Interested in learning more about the living legacy of women who have been an influencial presence in our lives? The following monthly articles titled "Remembering Her," by renowned scholar and UCC historian Barbara Brown Zikmund, offer glimpses of faithful women who as risk takers and visionaries witness for us courage to live faithfilled lives today and into the future.
2007 Remembering Her
Issue #28: In Reformation history many people know that Martin Luther, who had been a celibate monk, eventually married a former nun and had a lively home life. Katherine von Bora was a delightful partner and is remembered fondly by all Protestants (see RH #3). Most people, however, know very little about the spouses of other Reformers. Historians of the German Reformed Church in the United States help us to remember Anna Reinhard, wife of Ulrich or Hulrich Zwingli, and Idelette de Bures, wife of John Calvin.
Issue #27: In the early 19th century many people disapproved of any career for women outside the home. Fortunately in Germany (at a place called Kaiserswerth) German Protestants developed a new form of ministry for Christian women. They trained and consecrated young single women as nurses, providing safe communal living arrangements for them in and near hospitals. Unlike Roman Catholic nuns, who took lifetime vows, the majority of Protestant “Deaconesses” later married and had families of their own. (see RH #4) The idea of making this option available to young women in the United States took hold among German Evangelicals in St. Louis in 1889. Although the majority of the St. Louis deaconesses were engaged in hospital service, by the early 20th century some deaconesses were deployed as “Parish Deaconesses.” A parish deaconess did not work in a hospital, but focused upon urban ministry and the needs of local congregations.
Issue #26: Many people know that author Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) wrote her best selling book Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852 to help people understand the cruelty of slavery and to promote abolition. Few people are aware, however, that although her religious roots in Congregationalism supported her commitment to abolish slavery; her attitudes about women were more conventional.
Issue #25: In 1837 a woman named Mary Lyon founded Mount Holyoke College. The college was the first of the “seven sisters” – a group of seven schools dedicated to the education of women (Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Wellesley, and Vassar). Although during most of the 19th century people continued to question the usefulness of higher education for women, increasing numbers of women were attending and graduating from colleges. In 1900 another Mary, Mary Emma Woolley, became the president of Mount Holyoke and led the school for thirty-seven years.
Issue #24: Although throughout most of church history ordained leadership in the Christian church has been male, during the past 500 years the minister’s wife has emerged as an important and often unrecognized form of ministry. Minister’s wives strengthened the ministries of their husbands, expanded the work of the church to support women and children, and paved the way for the acceptance of clergy women in the 20th century.
Issue #23: We often read about the Niebuhr brothers (Reinhold and H. Richard), but few people know very much about their sister, Hulda. Read about Clara Augusta Hulda Neibuhr the older sister in this important family rooted in the German Evangelical tradition who became a leading writer and teacher in Christian Education.
Issue #22: One of the most amazing organizations in the history of the Christian churches in the United States is the American Missionary Association (AMA). Founded in 1846 by Northern abolitionists it became a major force for education and justice among Blacks, women, Chinese, Japanese and American Indians for the remainder of the 19th century. Furthermore, as the conflict over slavery escalated during the decades leading up to the Civil War, the AMA stayed the course, enabling many women to perform memorable acts of service.
Issue #21: The story of Abigail Roberts highlights the fact that although women were not formally ordained in the Christian movement until after the Civil War, in the early 19th century female laborers preached and started many Christian churches. (See Remembering Her article #5) In the 1840s arguments over whether women should be allowed to preach surfaced again. Rebecca Miller, the young wife of a Christian pastor in the Shenandoah Valley, wrote a lengthy exposition about the “Duty of Females” in the newspaper, the Christian Palladium (1841), citing many scriptural references supporting the legitimacy of women’s place in evangelism. (See LTH volume VII: 11)
Issue #20: The legacy of women's work for others (the homeless, imprisoned, uneducated and poor) runs deep in the history of the Christian Church. In many communities church women have provided hospitality, worked for justice, educated the children and provided for the poor. In recent decades, however, there has been a growing acknowledgement that women themselves are in need. Women, more than men, are victims of all kinds of violence and the church is part of the problem as well as the solution. During the past 20 years UCC leaders have challenged church and society to rethink longstanding ideas and assumptions about women.
Issue #19: In the early 1970s United Church of Christ women called the UCC to become intentional about its use of language. They challenged church bodies to educate members in the UCC about the "issues and sensitivities involved in the writing and using of inclusive language." They requested that the Constitution and Bylaws of the UCC be changed to make all language deliberately inclusive. They helped the General Synod declare that printed materials published and used officially by the UCC should be written (or rewritten when revised) to make all language deliberately inclusive. UCC Women (and men) have not always agreed about how to do this, but they insist that language is important.
Issue #18: Carol Joyce Brun: In 1983, upon her election as Secretary of the UCC, Carol Joyce Brun became the first female national staff executive in any mainline Protestant denomination. Building upon earlier administrative experience in the national UCC offices she went on to serve for eight years ? managing UCC General Synods, keeping official records, publishing the YEARBOOK of the UCC and modeling women?s leadership.
