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Women’s History

Invitation to men to honor a woman in their life

The bishop’s workgroup on Racial Reconciliation and Justice is issuing an invitation to men in the conference (clergy and lay) to honor a woman in their life who has “made a difference.” The responses will be shared on the conference website in March in honor of Women’s History Month.

The Rev. Larry Jent, a Native American member of the workgroup, shared, “In our traditional societies, women have always been honored as the greatest warriors. Men, you see, can only save life by spilling blood. Women can give life through their blood. That is an act of courage, sacrifice, and heroism that no man can match. That is a true warrior.”

Interested persons are invited to send write-ups, with or without pictures, to Brenda Capen at throughout the month of March.

Verna Dozier

Submitted by the Rev. Benjamin Pratt, Retired

Verna Dozier, a retired Washington, D.C. public school teacher of English for 32 years, a biblical scholar and leader of Bible study seminars, an author or co-author of several books, a spokeswoman for the authority and ministry of the laity in faith communities, a leading theologian and lay speaker in Episcopal circles who was often sought to speak at seminary commencements. She was a blunt, in-your-face champion of justice with a sometimes gentle, joyful poetic soul. She loved to stir the moral pot. She often referred to Jesus as a “peasant with an attitude,” and she advocated for the language and moral vigor of the prophet Amos. Verna, a third generation Washingtonian, was the daughter of a devout Baptist mother and a skeptical, intellectually curious, agnostic father who deplored what he perceived as the hypocrisy of many wealthy clergy. She grew up attending D.C’s African American public schools. She graduated two years early from Dunbar High School, and in 1937, from Howard University, where she received a Master’s degree in English a year later. She said she received a Bible in junior high school and read it cover to cover twice but didn’t get anything out of it. She later taught that only through an organized and disciplined program of study could the Bible be understood properly.

I knew Verna by reputation long before I ever met her. I spent twenty years working as a pastoral counselor in her church, St. Mark’s Episcopal on Capitol Hill, before they invited me to come out of the basement to preach during a worship. The question asked by most folks after I spoke was, “What did Verna say about your sermon?” It was clear, Verna was the one to give thumbs up or down. It was after my third sermon a year later that I finally met this elusive critic. I received a written note of warmth, compassion and praise. I had passed the gate!

Much to my delight and surprise we became close friends. After Verna’s sister, Lois, her dearest friend, died, she lived in a retirement center in Maryland. For more than two years I visited Verna every two weeks to spend time listening, laughing and loving her as I watched her body fail while her mind and disciplined spirit yearned with vitality. She said she grew up in the family of “Quoting Doziers,” as she often quoted poems and hymns. She deeply resented her body’s failing, and she could not imagine why God kept her alive. She asked me often to pray that God would take her home. She said, “God is not going to be pleased with me when I get there. I have a lot of questions for God to answer.” I suspect she is still up there causing a bit of turmoil and asking a lot of questions.

On my last visit with Verna, I was accompanied by her dear friend, Janis Hoffman. Verna and Jan, friends for more than 50 years, had both trained at Gordon Cosby’s Church of the Saviour. In the tradition of that church, they had left there to be leaven in the loaf of a more traditional congregation, St. Mark’s Episcopal. While Jan and I knew Verna was near death, appearing to be unconscious, we held her hands, spoke words of appreciation, and held her in prayer. There was no response from Verna. Near the end of our visit, I leaned close to Verna and uttered a few words of blessing and then kissed her forehead. To the shock and delight of us both, Verna sat upright, opened her eyes and smiled, saying “Ahhh!” and then she gently sank back into her pillow with no further response. She died within a few days.

Verna, small of frame, with her head often covered with a beret, had the voice and spirit of the prophet Amos, whom she described as “the first voice of social justice in the Bible.” She lived and moved and had her being within the prophetic faith of the prophet who spoke justice to power.

Who touched me? Verna, who continues to stir my soul with urgency.

Naomi Estaris

Submitted by Olga Caalim on behalf of Naomi’s husband, Roy Estaris
Naomi is a member of Resurrection UMC, Elizabeth River District and serves as chair of the Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committee.

I am Naomi Estaris. I was born in Newport, Rhode Island, with a heart for the Philippine Islands. My greatest pride is my sons, Alex and Josh and my grandkids, Jovanni, Jeramiah, Julian, Eva and Tala.

