‘The most rewarding and soul-fulfilling work I could have ever dreamed of’
In celebration of Women’s History Month, hear from six female clergy in the NTC on their experiences, paths into ministry
One carries the distinction of being among the longest-serving female clergy in the history of the North Texas Conference. Another represents the first Black woman ordained in the NTC. Of the 721 clergy in the NTC either serving a church or in retirement, 266 are women.
Female clergy have long played a significant role in the life of The United Methodist Church. Years of hard work resulted in women achieving full clergy rights in the Methodist Church in 1956, and their historical accomplishments are indeed vast.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we asked six female clergy from the NTC to take part in a question-and-answer session that sheds light on their experiences and offers advice for others who are considering a call.
- Rev. Joy Anderson – Associate Pastor, First UMC Richardson
- Rev. Abbey Echols – Associate Pastor, First UMC Sherman
- Rev. Danielle Kim – Associate Pastor, Custer Road UMC
- Pastor Deniece Mason – Senior Pastor, Pleasant Valley UMC
- Pastor Rosedanny Ortiz – Senior Pastor, Casa Linda UMC
Rev. Dr. Sheron Patterson – Senior Pastor, Hamilton Park UMC
- Rev. Joy Anderson: When I was growing up there were no female clergy anywhere that I knew of. This was during the 1950s and 1960s. The only females who worked in any church that I was acquainted with were secretaries, Children’s Directors, organists and maybe a youth director.
- Rev. Abbey Echols: Yes! When I was in my pre-teen years, Rev. Holly Bandel (Gaskill, then) was the first female pastor sent to my home church, Anna United Methodist Church. And if I'm not mistaken, I think Anna was her first appointment after seminary school. For the first few months she was there, I remember thinking how brave and spunky she was to lead a congregation "all by herself," and as I got to know her I remember her presence and leadership being calming, exciting and deeply nurturing. My fondest memory of Pastor Holly was when she led our 6-week Confirmation class. She was the pastor who baptized and confirmed me. I'm so thankful for her ministry and the good work God continues to do through her.
- Rev. Danielle Kim: I've never encountered any female clergy until sophomore year of college. And actually, that first encounter is where my call story begins!
- Pastor Deniece Mason: I grew up a child of missionary parents, so from a very early age I was well acquainted with women in the ministry. Many were single women who had left family and friends behind to serve the least in places that others did not want to go. From taking in orphans in Egypt to trekking between mountain villages to deliver medicine in Nepal, these faithful and intrepid women influenced my understanding of what it means to be a pastor, with or without the title.
- Pastor Rosedanny Ortiz: As I grew up, I encounter just a few female clergies in Puerto Rico. My first encounter was at the beginning of high school. She was appointed as the pastor of Coamo Methodist Church. But we didn’t have the chance to know her well since she stayed just a few months. My second encounter with female clergy was in an Emmaus retreat for young girls call Crisálida (Chrysalis). All the staff was female, and it was the first time that I met female elders in the Methodist Church in Puerto Rico. It was a powerful and transformative experience in my life. I was meeting female pastors to whom I could relate. They were fun, loving, friendly and spiritually strong, and I just wanted to be like them.
- Rev. Dr. Sheron Patterson: I grew up in Simpson Gillespie Methodist church in Charlotte, N.C., and never did I see a Clergywoman. It never crossed my mind that women could be pastors. The first one I saw was while a student at Spelman College. I received my call to ministry there, and the male Dean of the Chapel thought it would be helpful if I saw a Clergywoman.
- Rev. Joy Anderson: I grew up in First Methodist Church in Shreveport, La., and was very active throughout my time there. I felt called to “full time Christian service” during my high school years. Although there were no role models and I wasn’t sure where this call would lead me, I went on to college, Centenary College, majoring in Religion and Elementary Education. My mom, being a teacher insisted I get a degree in Elementary Education so that I could teach if I needed to.
