The Unfinished Business of “Suffragette”

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

My earliest memory of suffragettes comes from the whimsical film of my youth, Mary Poppins.  In that movie, affluent women march around the parlor of Mrs. Winifred Banks’ luxurious London home at Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane lamenting that “Missus Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!”  The wealth of these women is substantial.  Should they be arrested, they won’t be spending much time in irons.  Remember, they have the means to hire someone like Mary Poppins to care for their children!

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

However, the new film, Suffragette, strips away the veneer of the genteel activist and gives us insight into the heroic, and too often sacrificial, acts of average women lobbying for the vote.  When the film begins, we observe their deep frustration.  The inaction of a patriarchal government prompts the movement to adopt the slogan, “Deeds not Words.”  Windows are broken, mailboxes blasted, and even the vacant vacation home of Lloyd George is detonated.  As the women’s desperation grows, the London police force appoints a special task force to end the mayhem.  When Missus Pankhurst shows up in this rendition of the suffragette story, her message is clear: “We don’t want to be law breakers.  We want to be law makers.”

Woven into the story are the experiences of women working at 68% of men’s pay, enduring sexual harassment and assault, losing their homes, husbands and children, and suffering the verbal onslaught and mockery not only of men, but of fellow women.  Issues of women’s bodies and health play out as activists are forced out of the movement due to pregnancy and physical exhaustion.  The complexity of family and marital dynamics stand starkly against a backdrop of gender role struggle.

We see all of this through the fictional character or Maude Watts, whose leadership in the movement is thrust upon her in a most unlikely way.  None of her associates can prepare Maude for the emotional loss, conflict, and grief, or physical exertion and torment she will have to endure.  Yet, she persists.

Suffragette does not give us the satisfaction of closure.  That would be too neat and tidy.  Instead, the film retells the story of the suffragette movement in an effort to encourage the ongoing struggle for gender justice.  The filmmakers’ intention is to remind us that ours is the inheritance of these heroic female figures.  They call women to be leaders, encouraging each of us to influence change that results in real progress toward a fair and equitable world.

Moreover, Suffragette reminds us that women’s justice is not just a parlor game for wealthy people like Mrs. Banks.  It holds sway over the economic, physical and social wellbeing of all women, particularly the poor and their children.  Issues including equal pay, safe working and living conditions, control over our bodies, adequate health care, and basic human value and respect are concerns of international import.  Women and men must work together to change the inadequate social and economic equilibrium worldwide and create societies where all people are held in equal esteem.

Rev. Leigh Goodrich is the Senior Director of Education and Leadership for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. She is an ordained elder from the New England Conference and proud mother of Steven and Matt. Learn more about Leigh and her position with GCSRW here.

We Are Here to Serve

by Rev. Jill Howard

What if I were to tell you that my introduction to the idea that women do not have a voice or place in leadership came from the church?

Rev. Jill Howard

Rev. Jill Howard

When I was a senior in high school, I had a crisis of faith.  I was a Jewish teenager living in East Tennessee and began to question who this Jesus person is and if he was worth following.  As a result of this, I started attending a church with a friend of mine.  This particular congregation and denomination did not allow women to even approach the chancel area to make an announcement.  Women in any leadership position were not permitted.  I grew up in a household where my sister and I were raised to be strong, independent women.  My mother was a physician and always told us that we could do whatever it was we aspired to do.  Our temple also had a female rabbi!  I had no idea that there were places in the United States today where women were not allowed to lead or have a voice.

Eventually, I discovered and found a home in The United Methodist Church and received a call into ministry…but at the same time, I also discovered the continuing struggle that women face in the church.  I have personally been fortunate so far in my ministry that I served congregations who fully embrace women clergy and who have supported, encouraged and respected my call and vocation.  However, I am also reminded of several families who have left churches I serve because I am a woman and also because I am young.  In my current ministry setting in a small rural community, none of the male pastors of the other churches will work with me because I am a woman.