In all I do, I have mirrored others before me and set an example for those who follow. From my work in corporate America as a Tax Audit Compliance Manager/ Accountant to my work as the COO at Operation Smile to my current advocacy in my fight against Human Trafficking to being a Co-chair at our local FilFest USA.

My work feeds my brain for the education provided by my parents, Nestor & Nellie Villanueva, but my volunteer work feeds my heart for the passion for the voiceless. My volunteer work stems from the time as a girl scout. My fundraising training from selling cookies – continues in all I do. The Girl Scout Promise is the way Girl Scouts agree to act every day toward one another and to people in the world around them: On my honor, I will try: To serve God and my country, And to live by the Girl Scout Law.

Today, I am the President of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce of Virginia and director and Chair of the Philippine Committee for Sister Cities Association of Virginia Beach. My work at both organizations has dovetailed with the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC and The Economic Development Office for the City of Virginia Beach creating platforms that have enhanced the economic and public diplomacy efforts between the United States and the Philippines.

My family comes from a trail of missionaries – which I believe I genetically inherited. My work at Operation Smile was not just about repairing cleft lips and cleft palates – but building relations and bonds of friendships between countries that united us as one world. I continue that passion with the work I do now as the Founder of EnJewel, Equality Now Justice for Every Woman Every Land – an organization that fights against human trafficking by providing awareness, training and education. We fundraise to collaborate with those who provide search and rescue, who build homes and who provide therapies and counseling to those rescued.

I don’t call it lucky- but feel it has been a calling and God has enriched my life with family, friends and new relationships that have become advocates for the fight. Oh – and a husband that has my back in all I do. That’s so important.

I am so grateful and proud to be a Filipina – engraved in our veins- our culture, our heritage, our history. These very values allow each of us to sustain our ups and downs – through this pandemic and beyond. This is a time where we build our stamina, our determination – so that we can forge forward with fortitude and strength. Even in times of deep pain or trauma – these life experiences can help us find our true purpose – our calling. We are all vessels of change.

It is beyond my dreams, but to see our next generation of women taking on leadership roles, going beyond their comfort zones and breaking down the glass ceiling. With campaigns like Me Too and Time’s Up – all focused on bringing about change for women in all industries and around the world. I am so proud to be among other women who share their life skills, experiences and resources that allow other women to continue their journey.

And this is my message to Filipino children, especially little girls, growing up in the United States today. There will be times on your journey where you will face insurmountable obstacles – but that’s the time where you will need to dig deep within your soul for courage, strength and faith – to keep going. It’s important to remember – that despite any detours on your journey – you are destined for greatness – we are all seeds of greatness.

I stand in solidarity for those who bring about change for a better tomorrow – for our children will inherit this earth and all it contains. I show gratitude – because I know that I did not arrive in this place on my journey by myself – I had God, family and friends, supporters that guided my footsteps – and so do you. So grab the baton, get on board and make waves!

Mrs. Rachel Jasper

Submitted by the Rev. James Page, Pastor, Galloway UMC, Arlington District

Mrs. Rachel Jasper, the wife of the Rev. Otis Jasper

Mrs. Jasper was a devoted and loyal pastor’s wife. At one point in the Rev. Jasper’s life as a pastor in the Central Conference, he served a six-point charge, and Mrs. Jasper was by his side every Sunday. When three of the churches became part of the Virginia Annual Conference, he was the pastor of the Purcellville Charge. Mrs. Jasper was a quiet spirit with a powerful voice for the Lord. As our choir director, she had the patience of Job and never seemed to be impatient when teaching us new songs.

Back before copying machines, we had typewritten lyrics that were mimeographed on legal size paper. She had a way of making everyone want to sing – – even the boys. At one point, she worked with me to lead “My Father Watched Over Me.” The songs she chose for us seemed to fit our age group exactly right. Some even stuck with us, as choir members would still sing and hum the songs, we learned way back when. An example is my late cousin Marvin who would always go around singing “Sing the Clouds Away.”

She also helped to organize special programs, and we children had to learn and recite poems. What method she used to assign the poems, I do not know, but they managed to fit the bill for each person. At one event, she asked me to do prayer. She knew the approach to get you to do things.

