Free Methodists gather for a group photo at a Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy conference.
Roberta Mosier-Peterson — the senior pastor of Oakdale Free Methodist Church in Jackson, Kentucky — is working to turn her Northeastern Seminary doctoral dissertation into “Lived Experience,” a documentary film covering the ministry experiences of women pastors.
In May 2016, Mosier-Peterson finished her dissertation that details common ministry experiences of women in the Free Methodist Church. After reading Mosier-Peterson’s dissertation, International Child Care Ministries Director Linda Adams, an ordained elder, approached the other members of the Free Methodist Study Commission on Doctrine and encouraged action. One of them, Free Methodist Church in Southern California Lead Superintendent Denny Wayman, suggested the dissertation be written into a screenplay based on the stories documented. Mosier-Peterson agreed, and Wayman adapted the documentary into a screenplay.
Although the experiences include stories of pain, Wayman presents them in such a way as to help bring about change for the future. Mosier-Peterson described the screenplay as invitational. She said, “You will see the preferred future and hopefully picture yourself in that.”
The screenplay highlights the advocates who have come alongside women in ministry by giving them opportunities and invitations to serve.
Leadership isn’t easy for any pastor, and some church members may find it hard to accept a female leader – even in a denomination that celebrates women in ministry.
Mosier-Peterson, an ordained Free Methodist elder, experienced this firsthand while appointed to a congregation in a rural Illinois community after serving an urban church. After two years, she left her appointment feeling burned out. She based her dissertation on her observation that women’s experiences as pastors tended to be different from what she heard about from men.
“Our church says beautiful things about being fully affirming of women in all levels of leadership,” said Mosier-Peterson, but she added that women are sometimes treated as less-qualified and desirable for church appointments.
Using an ethnographic study, Mosier-Peterson decided to collect life stories from Free Methodist women pastors to draw out the commonalities they experience. As she narrowed her scope, women participating in her study needed to meet certain qualifications. Mosier-Peterson found five qualified pastors willing to participate in her study. The purpose of her investigation was to be story-driven and allow her participants to share their experiences without imposing her own.
Mosier-Peterson discovered that Free Methodist women pastors feel called to heal the world. They see the people in the margins and feel a priority to lead their communities toward healing these wounds found in society. They follow Jesus’ call for His disciples to preach good news to the poor and bring release to the captives (Luke 4:18).
She also found women in leadership counter opposition to their ministries on multiple fronts. Mosier-Peterson said women “don’t see sexism as being the big, bad evil unless you get them together and they share their stories.” As they begin to share their stories, they realize the isolation women often face in ministry and “this subtle, unconscious bias that women cannot or should not do certain things.”
She said even women have this perception about themselves, which impacts their decisions, attitudes at work and how they evaluate their success in ministries.
The Free Methodist Church – USA Board of Bishops pledged $15,000 toward the project, and with the generous support of multiple Free Methodist conferences and other donors, the documentary has reached its $38,000 fund-raising goal. Filming is scheduled to conclude the last week of November, and Mosier-Peterson expects the documentary to be finished by April 2018.