Are we there yet in terms of full participation of women in the life of the church?  I do not believe that we are.  From a clergy perspective, we still have a long way to go.  Here are some of the issues and challenges that I believe we still need to overcome in order to begin pathways to progress.  As young clergy women, what makes our experiences more specific or unique on the journey of ministry?  And what do we struggle with?  Here is an honest look:

1) We struggle with people who don’t know what to do with women pastors, especially young ones.  We have been horrified by church members making inappropriate comments about our bodies, our hair, our shoes, or the way in which we dress.  We have been put in awkward situations where the way that we look has overshadowed our real pastoral ministry being taken seriously.  I’ve heard stories of church members grabbing butts (while robed!) or touching pregnant bellies beneath vestments without asking.  We share stories about people who have been born and raised to believe that only men should be pastors and will not give us a chance.  We share stories about people making comments that they were surprised that we could do as well or even better than our male colleagues.  We discern how to gracefully handle a situation in which a person will not work with a woman pastor.  We laugh about the times when a person was looking for the pastor and the look of shock we received when we were introduced as such.

 2) We struggle with balancing our lives, our friendships, our marriages, and our families along with ministry.  Unfortunately, “social norms” still expect us as women to “do it all.”  So we struggle with balancing life at home, taking care of family or children and keeping it all together in a sane way.  Of course, this is nearly impossible.  Many of us struggle with people who do not believe that a woman can be both “pastor” and “mom” and/or “wife.”

3)  We struggle to break through the glass ceiling.  Many times, in silence, we struggle with men in authority positions in our own denominational structures who do not take us seriously.  Oftentimes, we see our male colleagues receive glowing appointments, while only a small handful of women are in similar leadership positions.  We realize that the “good ole boys club” is alive and well in many places.

4) We worry about our congregations.  And we love them with our whole selves.  This especially includes the times when ministry is challenging and our people are struggling.  We also struggle and support one another when we are put into ministry situations that are abusive or unhealthy.  We pray for the church often, and we pray for what is broken to be fixed.  We fuss over and pray for patience over the petty issues that ministry and people of the church bring our way.  We worry about and pray for broken systems and relationships.  We pray for and work for grace.

5) We struggle with life choices: Do I get married?  Do I stay single?  Do I stay in this congregation?  Do I want to pursue more education?  Do we decide to have children?  Everyone struggles with these issues of course.  BUT, as clergy women, we live in a fish bowl.  Everyone is waiting to see what we will choose and looking on, wondering if we will meet particular expectations, whether we know about them or not.

6) Last but certainly not least, we are concerned for the future of the church. We come from all denominations, places and backgrounds.  Yet we all feel the call to serve the church, to care for others, and have promised to love the church, to love God, even in the midst of the ups and downs, the let downs, the challenges, and the uncertain future that opens up ahead of us.  We have much work to do.  We have much work to do as clergy women to educate people that yes, women are just as effective as men in ministry. Yes, we have much to offer. Yes, we possess the gifts, talents, knowledge, and discernment to make a difference in the church and in the world.  We love the church.  We love the people of the church.  We love God.  We are here to serve.

Are we there yet when it comes to full participation of women in the church?  Not quite, but there is hope and progress.  Just as Jesus first appeared to the women after his resurrection and told them to preach the good news, so it is up to us to keep preaching, leading, and serving despite the obstacles we face.  I have great hope for the future and so should you!

Rev. Jill Howard currently serves as pastor of Morgantown United Methodist Church in Morgantown, IN.  She and her husband, Corey, are expecting their first child in January.  Jill enjoys singing, theater, movies and being with family and friends.  Her passions in ministry include teaching, preaching and walking alongside people on their journey of faith.  She blogs regularly at

connections: The Role of Clergywomen

Bishop Ward shares the role women clergy serve in The United Methodist Church and the challenges still faced by females in the the pulpit.

This post from Bishop Hope Morgan Ward was originally posted on the North Carolina Annual Conference’s website and shared with permission. The original post with a written transcript of the video can be found here.  

Who Is at Whose Table?

By Tyler Schwaller

Tyler Schwaller, Ordained Deacon in the Iowa Conference

Tyler Schwaller, ordained deacon in the Iowa Conference

I recently had the opportunity to represent the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) at the Northeast Jurisdiction’s Transformational Leadership Conference. This involved spending some time at the GCSRW display table where I engaged people in conversation about the mission and ministries of the Commission. I had some rather lovely and meaningful interactions, but over the course of those hours at the table, I was also surprised and troubled by a recurring refrain: “It’s a bit ironic for a man to be at the women’s table, don’t you think?” 

This was always said in passing, never with the intent to engage in further dialogue.