After the passing of the Rev. Jasper, Mrs. Jasper presented all his lay servants with crosses that the Rev. Jasper made by hand. I will always cherish that cross. Mrs. Jasper was an inspiration to all who knew her.

The Rev. Elizabeth A.S. (Libby) Wright

Submitted by the Rev. Mike Harrington, Lyndhurst-Oak Hill Charge, Staunton District

One day in the fall of 1997 I was (of all places) in the shower at our home on the Eastern Shore when my wife, Julie, came in and said, “You have a phone call.” I replied, “I’m in the shower. Tell whoever it is I’ll have to call them back.” She gave me a look and said, “I think you’d better take THIS call. It’s the DS and she is calling from New York.”

Yikes….. I answered and who but our dear Libby Wright was on the line asking me to fill in for a couple of Sundays at a local church that had lost their pastor. I readily agreed and, promising to do my best, thanked her for the opportunity. I had completed all of the required steps and was a Certified Candidate for Ministry, but had been somewhat disappointed when the appointments were made that year and I was not among them. Little did I know that this phone call would be a major step along my journey of saying yes to serving the Lord in a new and different way.

I gladly filled in for the wonderful congregation of Mears Memorial UMC in Keller, Virginia, for two Sundays, after which Libby asked me to meet her at the district office. To make a long story short, she appointed me as a Lay Supply Pastor there for the remainder of 1997, and in 1998 she helped me meet the requirements to become a Part-Time Licensed Local Pastor. In 1999 her encouragement and trustworthy guidance, along with the support of our Virginia Conference Bishop and Cabinet, enabled me to make the transition into full-time pastoral ministry.

It is worth noting here, and all who knew both Ed and Libby, will agree that when Bishop Joe Pennel appointed Libby as our superintendent, the clergy and laity of the Eastern Shore District really were blessed with a “twofer.” Although Libby was certainly a wonderful person and friend, and an awesome district superintendent, it was clear that in Ed Wright, she not only had the love of her life, but in the two of them all of us were truly blessed with two of the most loving, godly, servant-hearted leaders any district ever had. She is an amazingly talented person. The memory of her portrayals of historical figures like Ruth, Susanna Wesley and others are treasured by all who witnessed them. Sadly, we all grieved with Libby when she lost Ed in 2017, but even as we bid farewell to this spiritual mentor to many, I knew then what I know now, that the love, encouragement and wisdom they both shared with us all will continue to bear fruit among the clergy and the laity of the Virginia Conference as they always have in my life. All to the glory of God.

The Rev. Elizabeth “Libby” Wright

Women of Trinity United Methodist Church, Henrico County

Submitted by Bill Pike, Director of Operations, Trinity UMC

For the last 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of working at Trinity United Methodist Church in Henrico County, Virginia. During that time span, I have learned and seen first-hand how important women are to the life and daily operation of our church. Without these ladies — Paula Cadden, Kim Johnson, Diane Ladd, Kim Tingler, and Juanita Woodson, we would not be able to open on a daily basis. Their commitment on good days and lousy days is inspiring. The same can be said for Judy Oguich, Pat Ruscus, and Jen Williams in their leadership with various church programs. For a long, long, long time, the women of the Trinity Preschool have helped to build essential skills in the lives of many children. They are patient and enduring angels for those children. Even during the pandemic, the Trinity Stitchers, many of whom are part of the United Methodist Women and assorted circles, were among the first to figure out how to construct and sow together hundreds of masks for people who needed them throughout the Richmond area. I am thankful, appreciative, and indebted to the hearts of these women and the hearts they touch every day. God bless them!!

Sue Meservey

Submitted by the Rev. Jack C. Meservey, Somerton & Whaleyville UMCs, James River District

Fifty-two years ago, I was in a very dark place. God provided a ray of light and her name is Sue. God introduced me to her and in turn she re-introduced me to God. Six years later we were married, and it has been a wonderful God centered journey. Having served in the military for over 20 years with nearly half of those years during the “Vietnam Era” I was associated with quite a few heroes (including a couple Medal of Honor winners). I would (even though she would deny it) place Sue right alongside any of them.

