By Rev. Dr. Lilian Gallo Seagren
I grew up surrounded by many capable United Methodist women occupying leadership roles. Their names still are in my memory bank and many of them have already gone to be in eternity: Patrocinio Ocampo, Amelita Cajiuat, Betty Molina, Nellie Mercado, Celedonia Aquino, Lydia Tapia, Josie Runes, Elsa Tuazon, Esther Pangilinan, Tilde Ferrer, Beth Fernando, Espie Del Rosario, and a very dear friend, Lois Purdham.
As much as I was surrounded by these strong, faithful, and productive women during my young adult years (1973-1989), I never had the opportunity of having a clergywoman as my pastor. Those I have come to know were either appointed as Pre-school/Kindergarten/Christian Education teachers or directors, as associate pastors, and as pastors in very small congregations. Central United Methodist Church in Manila, Philippines, was my home church. When I was sensing the call to ordained ministry, I never really had a clergywoman for a role model. I did imagine what it would have been like if those women I have named above were pastors! I have prayed all the way that I will learn a little bit of something from each one of them. I have watched these women in their various roles both in their secular jobs and in the positions their local churches have given them and have seen confidence, elegance, courage, boldness, compassion, humility, devotion, commitment, determination, vision, and their meticulous ways of living out excellence. “Maybe having a little bit of such characteristics is welcomed in the pulpit,” I thought.
My mother was a huge support to my father, who was a pastor. Although my mother was not a leader and never showed she desired to be one, she encouraged her children to be independent, assertive, and to take every opportunity along our paths to make a difference in the places God puts us, always walking with humility and grace. That is exactly what she did, taking the role of a traditional full-time Filipino mother as she cared for her own five children and enjoyed supporting a highly driven husband. On the side, she was content to sing her songs and play a little bit on the piano.
I was a natural leader, and my parents showed me that women have a place in ministry as they themselves recruited, encouraged, and coached women to enter ordained and credentialed ministries. My parents were recruiting more women than men, particularly, women who had shown leadership capabilities in their youth. Two of these women became district superintendents (Rev. Luz Dado and Rev. Olive Picu). I never had the chance to watch them as I left for the United States at that time when they finally were pulled out of their small congregations to lead their districts.
In many ways, I never doubted my place in God’s church. Even if the Scriptures are a little bit brief with the stories of women who have changed the direction of the faith community’s stories as well as God’s story, I sought the best seminary (Garrett-Evangelical), surrounded myself with very capable women (as well as men who do not have a problem giving an opportunity for a woman like me to lead them), and with God’s providence in order to live the highest potential Christ is giving me. I ended up in Iowa, and I continue to be encouraged and supported by colleagues and Christian friends I have met along the way.
I have been in the United States for 24 years now, by the grace of God, praying that God will continue to bring in my path women, and men who will encourage, equip, and trust in me as one of the Christ-empowered leaders of this great District, Conference, and denomination. As natural a leader as I may be, it does take the whole church to nurture a clergywoman leader striving to give to the church and to the world what might have started as a playful imagination of great laywomen in the midst of God’s stirrings into a woman’s soul.
The Rev. Dr. Lilian Gallo Seagren is a district superintendent in the Iowa Annual Conference, where she previously pastored several churches. She has served on the faculties of Union Theological Seminary and Southeast Asia Theological Seminary, both in the Philippines. She is a member of the board of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.