The first time such a remark was directed towards me, I am fairly certain I simply sat there with a dumbfounded look on my face. I hadn’t even considered that my presence at the GCSRW table might be strange. I suppose this was primarily a function of the ways I have been welcomed and encouraged as a valued and equal member of the GCSRW board, as well as of my own commitment  to the mission of the organization in working toward the full and equal participation of women at all levels of The United Methodist Church.

The more I thought about it, the more troubled I became.

Referring to GCSRW’s space as “the women’s table” perpetuates the notion that women’s issues are for women alone. Moreover, it ignores the ways that GCSRW is partnering with a wide spectrum of people and agencies, in the U.S. and globally, to ensure that all have equal access to resources, opportunities, and fair process.

Even more importantly, it reveals that we have not as a whole church taken responsibility for fostering communities where women are able to participate fully and equally. For it to be ironic that a man would be at the “women’s table” suggests that men, and by extension the global church made up of women and men alike, do not need to be specially concerned with issues facing women.

The foundational mandate for the Commission states that GCSRW’s specific commitment “will confirm anew recognition of the fact that The United Methodist Church is part of the universal church, rooted in the liberating message of Jesus Christ, that recognizes every person, woman or man, as a full and equal part of God’s human family” (Book of Discipline ¶ 2102). We ensure equitable access not by simply declaring it universally to be so but by making it so through care for each constitutive part of the body of Christ. (This is why it matters also to be able to say specifically #BlackLivesMatter. And #BlackWomensLivesMatter. And to #SayHerName.)

We may wish to skip ahead to a time when there is no need for independent commissions devoted to particular concerns being that the whole church would already incorporate these perspectives and interests. But if a man’s commitment to the struggle for justice for women is still ironic, then we have not yet reached the day when we can say that the church has taken responsibility as a whole for equity, fairness, and the flourishing of all.

And so the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, with women and men together, presses onward toward that vision of a church where all are valued in the fullness of their particular gifts and unique embodiments of the Spirit and God’s love.

Tyler Schwaller is an ordained deacon in the Iowa Conference and a doctoral candidate in New Testament and Early Christianity at the Divinity School of Harvard University. He has been a member of the board of the General Commission of the Status and Role of Women since 2008, during which time he has also served as the chairperson of GCSRW’s legislative task force. To read more on why this work matters to Tyler, see his earlier post celebrating Women’s History Month.

Hispanic Heritage Month through the Eyes of an Elder-in-Training

by Julia Puac Romero

You would think that Hispanic Heritage Month, like other small minority celebration months, come and go like the seasonal changes. For me, it has always been so much more.

My name is Julia Puac Romero and I am a first-generation immigrant from Guatemala City, Guatemala. I came to the United States sometime in 1995 with my mother. We were greeted at the airport by my father who had been here for nearly six months prior to our arrival. My father came to the U.S. years prior to pursue a business degree from Wesleyan University in Bartersville, Oklahoma. He came mostly on a soccer scholarship and had a long distance relationship with my mother during that time. After he moved back to Guatemala and became a father, he received two job offers in the United States. One was in Elgin, Illinois and the other was in Mansfield, Louisiana via his friend who worked as a Spanish teacher in Louisiana. My dad accepted the offer in Louisiana. Back then, the State Department of Education for Louisiana had a specific program that intentionally looked for qualified Spanish teachers from Latin American countries and Spain. julia photo

My parents enrolled me in a preschool to specifically work on my English before entering grade school. In the small preschool I attended there was only one teacher willing to work with my very broken English and the extra issue of me being left-handed. As time went on, I gained a great deal of vocabulary before entering kindergarten. I never knew until I was older that my dad had to fight the school system before I entered. To the church where I was attending school, being bilingual was a special needs deficiency and could only be controlled in a special education class. My father did not see the need in this and refused to let the school system put me in this position. While I was placed in a higher ranking class, the judgement of my bilingualism did not stop. I was never considered for the “gifted” classes or treated like the other students by several teachers. While intellectually I understood just as much, I was never asked to participate.

My English was constantly an issue with writing until middle school since the language I would think in was Spanish. I entered high school again being at a disadvantage from having been treated like I was less intelligent, thus believing that I was. I eventually pushed through and was able to show that I was just as capable and competent as my peers who were in the top five of my graduating class. But, I digress.