I say this because for over 40 years, she has been part of the American Red Cross organization as both paid staff and volunteer (much of it simultaneously). As paid staff, she performed administrative duties for the Tidewater region. As a Disaster volunteer she participated in numerous operations throughout the world. She was there following hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and just about any other disaster you can think about. During one particular assignment, she was part of the group that went to St. Thomas after a hurricane devastated the island, while trying to pick up the pieces another hurricane was bearing down on them. Fortunately, it veered off in another direction.

Her volunteerism did not cease upon retirement. In fact, she puts in about the same amount of time that she always has.

During most of our marriage, in addition to the Red Cross she performed the myriad of tasks associated with being a mother and wife. The difficulty of this task was further compounded by my numerous lengthy deployments (both in the Navy and as a civilian contractor).

She has always met all challenges with a smile and an infectious laugh, and she will always be my number one heroine.

June Elizabeth Hoff West and Lydia Frances Alderton West

Submitted by Bud West, Wesley UMC, Alexandria District

I would like to honor the memory of two important and special women in my life.

The first is my mother, June Elizabeth Hoff West. My mom, by profession, was a Licensed Practical Nurse. I do not have a lot of memories of her professional time, but do remember her love for her children and grandchildren. Mom was like Dorca in the Bible crocheting hats, scarves, blankets and baby booties. She taught me how to bake from scratch. She loved spending time with family and friends and never minded when I had a hard or interesting day at work in giving motherly advice.

The second is my paternal grandmother, Lydia Frances Alderton West, or Gan as her grandchildren called her. She was one of the early women to enlist in the U.S. Navy in World War I as a landsman/yeomanett. She enjoyed church work and Bible study. She joined the Salvation Army, but frequently attended the United Methodist Church to take Communion. In her early 80s she returned to be school and got a GED. She encouraged others around to be the best they could.

The Rev. Beth Downs

Submitted by the Rev. Doug Forrester, Roanoke District Superintendent

While I owe such a debt of gratitude to so many women in my life, I would like today to honor the Rev. Beth Downs. I first met Beth when I was in my first appointment and applying for full membership as an Elder. Soon thereafter, Beth put me on what was then called the Ordained Ministry Recruitment Committee (now the Call Culture Committee). Next, she was instrumental in my membership on the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Clergy Effectiveness Team, a presenter at residency events and convocation, and a teacher at licensing school.

But here is the thing: when she put me on the very first committee when I was in my second appointment, my faith in myself and my ability to be successful in pastoral ministry were so very low that I was strongly contemplating leaving ministry entirely. In fact, I was already making preliminary plans to do so.

But Beth seemed to believe in me, So I thought maybe I would listen to her even when I thought I was no longer hearing much from God myself. She was the still small voice speaking to me on behalf of the God who claimed and called me.

It is hard to put into words the gratitude one feels when you can look back at your life and see how the trajectory of your life and the life of your family has been so directly impacted by the life and witness of one individual, but there you have it. Over the last two decades, Beth Downs has always known exactly the right moment to show up, the right moment to speak, and the right words to say to me in ways I can never repay.

If you ever feel the tug on your heart to tell someone some kindness that God has placed on your heart in regard to that person’s life, do it. Your words might very well be nothing less than the words of God.

The Rev. Beth Downs

Stephanie Leyland McClain

Submitted by the Rev. Bryan McClain, White Stone UMC, Rappahannock River District

I want to honor my wife, Stephanie Leyland McClain. When I met Stephanie 26 years ago, it was on a blind date set up by her pastor, the Rev. Marg Kutz, at Wellspring UMC. At that time, Stephanie was very involved in her church as a youth leader and choir member. Since that time, she continues to lead by example as a Sunday School teacher, even when the kids she was teaching at church were our own three. As a “Pastor’s Wife” in a small rural church, it can be frustrating to plan and not have many show up, but Stephanie was there every week regardless if it was just our three children or we would have a few more. But being an educator for over 29 years, she is quite the professional and keeps on giving because she loves doing it. She is also an active member of the Lancaster Virginia Educational Foundation that helps to raise money for teachers to provide needed resources for their classrooms, and other experiences for the students such as an annual field trip to Washington D.C. for third graders and a “Dinner for Excellence” for High School students with the highest GPA’s. As far as other gifts Stephanie brings to the ministry we do together, she has always been a part of the church’s choir no matter where we have served. Having minored in dance, she has creative ideas for worship involving kids and others to get us up and moving. Stephanie has always been my rock and able to tell me things, even when I have not always wanted to hear them. I thank God for her and I know that I am blessed to be married to such a beautiful and wonderful Child of God.

