On March 7-9, 2024, women from the pan-Wesleyan world will gather in Dallas, Texas, for the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy (WHWC) conference, aimed at engaging, empowering and equipping women to lead the church.
Founded in 1994, the conference has been a transformative space for many women who have never seen their peers lead within local congregations. Some — like Reverend Dr. Priscilla Hammond from Southern Wesleyan University (SWU) — shared that while they often see women leading in business environments, stepping into a leadership conference planned for women and by women is often a “first” in a local church setting, especially for those coming to the holiness tradition from another theological family.
“I started volunteering and attending at a Wesleyan church in the early 90s, and went to work there in 2002, and I felt like there weren’t a lot of models for me in ministry,” shared Dr. Hammond, associate professor of Business and associate director of the FLEX Ministry Program at SWU. “As a woman, and someone who didn’t grow up in The Wesleyan Church (TWC), I didn’t ever see women preaching … I didn’t have a lot of experience seeing women leading in the church. I had worked in the world before this, and was leading in corporate environments, but I hadn’t seen it so much in the church or had much of a model of what that would look like.”
The conference’s focus on empowerment was an early choice by the organizers from several denominations (Wesleyan, Nazarene and Salvation Army, among others) who met in Atlanta in 2017 to focus on the future vision of the WHWC conference. Because the conference was gaining momentum, organizers had to decide what the conference’s purpose, theme and mission would be in the future. During that meeting, they decided to focus on leveraging the conference as a space to advocate for and mentor women in local church leadership.
“The first conference I went to was in 2013, in Estes Park, Colorado. I got to see women — not only preaching — for the first time ever, but also women leading the conference, and it was not a women’s conference. That was appealing to me in a way that women’s conferences often aren’t to me, because I want to grow as a human — not in whatever feminine trait women’s conference organizers decide is important. And in this conference, that’s what I found. It was very well-led, well-organized, and I was very impressed at how it was done very intentionally for women in leadership,” said Dr. Hammond, who has since been appointed as The Wesleyan Church’s representative to the WHWC leadership board.
As helpful as the conference is, many women clergy face obstacles to attendance, whether logistical (finding someone to fill in at their local church) or financial. Some of the conference organizers shared how important it is for pastors, denominational officials and others to support female pastors, either by providing scholarships, preaching help or other support that removes roadblocks for those who want to attend.
“Anytime a leader, such as a pastor or district superintendent, offers to cover the expense of this conference, it sends a message that they believe God calls both women and men into vocational ministry and that their leadership is crucial to the church,” said Reverend Carla Working, director of Clergy Care and Development at TWC.
“This message isn’t just for those that attend — it’s important for all of us to be reminded of that truth and intentionally seek that it is lived out. The church needs both women and men to answer the call. Providing financial support has a ripple effect as we see these women embrace their God-given leadership role and serve the church with greater impact,” continued Rev. Working. “Every time I have attended WHWC, it has been because of district financial support. As I was growing in my leadership at the conference, it was affirming to know that my district believed in the value of my leadership enough to make my attendance possible.”
Whether you attend, pray or support others in making the WHWC conference possible, you can find more information on the WHWC website. Click here for registration and take advantage of the Super Early Bird rates, which end October 15, 2023.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.