You have an important voice, a story to tell, a calling on your life. The only one you must answer to is God. You are not alone.
Those are just a few of the affirming words and ideas presented to more than 600 women attending the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy’s (WHWC) E2022 [HER]STORY conference in Grapevine, Texas, March 10-12, 2022.
WHWC’s biennial conference began in 1994 and has become a “must-attend” event for women leaders needing a platform designed to specifically care for them as clergy.
Although women clergy from many denominations attend, the organization is sponsored by The Wesleyan Church, Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), Church of the Nazarene and Free Methodist Church. “These denominations are all egalitarian, believing that women can lead at all levels in the church,” said Rev. Dr. Priscilla Hammond who is serving a four-year term as The Wesleyan Church representative on the WHWC Board.
Dr. Hammond was first introduced to the conference in 2013, and later volunteered as conference coordinator.
“At the first conference I attended, I observed all of the women serving in ministry at every level in our churches,” Dr. Hammond said. “There were denominational leaders, senior pastors, deans, professors, and every pastoral role: youth pastor, children’s pastor, discipleship pastor, etc. I had not heard women preach, and I was overcome with the desire to help other women to experience this. When I was asked to serve, I knew that it would put me in a position to help that to happen.”
The group has themed the conference since 2020 with an “E” followed by the year to keep the mission of engaging, empowering and equipping in the forefront.
It is impactful to women at all levels of their careers, especially first-timers such as Diane Mann, ALIVE Wesleyan, Central, South Carolina.
“As a Wesleyan ministerial student pursuing a Master’s of Pastoral Care as a second career, this was my first time to attend the WHWC conference. It was so inspiring to be among 600 women pastors, especially holiness pastors. All the speakers were gifted leaders and preachers, especially Rev. Dr. Colleen Derr, who closed the conference with a passionate message challenging us to allow the Holy Spirit to do a new work in our lives every day! The ‘her story’ theme helped me to understand we all have a story!”
Rev. Natasha Dongell, lead and founding pastor of church plant Follow Church, Clemson, South Carolina, joined a table with three other leaders, one of whom she had never met.
“I listened while she [the other leader] unpacked the specific challenges of her leadership context. I was in awe of her strength, perseverance, humility, and wisdom. It is humbling to see the echo of our common struggles woven throughout each woman’s story. But it is even more inspiring to see how these leaders persevere in faithfulness to the call God has placed on their lives.”
On Sunday morning the organizers planned an “unplugged” benediction service. Pastors were divided into small groups where they could talk freely and share a bit of their own stories. “This was the quiet time together that many of the women needed and was one of the highlights of the conference for me,” said Dr. Hammond.
“WHWC exists to engage, empower, and equip women leaders for ministry,” she added. “That happens in community. Not just with other women — my Sunday morning prayer group included a male pastor/professor and I had a great hallway conversation with General Superintendent Wayne Schmidt — but with other individuals who support and advocate for their role in ministry.”
Nueva Generación’s Lead Pastor Rev. Mireille Tanner also said she gained a lot by sitting together with women from other denominations and listening to their stories.
“It was interesting to see how others approach ministry and the specific challenges of leading as a woman. One highlight was breakfast with General Superintendent Emeritus Dr. Jo Anne Lyon and leaders from different denominations where we discussed ways to work toward racial reconciliation.”
Rev. Tanner’s main takeaway from the conference was that “God called me to this ministry and that is enough. I don’t have to prove myself or justify myself in front of anyone except God. Also, I am not alone. There are so many more women who share the same situation with the joys and struggles. It was so great to sit with women who are trailblazers and learn from them.”
E2024’s location has not yet been chosen, but organizers ask that Wesleyans “pray that the women who attend will find themselves located in the center of God’s will.”
Click here to view E2022 [HER]STORY main sessions and some workshops.
Jennifer Jones is the district administrator for the South Carolina District of The Wesleyan Church.