Living in grace and difference

Marking 25 years of credentialing women in Franconia Conference

by Emily Ralph, Salford

My most vivid memory from the fall of 1987 was sitting in a circle with my preschool classmates taking turns shaking a jar of cream an impossibly long time until it became—wonder of wonders!—butter.  There isn’t much drama when you’re four: arguments over who plays with who on the playground, the boredom of lying wide awake on the mat during naptime, joy at seeing Mom again at the end of the day.

Marty Kolb-Wyckoff
Marty Kolb-Wyckoff was the first woman licensed in Franconia Conference. Photo by Andrew Huth.

While I was building with blocks and coloring pictures in that Ohio preschool, history was in the making 400 miles away.

Delegates from Franconia Conference had spent several years in conversation and discernment, listening, talking, and praying about the question of women in leadership.  That fall, without much fanfare, delegates voted to allow congregations to request credentialing for female leaders.  In fact, the decision was made so quietly and gently that the newsletter announcement a few months later only took up three inches of column space.

This past Assembly marked the 25th anniversary of this decision.  I am still in awe sometimes that this happened in my lifetime.  As a licensed pastor in Franconia Conference, I think about how different my life would be now if that decision hadn’t been made.  I am so grateful to those leaders who wrestled with a difficult issue and came to a graceful and gracious decision together.

That’s the beauty of the “women in leadership” conversation that Franconia Conference had in the 1980s—it was conducted with love and respect for the diversity of opinion within our conference.  Unlike some other conferences, Franconia didn’t lose a single church when that decision was made.  And this gives me incredible hope.

Twenty-five years later, we’re still having difficult conversations and there will be new difficult conversations twenty-five years from now.  But the Spirit of unity, the Spirit of love, not fear—that is, the Spirit of Jesus—is with us today, just as that same Spirit was with conference leaders twenty-five years ago.  This Spirit allows us to find unity not just despite our differences but as we acknowledge and celebrate our differences.

Logan, Emily, and Cadi
Emily with her nephew and niece–how will they reflect on today’s conversations in 25 years?

I don’t know what the future holds; I don’t know what decisions we will be making in the coming years.  But somewhere nearby, there are little boys and girls swinging, and building Lego castles, and maybe even shaking jars of cream into butter who will someday reflect on our conversations—may they be inspired by our devotion, our integrity, our perseverance, and most of all, our love for one another.