- Rev. Abbey Echols: In the fall of 2013, I attended my first Camp Bible ... as an adult. Camp Bible is a weekend camp, hosted at Bridgeport Camp and Conference Center, where children gather in fellowship, dig into the stories of our Bible, and ask themselves what this means for our lives today. Sounds awesome, right?! Well, that year, I was reluctant to go. Camp was never really my thing growing up. But, Rev. Chris Dowd, who had been encouraging me to consider leading in ministry, told me to take our children to Camp Bible. So, we went. And we had the best time! Our children were making friends with other kids across the Conference. I met Children's Ministry giants like Cheryl Bishop and Rev. Caroline Noll, and I fell in love with God all over again ... but through camp! The moment I felt God calling me to ministry was on that Sunday morning, during morning vespers, watching the sun come up over Lake Bridgeport while Rev. Rachel Baughman was reading this book called "The Dreamer" by Cynthia Rylant. It's about God, our Creator, who carefully dreamed up and intricately made all of creation in 5 days. Then on the 6th day, God made humankind — created in God's image, yet wonderfully unique. Because God is our Creator, we image-of-God-bearers are tiny creators as well. In that moment, I remember feeling like time stood still as God showed me very specific moments throughout my life that pointed me toward servant leadership in the church. As I sat there and cried (in the presence of 150 children and volunteers), I knew God was calling me to ordained ministry — to help children and all others, recognize they are image-of-God-bearers and that the God of the universe sees them, knows them and loves them beyond all measure.
- Rev. Danielle Kim: Looking back, I've always felt called to be in ministry, but I didn't know that a woman could be a pastor and the thought never crossed my mind. I thought the closest I can do is to become a pastor's wife. When I met Rev. Gloria Fowler, who is a Korean American clergywoman, everything clicked and made sense to me. There's something very powerful about being able to see yourself in a role model that you can identify with. I realized that what I had was the calling to be in ordained ministry. I still remember going to her after listening to her preach, asking her very innocently, "wouldn't you go to hell if you are a woman and a preacher?" She said, "I guess I will go to hell for preaching Jesus!" Ever since, I joined her on the highway to hell for preaching Jesus.
- Pastor Deniece Mason: Although I was born into a clergy family (or maybe because I was born into a clergy family!), I fully believed that I would be the least likely person to both receive and answer a call to ministry. I was always a believer, but after growing up in Egypt, Nepal and India, my faith took somewhat of a beating when I came back to the U.S. for college and encountered the American church. The church I knew overseas had little in common with the seemingly self-centered, egotistical, and to some extent, entitled church I found here at home. Although I tried to find Jesus in all of it, I became increasingly disillusioned and eventually stopped attending church altogether. This all changed after my first three children were born and we moved to a small town outside of Austin. After a chance meeting with the pastor of the local church, we decided to visit one Sunday — a decision that literally changed my life. In this small church in Central Texas, I not only rediscovered the church as it was meant to be, I encountered Jesus in a new and revolutionary way. Although I felt a definite call to ministry at this time, it was nebulous. As I struggled to discern exactly what God was calling me to do, I threw myself into volunteering in missions – both in the church and in the community. For a long time, this work was fulfilling even though somewhere inside I had this nagging feeling that God wanted more from me. Many years later, after moving to the Dallas area, I applied for a job and was hired by Jim Ozier to be the Administrative Assistant for the Center of New Church Starts and Congregational Development at the NT Conference Center. On my first day, I met a man from Africa University, a wonderful gentleman who offered to pray with me in the chapel before I began the job. This turned into a daily morning ritual, one that filled my soul and often ended with me in tears. “That’s the Holy Spirit,” he would say in his rich accent, “Praise God!” His time with us was brief, and I was bereft when he left, but in the ensuing days, I felt like God was nudging me to continue his prayer ministry. I began to pray for the visitors that came into the conference center, and eventually with many of them. Through all of this, my call became more intense, but I still had no idea what to do with it. I struggled for months until I attended the ordination service of a friend. At the end of the service, the Bishop asked anyone who was feeling a call to ministry to come to the altar, and sitting there, I was suddenly overcome with emotion. The desire to go forward was almost irresistible, but I knew that going to seminary at the same time we were putting kids through college was not only impractical, it was impossible. So, I sat holding on to the pew with all my strength until the benediction was given, and I was able to leave. The next morning, I was sitting at my desk feeling incredibly discouraged, when Jim stopped to ask me to do him a favor. He was headed into a meeting, but said he needed me to put a file together that listed the requirements for becoming a Licensed Local Pastor. “I need it for a candidate who I believe has a call to pastoral ministry,” he said. Since I had knew nothing about LLPs, I spent quite some time diligently and thoroughly researching the topic, typed it all up and then neatly presented it to Jim when he walked out of the meeting. He took the file, looked at me then handed the file back and said, “The candidate is you.” I cannot express the life-changing power of that moment. I felt as if everything shifted and fell into place, like everything that had been so cloudy suddenly made sense, and I was filled with a peace like no other.