Issue #17: In 1971 the General Synod of the United Church of Christ passed a pioneering "Pronouncement on the Status of Women in Church and Society" at a time when few other Christian denominations had taken any formal steps to respond to the women's liberation movement.
2006 Remembering Her
Issue #16: UCCWM: United Church of Christ Women in Mission. UCCWM has never been a big success, but it continues to build some important bridges ? bridges between history and the present, bridges between older and younger women and bridges between the local and national settings of the church. Women who cross those bridges affirm that they are one in Christ Jesus and that they share a common lot.
Issue #15: Council for Lay Life and Work: During the 1940s and into the 1950s denominational support for men and women in the Evangelical and Reformed Church came through its national Churchmen's Brotherhood and its Women's Guild; and in the Congregational Christian Churches through the national Laymen's Fellowship and the National Women's Fellowship. Everyone assumed that in the United Church of Christ the four E and R and CC organizations would combine to form two national UCC bodies for men and women.
Issue #14: In the evolution of organizational structures in the United Church of Christ patterns of shared responsibility, collaboration, partnership and covenant have been central. The Uniting General Synod in 1957 elected co-presidents: Fred Hoskins from the Congregational Christian Churches and James Wagner from the Evangelical and Reformed Church. In the 1970-80s the Women's Inter-Staff Team enabled congregations, associations, conferences, and national instrumentalities to support women more effectively. Since the late 1990s and into the 21st century the UCC Constitution has emphasized the theme of covenant to set up a Collegium of five executives to lead the United Church of Christ.
Issue #13: Throughout the history of the United States women have always been active in church and society. During the 1960s the so-called "second wave of feminism, or the women's liberation movement," began to aggressively raise awareness and challenge traditions related to women's roles. Women inside and outside local churches embraced new patterns of thinking and pressed for new programs for women.
Issue #12: The First National Meeting of Women for Leadership Development: Those who attended that meeting did go home with great expectations. They were better equipped to be leaders. They had new skills, new enthusiasm, new awareness, new friends, new resources and new courage.
Issue #11: In 1971 the General Synod of the United Church of Christ passed "A Pronouncement on the Status of Women in Church and Society". It created a Task Force on Women in Church and Society that evolved into an Advisory Commission on Women in Church and Society, and finally into A Coordinating Center for Women in Church and Society (CCW), all within the office of the president of the UCC.
Issue #10: Valerie Russell often said that as a woman and as a layperson she felt called to make sure that marginal voices were heard in church and society. Furthermore, recognizing that many minority sisters carry "bitter" feelings about white standards of beauty and spending years doing white women's housework and childcare, Russell worked to renew trust among women in the UCC.
Issue #9: The Beginnings of the Woman's Missionary Society: Although the nation was still recovering from the Civil War, Elvira Yockey had a growing awareness of the needs of women in foreign lands. At that time many Protestant women all over the United States were organizing themselves to support mission work for and by women [see "Remembering Her," Article 8]. By 1869, no doubt prodded by his wife, Rev. Yockey raised the idea of a woman's missionary society at a meeting of the Ohio Synod.
Issue #8: In 1810 Congregationalists played a leading role in the founding of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, later known as the "American Board." Originally the American Board was an ecumenical effort, but after other denominations dropped out to form denominational mission boards the American Board became the foreign mission board for the Congregationalists.
Read more about the Rev. Edith Wolfe
Issue #7: The UCC often celebrates the fact that a Congregational woman named Antoinette Brown was the first woman ordained by a major Protestant denomination in the United States. Yet, among the groups that eventually came together to form the UCC the Christians actually began affirming female preachers long before the Congregationalists.
Issue #6: Phillis Wheatley: An African American Poet Nurtured by Early Congregationalism. Although this frail African American woman was not the first black American to publish, literary critics agree that she was the first truly significant African American poet. Most of her writing focused on ordinary life, putting into rhythmical verse thoughts about people and local events.
Issue #5: When the UCC established its new national instrumentalities in the early 1960s a decision was made not to have separate denominational structures for women. Instead a new UCC Council for Lay Life and Work (CLLW) was created to support the ministries of all laity (men and women) throughout the church...
2005 Remembering Her
Issue #4: We read in Paul's letter to the Romans [16:1-2], "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church... for she has been a helper of many..."
Issue #3: Before the 16th century women related to the Christian Church in several distinct ways. Devout peasant women participated in local parish life, nuns lived under monastic rule, mystics prayed and interpreted Christianity, and women in positions of religious and political influence protected their power as spouses and patrons.
Issue #2: When contemporary Christians argue about the place of women in society, they often forget that for the first three hundred years of Christian history there were at least two contrasting views of the Gospel, or "good news" about Jesus Christ.
Issue #1: Women have been part of the Christian community from the beginning. Many women followed Jesus during his ministry. Women were last at the cross and first at the tomb. Paul's letters show that many women were active leaders in the early church.