WTM -- Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor

Improving circumstances for the next generation of female ministers is more than just a professional concern for South Carolina Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor. After all, one member of that next generation calls her "Mom."

Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor
Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor

Bishop Taylor's daughter, Mandy Taylor Young, will graduate from Emory University's Candler School of Theology in the spring, making her the third minister in her family. Like her mother, her father, the Rev. Rusty Taylor, graduated from Candler in 1975.

Bishop Taylor preached at Candler's Cannon Chapel on Oct. 25 as part of Candler's annual Women in Theology and Ministry conference, which is held to engage scholars and other leaders on significant questions related to women. This year's theme was Women and Peacemaking. The bishop also spoke to students at an informal luncheon following the service.

Some of the questions tackled by the conference, which was founded in 2002, have no easy answers, said Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, director of the Program for Women in Theology and Ministry and Professor of Religion and Education at Candler.

"I'm grateful that [Bishop Taylor] was willing to wrestle with some hard questions in our presence," Dr. Moore said, noting that "finding unity of the whole body and acknowledging the places of pain and conflict" is very important.

Bishop Taylor said women continue to break through barriers in ministry, including serving at large churches. There is, however, still room for improvement.

"The journey for women has gotten somewhat better, but it is still not where it needs to be," she said. She knows firsthand that it can sometimes be a difficult road. She can recall tough times in her ministry when her congregation wasn't particularly happy to have a female pastor, including one incident when church members went into her office while she was out and dumped hay on her desk and turned her diplomas upside down.

Seeing incidents like this and the issues that confronted both of her minister parents while she was growing up in Tennessee, Young was clear about what she didn't want to be when she grew up: "I will never do this," she said, describing her former attitude toward pastoring a church.

Young received an undergraduate degree in interior design and worked in that field for three years before she participated in a mission trip to Alaska and experienced a literal mountaintop experience on Mt. McKinley, where she felt God calling her into ministry.

Returning to Candler allowed the bishop to relive some of her experiences there, she told students in chapel. She recalled the time when she was a senior at Candler and was notified by the dean's office that she had been chosen to receive the award that went to the student who had made the most improvements in their qualifications for ministry while at Candler. She was very excited until one of her classmates (she says she has forgotten who) said, "Well, you must have been pretty bad when you started."

"I can't tell you how that hit a spot deep within me," she continued. "I think we are all so aware of our limitations and our weaknesses and our frailties." Instead of being proud of her achievement, she began to dread the awards convocation.

When she received the award, the dean told her that she "really deserved it."

"I could not have been lower on the floor when I went back to my seat," she noted. "I tell you that because I can stand here today as a living testimony to all of you that there is hope. But I also tell you that because being here at Candler began me on a journey of claiming my voice."

Claiming your voice for God has two components: speaking a word of faith and speaking for the cause of justice, the bishop asserted.

"To claim our voice for God means that we are tellers of the story of faith, and it needs to be a story that's real within each of our lives," she said. "But to claim our voice for God also means that we speak for the cause of justice."