Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

For International Women’s Month, we should remember the role of women in ministry


France E. Willard. From the archives of the National Women’s Temperance Union.

Each year during Annual Conference, the Oklahoma Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) gives the Frances E. Willard Award to an individual who makes a distinguished contribution to the advancement of women in ministry in the Oklahoma Annual Conference.

In the 1800s, Frances Willard was a “radical social progressive who stood out against gender inequality and fought to give a voice to society’s disenfranchised,” according to a description in the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union website. She mobilized a force of diverse women to create that organization, and she also worked in areas of women’s rights, social justice, and world peace.

Willard was an educator by trade, and she is noted as being a prototype for community organization and social reform. Her influence is still seen in modern social policy and practice.

Last year, provisional deacon Aly Shahan, who serves as the director of university church relations and religious life at Oklahoma City University, received the honor.

Rev. Emily Robnett (front left) hugs Frances E. Willard award winner Aly Shahan, while Rev. Dr. Joe Harris, Bishop Jimmy Nunn, and Dr. Don Kim celebrate.

“The impact Aly has had on women spans generations - from youth to college students, to women like me, Aly has helped dozens of girls and young women discover their identity in Christ, their voice as leaders, and their place in the ongoing work of the church,” said Rev. Emily Robnett, chair of Oklahoma COSROW.

This year, COSROW is accepting nominations through April 14, 2023. The recipient will be named at Annual Conference and will have their name listed on the Frances E. Willard plaque on display at the Conference Ministry Center. Forms may be downloaded here. For more information, contact Rev. Emily Robnett at pastoremrob@gmail.com.

From before the crucifixion, to the three Marys who stayed at the cross throughout the painful process, to the four women who discovered Jesus’ empty tomb, and into the early days of the Christian faith, women have played a vital role in capturing and announcing news of Jesus.

After that, women were relegated to lesser roles in the church. In 1956, nearly two millennia after the death of Jesus and the women’s miraculous discovery, women were finally granted full clergy rights  in the Methodist church.

Women are still underrepresented and paid a fraction of what men make in clergy positions, according to a 2020 report commissioned by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

While conferences work to close the gap between men and women with regard to compensation and representation, COSROW continues to study and shed light on the plight and progress of women in the United Methodist Church.




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