Growing up with a Spanish teacher for a father had its ups and downs. The downs mostly came when our visas would get close to expiring based on legal matters. My father’s excellent teaching skills and capability to understand students easily influenced the school to request for us to stay longer in the U.S. Eventually, my father saved up enough money that we were able to apply for residency. That is, until 9/11. We were one of various cases that had our residency paperwork process wiped clean from the events of 9/11. This meant instead of it taking two to three years, we spent seven years working on residency papers. The time and money that went into this process is something I can never repay my father for.

However, not all is as bleak. Being his daughter, I was able to attend several events during Hispanic Heritage Month where there were flamingo teachers, fiestas, etc. My dad would incorporate Hispanic heritage into his lesson plans. I enjoyed seeing his students put on plays where they appreciated and learned more about Hispanic culture. I grew up knowing that being Guatemalan was something to take pride in. Whenever other students would be mistaken about my nationality and call me Mexican, I would have this urge to run up and down the school hallways proudly with my Guatemalan flag. 

Going to college increased my understanding of who I was and the community around me. After going to Costa Rica for a semester I was able to see how another country lived and worked so hard to just get food on the table. I could go on and on about the stories I have from Costa Rica, especially when it comes from the stories of the women I interviewed for my Global Gender studies class. For my final senior project, I studied and interviewed a group of women who met regularly for a Bible study. The women were mostly immigrants who spoke little English and were coming out of the Roman Catholic Church into another denomination. This environment made me aware of a type of ministry that was harmful to women in ways that I cannot fully articulate. As a female Hispanic immigrant reaching for ordained ministry as an elder in The United Methodist Church, this experience was a far cry from any ministry I will ever want. The Bible study and the church caused harm to the women in the way they would teach and create hate in the women’s hearts against their families.

Being Hispanic during Hispanic Heritage Month means several things to me. It means claiming your nationality of where you come from or your family. It means celebrating and teaching others who don’t know much about your culture. It means we need to remember those who have worked hard. It is a time to acknowledge the oppression, but still be able to celebrate. If there is one thing I have known my culture to do best, it’s keeping a smile and keeping faith even through the hardest of times. Being Latina, Latino or Latinx is more than just a birthright, it is part of our ever present culture! No matter where one goes, there will be a part of that culture that will follow you. I am grateful for the struggles that I have faced, and even more for the milestones reached because of my father who never gave up trying to make the best for our family. Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate a very prevalent and important culture in this country. As long as I have lungs to scream it out, I will shout out my pride of my heritage.

Julia Puac Romero is a second-year MDiv student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. This year, Julia is serving as a chaplain intern for a hospital system in the Chicagoland area. She is pursuing ordination as an elder in the Louisiana Conference. 

Women for Times Such As These

by Kathy Jacobs

When I was in high school, I attended the Lamon Avenue Methodist Church in the Austin area and then left the church for about 20 years.  When I returned to United Methodism it was at the Church of the Incarnation in Arlington Heights.

It was at that church when we got a new minister in 2006.  I attended his first Charge Conference as the Worship Committee Chair. In the Conference booklet, all the committees and chairs were listed. There was one committee—Committee on Status and Role of Women—where the chair position was blank. I inquired why there was no chair and was told no one would take the position.  I couldn’t believe it!  A committee about women and no one would chair it!

Kathy Jacobs, Lay Leader, Education Chair, and COSROW Chair at North Northfield UMC in Northbrook, IL

Kathy Jacobs, Lay Leader, Education Chair, and COSROW Chair at North Northfield UMC in Northbrook, IL

Everyone said, “You take it.”  I reminded them that I was already the Worship Chair, but by the end of the conference meeting I was the Committee on Status and Role of Women Chair.  I couldn’t stand the idea of the position remaining unfilled. At that moment, I didn’t even know what the committee was about.

All of the twists and turns that my life took and which I survived allowed me the confidence to step into the role of Committee on Status and Role of Women Chair without knowing anything about it.

Local Committees on Status and Role of Women fall under the direction of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, which is one of thirteen general agencies in the United Methodist Church. It is, I believe, unique to The United Methodist Church. I’ve done a little research and can’t find any similar organizations in any other denominations.

Looking to the General Commission of the Status and Role of Women for support, I pretty much designed the position in my local congregation as I went. I write a monthly newsletter article called “Women in the Church.” I cover international news, national news and my local church news highlighting achievements of women in the church and pointing out discrimination against women around the world. I also preach at my congregation every March, commemorating Women’s History Month.

