Mar 12, 2024 | By the Rev. Julia Singleton

Part 1: EPA, GNJ clergywomen witness to their ‘Wow’ moments in ministry

During Women’s History Month in March, we typically commemorate women who have shaped the history of Methodism, beginning with Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley. Throughout the centuries, women have been vital to the denomination’s growth and impact as leaders, teachers, pastors, missionaries and organizers. We encourage you to explore the inspiring stories of women within Methodism who have made important contributions to the life and legacy of the church.  (Read Timeline of Women in Methodism and GBHEM – Clergy – Clergywomen)

The Rev. Julia Singleton briefly recalls that history but then writes about clergywomen now serving in the Eastern PA and Greater New Jersey conferences.

Women have been preaching the Gospel since Mary Magdalene proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection. Through the years women have been instrumental in making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in whatever capacity they could.

As United Methodists we stand on the shoulders of Sojourner Truth, Sarah Mallet, Helenor M. Davisson, Pauline Williams Martindale, Anna Howard Shaw, Charity Opheral, Maude Jensen, Sallie Crenshaw and Margaret Henrichsen, and also of pioneering Bishops Marjorie Swank Matthews, Leontine T.C. Kelly, Sharon Brown Christopher, Minerva G. Carcaño and Rosemarie Wenner. This is a short list of women who gave us the “gift of going first.”

During Women’s History Month I love celebrating women in the Bible and in our historical records. But I want to share with readers some women who are actively serving the church now in EPA and GNJ.  I reached out to some of my fellow clergywomen and asked them three questions.

First, “There are certain moments in my ministry that have stopped me in my tracks and made me think ‘Wow!’ Can you share a ‘Wow’ moment from your ministry?”

The Rev. Grace Pak

The Rev. Grace Pak, a longtime leader and teacher in cross-racial/cross-cultural ministry, founded the Shalom IDEA and serves as the English Ministry pastor of Calvary Korean UMC in East Brunswick, NJ.

“The ‘Wow’ moments for me are when I see my ministry being used by the Holy Spirit to turn on the proverbial lightbulb in someone’s life,” she said. “Those are the blessed, serendipitous moments when I witness someone I’ve been working with gaining a new understanding or awareness of God, of self and of others that transforms their perspective, behavior and relationships. Those are the holy moments that affirm me and the ministry I am called to.”

I think a lot of clergy can relate to this. It is such a gift to receive ‘ah-ha’ or ‘lightbulb’ moments; but when we can be a part of someone else’s, it’s even more rewarding.”

The Rev. Tracy Duncan

The Rev. Tracy Duncan, pastor of Eastwick UMC in Philadelphia, agreed in her response. “I’ve often been amazed at how God allows me to witness or to be a conduit for healing in people’s lives. Whether it’s physical or emotional healing, or sometimes the simple fact that what was not understood suddenly becomes clear in a person’s life. Those are moments which cause me to say ‘Wow!’

“Many believe that the time or dispensation of healing miracles has passed,” she said, “but I stand as a witness to the great power and the awesome grace of God in the lives of people. And I am thankful for it.”

The Rev. Sooah Na

The Rev. Sooah Na, pastor of Centenary UMC in Metuchen, NJ, shares her story.  “One ‘Wow’ moment stands out for me vividly. In the thick of the pandemic in 2020, I was appointed to serve at Centenary United Methodist Church. The church was silent then, with no footsteps in the halls, no voices raised in song. It was just me, recording sermons for the new congregation I had not yet seen. I would often linger in prayer, hoping earnestly for the time when we could gather together in worship, ministry and mission for the community.

“Then, a simple email arrived that truly stopped me in my tracks. A congregant wrote about a conversation with their child who was pondering how to help those in harder circumstances. They thought it was a conversation worth having with their new pastor. That message struck a chord deep within me. It felt like a nudge from God, heard through a child’s voice, telling me, ‘Sooah, I placed you here for a purpose. It is time to help my people.’

And that is what we did. I reached out to our missions committee, and we brainstormed, looking for ways to continue God’s work in a new way. That is how Sandwich Thursday was born, a sandwich-making ministry that has been bringing people together and serving the community since September 2021. It is moments like these that remind me of the profound connections and callings we have, even in challenging times.”

The Rev. Stacy Gonzalez, who serves as the lead pastor of Grove UMC in EPA, said, “Every single baptism! God’s grace never ceases to amaze me.” She also shared that “watching the faithfulness of God’s people in every church I have served” is a constant source of awe for her.

Rev. Dr. Tanya Linn Bennett

Rev. Dr. Tanya Linn Bennett, Associate Dean for Vocation and Formation at Drew Theological School, expressed her “Wow” as walking with young female students and watching them persevere through the difficult process to get to ordination. One of the most stunning moments for her was when Kaleigh Rasmussen was ordained, one of the first “out” LGBTQIA+ ordinands in GNJ. “To stand with her on stage as the bishop laid hands on her was really pretty phenomenal, and to realize that this was not only about Kaleigh, but about all those gifted, graced people who could now come through a door that had been closed to them.”

When her students reach their vocational goals, she finds it incredibly satisfying. And when they come back and let her know she had a hand in it, those are “Wow” moments for her. “Sometimes we don’t realize how we influence and encourage people,” she expressed.

The Rev Alicia M Juliá-Stanley

The Rev Alicia M Juliá-Stanley, serving at First UMC Shamokin and St John’s UMC in Coal Township, PA, shared her recent “Wow” moment. “Just a couple of weeks ago, I had spent a considerable amount of time attending and traveling to meetings and also meeting via Zoom. When I was doing my ‘examen’ (a contemplative practice to discern God’s presence and movement in our daily lives) that Sunday evening, as I looked at my ‘clocks’, which were divided in quadrants for my examen’s purposes, I realized that I had spent over 22 hours on meeting-related activities… I wrote down my question: ‘How many of those hours will change the world for the better—not just for a few, but for many?’

“Out of the 22 hours, maybe five were potentially transformational and life changing. My ‘Wow’ moment was realizing that every hour I spend on meetings is an hour I don’t spend with my husband, Joe… and that often I choose the ‘other’, not the one who has been by my side in this ministry journey of over 31 years… So, I called him over, showed him what I had been doing, and asked him to make sure I honor our time together as often as possible. We only have a chance to get it right on this side of eternity.”

I encourage you to consider some of your “Wow” moments in ministry, whether you are lay or clergy and of any gender. I think many of us have had those moments that are so worth celebrating and sharing.

The Rev. Julia Singleton

Julia invites other clergywomen to send her their memorable “Wow” moments during this month. Email her at We may want to add several “Wow” memories to this article. In the meantime, we will publish these women’s personal answers to her other two questions—about their challenges in ministry and inspiring role models—over the next two weeks of Women’s History Month.

*The Rev. Julia Singleton is the pastor of Fox Chase UMC in Philadelphia. She leads Eastern PA’s Women in Professional Ministry group and also serves on the Conference Communications Committee. She has been appointed to Lehman Memorial UMC beginning July 1 as their first female lead pastor.