Beatrice Weaver McConnell
September 2, 1923 – July 7, 2018
In 1945, she was only 22, but she had theological questions. She wanted to talk with educated professors and understand scripture. This desire led her to enroll in Lancaster Theological Seminary for one year. Instead she stayed for three.
Beatrice Weaver McConnell became the first ordained woman in the Evangelical and Reformed Church on June 13, 1948. She never set out to become a trailblazer and always insisted that her approach was to exhibit “quiet and unruffled dignity.”
Bea’s call to pastoral ministry came as she preached in the chapel of the Seminary at the behest of a professor. Her gift as a preacher was instantly acknowledged. Growing up, she wanted to go to medical school, but her father thought it was not appropriate for a woman to become a doctor. Ironically, she entered another vocation that was reserved for men.
Bea’s first solo pastoral call was to a multiple point charge in dairy farming country in the Mercersburg area of central Pennsylvania. One night she was asked to attend an event at one of the schools. Little did she know that hundreds of her parishioners from the four churches were quietly waiting for her to arrive at the auditorium. When she entered and they pulled the curtain on the stage, she realized that they had organized a program to honor her, “This Is Your Life.” They invited her parents and her seminary professors. They had collected funds to buy her a car so she could motor around the hills and dales--the 40-mile radius—of the four churches she served.
Bea loved serving as a pastor and never sought out other invitations. As she put it, “I had a love affair with the church.” Yet her keen theological mind and esteemed reputation brought her to the attention of the wider church. She was invited to serve on the national committee of the newly formed United Church of Christ to write a statement of faith for the denomination. She is responsible for the phrase, “He sets before us the ways of life and death.” Apparently, she prevailed over Norwegian theologian Nils Feré who wanted to delete that phrase. She received the Antoinette Brown Award of the United Church of Christ given to women of outstanding service, especially for justice for women. She was honored by Lancaster Theological Seminary with the Founder’s Cross for her service on the Alumni Council and for researching and writing the drama for the Seminary’s 150th anniversary.
In all, we give thanks that while Bea did not seek a call to ordained ministry, she said yes to God, and spent her life in love with the church.