Elsie Tipton helped forge a path for women in church leadership
March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate women who blazed their own trail. Meet Elsie Tipton, a resident of Arkansas City Presbyterian Manor, who was one of the first female pastors in the United Methodist church in Kansas.
Elsie was on her way out of a parish pastor board meeting when her church pastor stopped her. “He asked me when I had been called, and I said, ‘I’m not sure I have.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m sure you have.’”
It was the early 1980s, and Elsie and her pastor had this in common: neither of them looked like the pastors most Kansans were used to. Elsie was a woman. Her pastor was African-American. The pastor parish board was meeting that day because some church members didn’t want him there.
In her heart, Elsie knew her pastor was right. A trip to the Holy Land in 1980 had amplified the calling she felt to ministry. She started classes at Cowley College, then completed her degree at Southwestern College. That’s when she received her first appointment, as lay pastor to a small country church outside Anthony. She also preached at their sister church in Bluff City.
The people at those churches were very encouraging, Elsie said. “They were very loving and just coached me along.”
Elsie enrolled at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. For three years, she spent the week at school and drove home on the weekends. It helped that her husband, Bobby, was a farmer, and their four children were grown. Bobby would go with her on weekends to the churches she served.
Then Elsie was ordained and appointed to a church in Harper – and it wasn’t a warm welcome this time. “In a way I wasn’t ready for what happened after seminary,” Elsie said. “They definitely didn’t want a woman there. They were outspoken about it.”
It was a small but vocal opposition within the church. So Elsie responded with patience and determination.
“I told them, ‘Well, when I took my oath and ordination, I said I would go wherever the Methodist church sent me,’” she said. “I took it with grace and understanding that this is a new thing, and they needed to get used to it. After I was there a while, most of the congregation accepted me. I never doubted that I belonged there.”
Indeed, the Methodist Church had granted full clergy rights to women in 1956 after a century of efforts by women to be accepted as church leaders.
Elsie’s other tactic was to visit every single member of the congregation in their homes – both in Harper and at subsequent churches where she met resistance.
“That helped to break the ice because they hadn’t had pastors visit them very often. I made it so that I went to the people that there was resistance with; I would go to their homes maybe two or three times a year.”
With prayer and perseverance, Elsie served in the United Methodist Church for 15 more years after she was ordained. Today she enjoys babysitting her great-grandchildren and getting to know a new great-great-granddaughter. Her granddaughter Cammy Boone is director of nursing in our assisted living neighborhood, where Bobby lives now. Her great-granddaughter Paige Bates works at Presbyterian Manor, too.
We’re proud to celebrate Elsie and her pioneering experience in the ministry, which undoubtedly opened doors for following generations of young women to heed their own calling.