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May  2014 23
Phillips Professor’s Book Featured on UMW Reading List

A book by Phillips Theological Seminary professor Dr. Ellen Blue has been featured on the United Methodist Women’s Reading Program List for 2014. Her book, “St. Mark’s and the Social Gospel: Methodist Women and Civil Rights in New Orleans, 1895–1965,” is listed as suggested reading for Education for Mission.

The book follows the social and civil rights work of Methodist women at St. Mark’s Community Center and United Methodist Church in New Orleans from 1895 through 1965. Blue says the women were very attuned to their neighborhood, asking people what they needed instead of telling people what they would do. The women then used their connections and social clout to meet those needs.

“It’s really a powerful story of what deaconesses and local laywomen were able to accomplish,” Blue said.“They really were geniuses at networking and community organizing. They really saw themselves doing Christian ministry.”

Blue says working as a deaconess at St. Mark’s offered women an opportunity to get an education and work officially in ministry despite the fact that women could not be ordained at the time. She also says the women of St. Mark’s faced many challenges and often worked against both city and church officials who believed their work was a “secularizing evil.”

“At the time when this work began, there was a circumscribed women’s sphere that limited what was socially acceptable for a women to do,” Blue said. “Some women stayed in it; some women ignored it. Methodist women stayed in it and worked both overtly and subversively to expand the sphere.”

Blue hopes that members of the UMW will have an opportunity to read the book and learn both about the deaconess movement and what it does today.

“I want women to recognize what a group of local lay people can establish and the tremendous impact they can make on a town or a city,” Blue said.

Blue is the the Mouzon Biggs, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity and United Methodist Studies at Phillips. She is currently working on a project titled “In Case of Katrina,” based on her seminary course “The Church’s Response to Katrina,” which examines Louisiana churches’ re-evaluation of their missions in light of Hurricane Katrina. 

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