulfilling our Conference Priority of reaching a new generation. Elizabeth has established a network of children ministry leaders throughout the Conference that are providing training, events, coaching, and some transformative ministry.

Our Pastoral Care and Counseling has been lead for the past five years by an ordained deacon, the Reverend Dr. Sheri Ferguson. Sheri not only sees herself performing a physiological, therapeutic service for us, but also in leading congregations. Her Healthy Congregations program has been an invaluable resource for the Cabinet and has saved many of our congregations.

The Reverend Sherill Clontz, pastor of New Life United Methodist Church, has served admirably as our Conference Secretary. Now she will also serve as Associate District Superintendent of the Northeast District.

The Reverend Lori Carden has made our Conference a leader in Natural Church Development (NCD). Within a short time Lori will have reached her goal of having every congregation benefiting from the fruits of Natural Church Development. Lori is an extraordinary leader. She will now be serving on the Extended Cabinet to help the Cabinet utilize insights of NCD in better understanding the congregations under our care.

Nacole Hillman is administrative assistant to the Director of Connectional Ministries and the support staff for all of Connectional Ministries. She is the delightful voice on the end of the phone whenever anyone calls the office. She helps scores all the NCD surveys and is passionate about working with the Youth volunteer leadership in the conference.

This year I have brought Ms. Danette Clifton into the Episcopal Office. Danette, as you know, has made our Conference website a standard within the larger church. Danette also helped invent and is now helping to lead our North Alabama Conference Weekly Benchmark Dashboard. Danette is a master educator and essential part of getting our message out to our pastors and churches.

The Reverend Deb Welsh has assumed leadership in our outreach to the innercity of Birmingham by serving as Director of the Joe Rush Center for Urban Mission and Volunteer Recruitment for our beloved Birmingham Urban Ministries.

I have learned much from the insights of the Reverend Sherri Reynolds, pastor of Eulaton UMC in the Cheaha District, and the Reverend Paula Calhoun, pastor of Alexandria UMC in the Cheaha District, who are masters at energizing and growing the small membership church. I am going to be preaching at Alexandria on Palm Sunday, because I wanted to be there to learn more about the transformation that is taking place and to thank them for their exemplary leadership on the connectional giving.

These women are bringing extraordinary leadership to our Conference leading us to growth in our ministry together.

6 thoughts on “Women in Ministry in North Alabama

  1. Bishop Willimon, I'm a UMC pastor from your old stomping grounds in NC. I've been at my first appointment for about 8 months, and already I've heard church members say disparaging things about neighboring churches that have had "woman pastors." Why and how does this persist? As a Bishop, should you push congregations that have never had a female leader to get one (breaking the stained-glass ceiling), or is it better that female pastors and those congregations never meet?


  2. Bishop Willimon,I am a member of First Methodist in Guntersville -the Genesis Campus is where I serve and worship. I am also an Asbury Seminary student who will hopefully graduate after Jan term with a MA in Pastoral Care/Counseling. I met with Bill Gandy recently to consider the process of ordination – thank you for this "timely" post for me personally. It is was very encouraging!Sincerly,Shirley Chupp


  3. Bishop Willimon,from all that I have read from your blog – I would be proud and delighted to serve in North Alabama.You have a refreshing honesty about the problems of leadership and ministry (not just women's ministry), and a remarkably dynamic team looking to tackle it.How I wish that were the case everywhere.Alas – there is no obvious means of transferring from the British Methodist Church to the UMC.


  4. You didn't mention the Rev. Amelia Sims who is doing a remarkable job in guiding a church that is clearly recovering from major conflict….she has the gift of boundaries and a powerful preaching style rooted in prayer. We are blessed to be receiving new guests of God almost every Sunday at worship.


  5. WOW! I just let the Bishop's Day Apart (Al/West Fl Conf.) and AGREED with EVERYTHING you said. And now I find that you are a tremendous advocate for women! You are a blessing to the UMC–you blow the whistle on crappy preaching and you ensure that clergy do not forget to whom they are under the authority of–like it or not. thanks for having a backbone when so many do not! cordially your bomb throwing revolutionary in Al/West FL !


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