Written by Anthony Moujaes
The Antoinette Brown Awards are back at General Synod. After a four-year hiatus, the award that honors outstanding clergywomen in the United Church of Christ returned to the stage at General Synod 2015 to recognize three awardees for their innovative leadership.
The Rev. Sharon Ellis Davis, founding pastor of God Can Ministries UCC in Chicago, and the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the minister of Christ the King UCC in Florissant, Mo., were honored as the “trailblazers” in women’s ministry, and RevGalBlogPals, was recognized as the "catalyst" this biennium. The blog, which began in 2009 as an online community of women clergy bloggers, is now a multinational and multi-denominational ministry that supports and amplifies clergywomen. UCC minister the Rev. Martha Spong, RevGalBlogPals director, accepted the award on behalf of the group.
"Like Antoinette Brown, each of these women embodies the spirit of Christ who blazes a trail where there was once no path, and catalyzes new possibilities in the world," said the Rev. Elizabeth Dilley, UCC minister for ministers in local churches. She and the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, pastor of First United Church in Tampa and former Justice and Witness Ministries executive, presented the awards on the plenary stage.
Blackmon has been a leader in the religious community after the police shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in St. Louis. She has been at the forefront of a peaceful presence in the aftermath of the shooting and created space for grieving mothers and civic leaders to connect in conversation. Ellis Davis’ path has taken her from police officer, to police chaplain, to advocate for victims of domestic violence.
The awards were celebrated at every Synod from 1975 to 2011, but there were no awards in 2013 during a period of transition. The award continues to celebrate the life and ministry of Brown—who was ordained by the Congregational Church in 1853—and all women in ordained ministry who exemplify Brown's spirit of trailblazing leadership in church and society.
The honorees will also be celebrated at the first biennial Antoinette Brown Society Gathering, to be held in the summer of 2016. The gathering will take place every two years, during non-Synod years, and previous Antoinette Brown Award winners will be invited to give the keynote address the following year.
The society will launch on Monday, June 29, at the conclusion of the afternoon plenary. The society will support female clergy in the denomination to cultivate the next generation of powerful, innovative women clergy "cut from the same cloth as the Rev. Antoinette Brown," Dilley said. "This society hopes to be part of an integrated strategy to lift up the pastoral leadership of women in the church."