Sixty-five clergywomen of the North Alabama Conference welcomed incoming Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett at a apecial luncheon at Camp Sumatanga on October 1. Reverends Sherill Clontz and Sherri Ferguson organized the event with special help from Reverend Rachel Gonia, with no agenda for the gathering other than introductions and conversation.
Camp staff served a wonderful meal of soup - tomato bisque or vegetable barley - and a selection of salads - pimento, chicken, pasta and green salads - as well as chocolate zucchini bread and raspberry sorbet. The staff enhanced the atmosphere by serving individual plates at the tables and clearing up as clergy continued to visit with one another. Bishop Wallace-Padgett was presented with a small token of welcome with gifts made locally in North Alabama, including some made by our United Methodist ministries. Bishop Wallace-Padgett spoke briefly as everyone was eating. She apologized for grabbing the wrong umbrella, a blue and white one with UK emblazoned on the side. Many attendees suggested either an orange and blue or red and white one to replace it. The Bishop thanked everyone for the welcome, noting that when she left Kentucky, clergywomen from her home conference gave her a send-off and were pleased that she was to be welcomed with open arms by the clergywomen of North Alabama.
Bishop Wallace-Padgett said that she was born at about the same time women were first being ordained Elders in the Methodist Church. When she came into ministry, she and her peers followed the first wave of ordained women who had many stumbling blocks to overcome in order to follow God’s call on their lives. She recalls being cheered on by those who pioneered her own trail to ministry and deeply admiring the way they held on to their call. The Bishop said that a third wave of women in ministry are now following their own paths, but have no understanding of what the first two groups of women in ministry have been through. She claimed that this was something to celebrate and the clergywomen agreed with hearty applause.
Bishop Wallace-Padgett plans to spend the first few months of her ministry in North Alabama getting to know the Conference, especially the clergy. She intends to make a priority of listening to the stories of clergy men and women. She was glad that this Gathering and Fellowship retreat of clergy from across the Conference offered an excellent opportunity to listen.
The majority of the women in ministry present continued to talk long after the tables were cleared. Most were participating in the Gathering of Orders and Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members, which began that afternoon and lasted through Wednesday.