Cal-Nevada mourns 'pioneering' retired clergywoman

October 10, 2007

“She was a pioneer”: one of the tributes to The Rev. Virginia Y. Hilton, a retired California-Nevada United Methodist pastor who died Sunday following a lengthy illness.


A graduate of Pacific School of Religion, Rev. Hilton became a Probationary Member of the Cal-Nevada Conference in 1976, leaving her home Annual Conference of Northern New Jersey. She transferred into Cal-Nevada in June, 1978 as an Associate Member, then became an Elder in Full Connection in 1980.


Like Rev. Hilton, Conference Director of Stewardship The Rev. Dr. Betsy Schwarzentraub was ordained in the first decades following the granting of full clergy rights for women in 1956. She remembers their early days in the Conference.


Virginia came out of the Evangelical United Brethren Church. She represented the best of both our ‘United’ and our ‘Methodist’ traditions. She was a woman of deep, deep faith and at the same time followed Jesus’ passionate, particular concern for the poor and the marginalized, in our church as well as in society at large,” Schwarzentraub said.


“She had the heart and faith of an evangelical, who also took courageous action on social justice issues – everything from being a personal Civil Rights advocate in the South in the fifties, to intentional inclusive welcome towards lesbians and gays. Virginia was also a pioneer, from back in the days when it was considered radical simply to be a woman and to know you have been called by God.”


Rev. Hilton served as associate pastor at El Sobrante UMC (1978), Albany UMC (1982), and at Faith UMC in Sacramento (1989) before retiring in 1996.


She is survived by her husband, The Rev. Bruce Hilton, retired; four children: Steve Hilton of Westborough, Massachusetts, Philip Hilton of Sacramento, and Thomas and Paul “Spud” Hilton, both of San Francisco; and two grandchildren.


Rev. Hilton had undergone treatment for cancer and was battling pneumonia at the time of her death. Her family had been able to gather around her in her final days, according to her son Spud.


Memorial services will be held on Saturday, October 27 at 1 p.m. at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento. Memorial gifts may be sent to Parents' Reconciling Network, 3801 Keeler Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 or to the Methodist Federation for Social Action, 212 E. Capitol Street N.E., Washington, D.C. 20003.


“In this Annual Conference for many of us – clergywomen and men, as well – she was a great colleague, a leader, a mentor and a dear friend,” Schwarzentraub said.