Dr. Josephine Whitely-Fields, a retired elder, saw an opportunity when she found limited historical records of Black clergywomen and their contributions to The United Methodist Church. “There was little written about us (Black clergywomen) in our denomination,” she said, “and all we achieved despite the isms in the church.”
Whitely-Fields began interviewing other clergywomen to document their journeys of living out God’s call on their lives. She compiled the stories into a book, “Pioneer Black Clergywomen: Stories of Black Clergywomen of The United Methodist Church.”
Nine Black women, all ordained elders, were interviewed for the book; six are bishops. The women candidly revealed their experiences of bias in the denomination at local, jurisdictional and episcopal levels.
Unique experiences are revealed of Black clergywomen assigned to cross-racial appointments in isolated towns with few or no African Americans. In some situations, sexism and racism preexisted.
On district and conference levels, some Black clergywomen became aware of systematic racism. They cited salary inequity and lack of advancement opportunities for qualified Black clergy in comparison to their white counterparts.
The clergywomen, with their extensive experience, advised future Black women leaders in ordained ministry: Be true to yourself. Keep in touch with other Black clergywomen for support. Laugh, and make time for yourself.
The book chronicles journeys of Black clergywomen devoted to Christ. “These leaders would go around any opposition to serve him,” Whitely-Fields said, “and live out the mission of the church.” Despite their challenges, the women fostered growth in each position they served.
Whitely-Fields hopes the reader understands that “the journey is designed for us to be more like Jesus. How, together, we can be the church we are called to be, exhibiting Christ’s love to all people.”
For more information, email author at jwhitelyfields [at] yahoo.com.
Written by Amy Graham, Communications Specialist