Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky stands with Rev. Karen Hernandez while holding a copy of “We Pray for Her” at a recent meeting. Photo by Greg Nelson (OR-ID).
Earlier this month, a new resource for women leaders of all kinds was published by Abingdon Press. We Pray With Her is a book of devotionals and prayers meant to support and encourage women in leadership. The book is organized around themes of Call, Struggle, Courage, Resistance and Persistence and includes 100 entries written by 70 United Methodist clergywomen under the age of 40 serving in a variety of capacities across the United States.
Rev. Karen Hernandez, Sage District Superintendent in the Oregon-Idaho Conference, and Rev. Elizabeth Ingram Schindler, pastor of Issaquah: Faith United Methodist Church in the Pacific Northwest Conference, are among the contributors.
We Pray With Her originated in 2016 as a grassroots movement encouraging lifelong United Methodist and first female Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton, while on the campaign trail. It quickly became an online collective of voices that continues to encourage and inspire women and their allies on Facebook.
In recent months, many of these voices were combined into We Pray With Her, a book reminding women who lead in any capacity – at home, in their communities, or in a career – that they are not alone and that there are others praying for and with them. According to a member of the editorial team, Dr. Emily Peck-McClain, visiting professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, “This is the kind of book that will sustain women who are seeking to live faithfully no matter where it is that they are living it out.”
While the book is meant to encourage all women leaders, its timing for United Methodist clergywomen is especially relevant as recent events within the church, and the world, have shown them that the fight for equal rights is far from over.
In May, the Council of Bishops announced that it couldn’t ratify two amendments to the church’s constitution relating in part to women’s equality; each lacked sufficient support in voting that took place in conferences across the connection. While United Methodists were allotted a do-over on one of the two, due to an error in the legislation submitted to conferences, many remained frustrated by the apparent lack of progress.
The anger and frustration generated by this failure to ratify created in the book’s editors an even greater determination to see it published. Responding to the vote, Peck-McClain said the book contributors are angry, hurt and emboldened. “Every setback makes us want to be stronger and more forward about standing up for our rights in our denomination.”
“Women have a lot of forces working against them” offered Rev. Elizabeth Ingram Schindler continuing to express pride in having helped create a new source of support that addresses women’s unique needs. She points to prayers contained in We Pray With Her that speak to pregnancy tests, divorce, and for times when women aren’t experiencing the support of their partners. Schindler suggests that while it might work for groups, the book is better suited to personal devotion time with elements short enough to accommodate even those with busy lives.
Rev. Karen Hernandez shares that she hopes the book will help female leaders “find strength and comfort in knowing that they are not alone.” As a young, single clergywoman who felt isolated at times in an unfamiliar town, she remembers that her struggle became more bearable when she knew that “another person had been there before, survived, can relate and was cheering [her] on.” For her, this book represents the kind of comfort and companionship that women answering the call to lead need as they face challenges such as loneliness, frustration and burn out.
The contributors of We Pray With Her also hope to encourage the next generation of women leaders. All royalties from the book will support scholarships for young women certified as Masters of Divinity candidates at one of 13 United Methodist seminaries. People can also donate directly to this scholarship managed by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Cindy Haverkamp serves as Communications Associate for The Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.