- Pastor Rosedanny Ortiz: Charles W. Dress Methodist Church in Guayama City is the church of my dad’s family and the one that I grew up in. It was in a Vacation Bible Study where I first encountered my call to ministry. As I learned to sing and worship God, how to help others in need and the importance to serve God while I was about six years old, my heart was strangely warm as the pastor was talking to us about God, and I said to myself “I want to do that, I want to share with others God’s love.” Before I moved to Dallas five years ago, I prayed to God that I wanted to find a church where I can develop, demonstrate and put into practice my faith; and he answered. As soon as I joined Casa Linda Church, I experienced rapid growth in my spiritual life that I never saw before. I couldn’t find an engineering job, but God opened the doors to work part-time in ministry. It was at that moment where I began to remember and question that first call. Now, after five years, I’m finishing up my master’s in divinity degree, I’m serving as lead pastor of the church that received me with open arms here in Dallas, and I continue my process as a certified candidate for an elder.
- Rev. Dr. Sheron Patterson: My call came the second semester of my senior year at Spelman College. I was an English/Mass Communications major with plans to attend USC graduate film school. I heard God clearly say, “Use your gifts to glorify me.” So, I obeyed, abandoned film school and looked for seminaries. I found Perkins School of Theology.
- Rev. Joy Anderson: At that time (1968) Christian Education was the usual path many women followed and so I entered Perkins getting my MRE – Masters In Religious Education. This was the only degree plan if you did not feel called to preaching ministry, which I definitely did not. There were several women going to Perkins at that time who were earning Bachelor of Divinity degrees, and they encouraged me to change my degree plan and follow that path. But I did not want to be a senior minister or preach so I did not divert from the path I was on.
- Rev. Abbey Echols: I think the only challenges I faced was trying to wrap my mind around the processes to become ordained in the United Methodist Church. It was so incredibly helpful to have people like Rev. Chris Dowd, Rev. Jill Jackson-Sears, Rev. Caroline Noll and many others in the North Texas Conference to help guide me along the way through the early parts of candidacy all the way to ordination interviews.
- Rev. Danielle Kim: Many Christian communities, including Korean American communities, are not used to seeing young women stepping up to be in ministry. I often felt out of place when I shared my calling, and it sure did catch some of them off guard. One of the biggest challenges in my journey was recognizing and working through the internalized misogyny, and coming to a place where I had inner strength to remain affirmed in my calling regardless of external reactions or situations. I am forever grateful for the same groups of folks who also affirmed my gifts and graces through these challenges and many of them still remain part of my support system.
- Pastor Deniece Mason: With two kids still in high school, finding a balance between family and work was and still is my biggest challenge — much like many other women (and men) in ministry. Although there are other challenges, the one that still surprises me the most is the opposition I have faced from male pastors of other denominations. One refused to participate in a funeral if I officiated in any way, while another told a congregant that women pastors defy God’s word and lead others down the road to heresy. The most shocking, however, was an encounter with the owner of a bed and breakfast, who, after serving my husband and me our morning meal, proceeded to take out his Bible and lecture me on the sin of women in ministry! As I grew up in a family that affirmed the gifts and call of all people, regardless of sex or race, I had never experienced the ugly misogyny that exists in the churches of some prevalent denominations in our area.
- Pastor Rosedanny Ortiz: When I decided to answer my call to ministry in the elder track, I was told that it was better for me to choose a local pastor. That was the only challenge I encountered. As I continue the process, I have the full support of my husband, family, friends and the church. But, unfortunately, I heard the many challenges women had faced, especially Latina & Hispanic.
- Rev. Dr. Sheron Patterson: My challenges were many. No one in my family was a pastor. I had exhibited no previous pastoral behavior. People said, “You don’t look like a preacher.” People expected me to dress a certain way. Lots of people told me only men can be preachers. Many men were threatened and angry. They told me that I was taking a man’s job. I had self-doubt. Why in the world would God chose me?
- Rev. Joy Anderson: At that time there were only two female ordained clergy in the North Texas Conference. I graduated from Perkins in 1970 with an MRE degree and went to work as a Youth Director. I continued in Christian Education type roles for many years but never felt that the UMC understood my role in the church. I started out as a Consecrated Lay Worker, then moved into the Diaconal Ministry, and then became an ordained Deacon in 1997 when the UMC finally realized that those of us called to ministry in a different way could and should be ordained.