Julie Kissell and Mrs. Jemmison

The Miter

Submitted by Andrew Kissell, Community UMC, Virginia Beach

My wife, Julie, is an educator and largely responsible for raising our five children.  During their K-12 years Julie served in various officer’s jobs on the children’s PTAs including president of elementary, middle and now high school for Salem High’s Friends of the Academy where our youngest attends as part of the vocal strand.  Julie is very active in United Methodist Women at both the fellowship and district levels with both her Circle and in leadership.  I believe serving and volunteering in our schools is one of the best expressions of faith we can share and makes more of a difference in this world than anything I’ve ever done in my profession or will ever do with United Methodist Men.  Julie also serves on the alumni board of her alma mater, Virginia Wesleyan University.  I’m very fortunate to have a wife with such a heart for God and people.

I share this because even though I know men and fathers are important in parenting and spiritual nurturing, women have always had an outsize role.  Many a man wouldn’t have become the disciple he is without a mother or grandmother filling the vacuum left by absent fathers. 

My case is a variation on this theme.  As a young boy we regularly attended an Episcopal church until I was 12.  I remember whenever the Bishop came to visit Holy Trinity, he’d be wearing that elegant robe and ornate stole along with a tall, imperious miter and carrying a shepherd’s staff.  Whenever I’d see the bishop wearing that imposing miter, I’d say to myself I want to be a bishop, not a fireman or an engineer or a doctor. I’ll just skip right past pastoring and preaching and get right to bishoping.  At the tender age of 12 our priest left my church, leaving the ministry and moving to somewhere like Montana or Wyoming, and from my perspective never to be seen or heard from again.  My parents were good friends with Father Bill Cross and his wife and were devastated by their departure.  We stopped going to church and I didn’t start back up again ‘til I was 27. 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”                      

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

I was distressed as well.  A few weeks later in English class my teacher, Mrs. Jemmison, noticed I was out of sorts and asked me privately what was wrong.  I earnestly asked her how she knew there was a God.  She explained that she had been caring for her frail mother and that as a caregiver it could be very demanding and stressful.  Even though she loved her mother she didn’t always have the strength to carry on, so she would pray and would always be refreshed and restored, getting her burden lifted by God.  That’s how she knew.  And that’s all I needed to hear. 

I am grateful to Mrs. Jemmison and to all the women sharing the love of God not just in their churches, but in our communities.

Victoria Jackson Adams

By Dr. James “JD” Daniely

On the bottom left, Ms. Victoria Jackson Adams, Civil Rights leader, etc., was also my mentor at Virginia State University from 1993 until her death in 2006. She guided me into the Virginia Conference and served on the Board of Directors for United Campus Ministry, an Interfaith endeavor. Her motto, “Move when the Spirit says move.” Although she, as a layperson, initiated the ministry at Virginia State University, she stepped aside to permit me to be the first full-time campus minister sponsored by the Annual Conference.The people she brought into my life, including Dr. Youtha Hardman-Cromwell, have enriched and inspired my life as an Elder in the Conference.
–Dr. James “JD” Daniely, Pastor at Roberts Memorial UMC, Alexandria District.

A tribute to Victoria Jackson Adams, bottom left.
Rosie Brown

Rosie B. Brown

By Charles Sias

Rosie B. Bown was my great aunt who raised me. She adopted me and we moved from Mississippi to Virginia where she worked and later joined Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church.  She was very active in the church including being a member of the Chancel Choir and a major supporter of the other church choirs.  With her encouragement I joined the church, the Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and the other church youth groups.  She is responsible for every positive thing in my life.  She believed in honesty, caring for others and God.  From an early age to adulthood she was my inspiration and guardian.  She always told me what I needed to hear and not just what I wanted to hear about anything.  After all the trials and tribulations of growing to adulthood, she was able to live to see me earn several degrees, married with a family and buy a home.  She was able to share with us several Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter meals at our new home.  Her memory is etched in my mind and I am so grateful to this day.