Jane Middleton ‘78 M.Div.

2021Distinction in Congregational Ministry

At the heart of YDS is the commitment to train women and men for the lay and ordained ministries of the church. The award for Distinction in Congregational Ministry annually goes to an individual who has shown exceptional pastoral competence in the work of the mission of local congregations. 

Bishop Jane Middleton’s vocational path has taken her from homemaker and high school teacher in the Midwest to a historic place in national church life. She is the first YDS woman to become a United Methodist bishop. 

She and her husband, Jack, met at Oklahoma State University, married, and raised two daughters. After nearly fifteen years as a stay-at-home mom, high school teacher, and active church laywoman, Bishop Middleton found her way to YDS in the mid-1970s. 

While here, her heart and mind were opened by professors Letty Russell, Henri Nouwen, and Margaret Farley, as well as by a rousing community of classmates.

And so a new calling came into view – as an ordained United Methodist deacon and elder in the New York Conference.

Bishop Middleton inspired a series of firsts. In every position she held, she was the first woman to do so. These posts included pastor of New Canaan United Methodist Church, District Superintendent of Connecticut, and bishop of Harrisburg. She was also the first United Methodist minister to ordain an openly gay elder. 

She has served on the adjunct faculty at YDS and New York Theological Seminary, in addition to leading spiritual retreats and conferences, having been trained at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.

Further afield, Jane founded a Bolivian mission that links churches there with U.S. counterparts. She has made nine pilgrimages to Bolivia as pastor, district superintendent, and bishop. 

On yet another continent, in Sierra Leone, Bishop Middleton’s name is spoken every day: the Bishop Jane Middleton High School in Freetown was opened in 2014.

If John Wesley were with us today, he might say of Bishop Jane Allen Middleton that the world has been her parish.