- Rev. Abbey Echols: There are so many! First, there's Cheryl Bishop and Rev. Caroline Noll. I made fast friends with them at my first Camp Bible, and I'm so grateful (and jazzed!) to serve God and God's people with them! There's also Rev. Samantha Parson and Rev. Denise Peckham, who gracefully and wholeheartedly lead in ministry with care and authority in their own wildly unique ways. And there is, of course, Rev. Chris Dowd, who helped me navigate my call to ministry and continues to inspire me in leading God's people with compassion, integrity and authenticity.
- Rev. Danielle Kim: Rev. Gloria Fowler was instrumental in my journey of pursuing ordained ministry. Her embodiment of her calling and the identity we share was so powerful for me, and I am so grateful for her ministry. Rev. Heather Leyland in Texas Annual Conference was the first clergywoman senior pastor I've ever worked closely with, and witnessing her ministry was a much needed opportunity for me to embrace my calling. Rev. Patrick Littlefield is another role model I look up to. Without his ministry of allyship and coming alongside my challenges, I wouldn't have persevered through it all.
- Pastor Deniece Mason: My parents. Although my Dad is the one ordained, both were equal partners in the work they did as missionaries. My Mother was/is a nurse, and her work in clinics and hospitals around the world provided me with a powerful example of servanthood, while my Dad’s work, transitioning an orphanage in Egypt out of missionary hands into the hands of the local church, and working to do the same as a hospital administrator in Nepal and India, showed me the importance of empowering and encouraging others to live in the kingdom. They both taught me that every person has worth and that sharing the good news is best exemplified by living out Christ's mandate in Matthew 25:35-40. As my Dad often says: “Jesus never asked us to convert anyone, he asked us to make disciples just as he did - by example.”.
- Pastor Rosedanny Ortiz: Yes, my role models were those female clergies that I met in the retreat. My pastor from Mayaguez Methodist Church in Puerto Rico. Finally, all-female clergy in the North Texas Conference, especially the Latinas and Hispanic from “Mujeres con Llamado.” These amazing women continue to show us that we need to be strong and courageous to break down bias and challenge the inequality we still face today among the clergy.
- Rev. Dr. Sheron Patterson: Early on, there were no role models because I am the first. Rev. Zan Holmes shepherded me. Bishop Earl Bledsoe was Earl during our seminary days, and he shepherded me, too. Later on, I located and connected with successful, high profile African American female Clergywomen across the nation – all denominations. They strengthened me greatly.
- Rev. Joy Anderson: Listen to your call and decide which path is right for you. Today there are many more choices for ministry than when I started and that is good for we’re not all called to serve God and the church in the same way. I have been in ministry for 51 years and not one of those years has been in the preaching ministry, but it has been ministry all the same. My heart and early call was to servant and mission ministry which I have been fortunate enough to do for the last 34 years.
- Rev. Abbey Echols: Dear Sister, if God is leading your heart toward ministry, I will be honest with you ... ministry is not easy, and if you're considering becoming ordained clergy in the UMC, it's hard work. But it's good work. In fact, it's the most rewarding and soul-fulfilling work I could have ever dreamed of. Praying with those who are lonely and hurting. Celebrating with those who received good news. Crying with those who have lost loved ones. Dancing with children at camp. Planning and dreaming with amazing directors. Leading worship each week. Answering wild questions my 5-year-old asks about Jesus. All these things have helped me realize that God made me for this work, and all these things are ways in which God continues to call me closer to God's heart. So, sister, God made you with unique gifts for ministry, and God has shown you that you can put those gifts to work. With God's help, you can do this! And I can't wait to see where God leads you!
- Rev. Danielle Kim: Be yourselves, because God wouldn't have it any otherwise! So is the Church, ready or not.
- Pastor Deniece Mason: Whatever obstacles you face, know that if God calls you, God will provide a way for you to answer that call. You might believe something to be impossible, but God is the God of the impossible!
- Pastor Rosedanny Ortiz: Don’t let fear or overthinking about the challenges you may face take you away from answering your call into ministry. You will have the support of women clergy like me, but most importantly God’s. As God has supported me and has supported all the women in ministry throughout the years, he will also support and guide you in the journey ahead.
- Rev. Dr. Sheron Patterson: My advice to women – stay close to God. If God is for you, who can be against you? Sexism is alive and well. And it is surprising to learn, but some women can be your biggest obstacles. Get a good therapist. This is a grinding, demanding road.