In 2006, I attend the 50th anniversary of the granting of full clergy rights for women in The United Methodist Church. I got to see the women bishops march in singing “We Are Marching in the Light of God.”

I met and heard Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader preach. She preached about Esther. If you’ve never read the Book of Esther or it’s been a long time, read it tonight. Her story personally changed me.

To summarize: Esther was a young Jewish orphan living in ancient Persia. She was adopted and raised by her older cousin Mordecai. When King Ahasuerus announced his search for a new queen, he hosted a royal beauty pageant and Esther was chosen for the throne. Her cousin Mordecai became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa.

At this same time, the king’s highest official was a wicked man named Haman. He hated the Jews and he especially hated Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him.

So, Haman devised a scheme to have every Jew in Persia killed.  Mordecai learned of the plan and shared it with Esther and urged her to go to the King. However, any man or woman who approached the king in the inner court without being summoned was to be put to death unless the king spared their lives. At first she objected, but Mordecai said to her:

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14, NIV)

Then Esther said, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16, NIV)

Here is what her story means for all of us.  When you feel a call from God to get involved in a situation, but then hesitate because it may be too messy or too hard or too unpleasant, remember you may be the woman for just such a time as this.  We are all women for times such as these. Depending on the situation, you may take Esther’s declaration “If I perish, I perish,” literally or figuratively.

Keep in mind that God always has your back. As women of the church you must never be afraid. What we tend to do in the United States is to defer to those who have access to a microphone: athletes, politicians, actors, entertainers, journalists.  They have the right to their opinion, but they don’t have the right to have their opinion regarded as more important than yours. Your life is invaluable because you are a child of God.  Money, power, and fame don’t define you.

God created male and female.  He did not create male and secretary or male and waitress.  Jesus gave you beautiful things to think about and beautiful ways to behave.  He has filled you with love, compassion, and the spirit of forgiveness as you walk your spiritual path.

When you ask yourself, women of the church, “What have I contributed? What am I worth?” look in the mirror and smile and say with certainty, “I am priceless.”

This blog post is edited and condensed from a speech Kathy delivered to the Chicago Northwest District of the UMW on September 26, 2015.

Holiness in High Heels

by The Reverand Kelsey Grissom, Associate Pastor at Asbury UMC

On ordination night at North Alabama Annual Conference, you can find us together. We wear bright red shoes under our black robes and red stoles, and we call ourselves, “Holiness in High Heels.” There are eight of us; we are all ordained women, relatively new to ministry. But we have been in ministry long enough to realize that women pastors face unique challenges and frustrations. We meet together monthly to strengthen our skills as female leaders in ministry. Along the way, we have found support and encouragement for our journey as women in ministry.

North Alabama Annual Conference clergy women come together for covenant group they call Holiness in High Heels.

North Alabama Annual Conference clergy women come together for covenant group they call Holiness in High Heels.

My colleagues and I formed Holiness in High Heels in 2012, when our Annual Conference began offering grants for cohorts of new clergy to study practical aspects of ministry. We planned our group intending to study issues related to female leadership in the church. We believed this would benefit our own ministries by increasing our skill sets, but also benefit our Annual Conference by potentially impacting the retention rates of women ministers. After much discussion about our own ministries, the obstacles we had encountered, and our dreams as pastors, we decided our goal was “to identify key issues for women clergy growing in roles of senior leadership, and learn how to be seen as essential and successful in ministry beyond the stained glass ceiling.”

We designed a course consisting of six “modules” of study. Each module would require advanced reading of several books, group discussion, practice in our own ministry contexts and, finally, a meeting to discuss the results. Our grant from the Annual Conference would cover the cost of our books and consultations with experts in the topics we studied. Since we are appointed to churches in various districts throughout the conference, we agreed to take turns meeting in each district so that we could share the travel expense burden as well as see and experience each other’s ministry contexts.

For our first module we studied voice, presence and audio. Observing that women pastors often receive criticism that they can’t be heard well in worship, or that they need to “find their voice,” we decided to explore what it looks like to preach and lead meetings as women. We read books on body language to hone our visual leadership skills and spent a day learning how sound systems work (and experimenting with several) to learn how to best amplify our voices. Although most pastors do not go into ministry thinking they will become techies, we learned that a little knowledge of proper speaker placement and the church sound system can go a long way. After practicing our new skills and knowledge in our local contexts, we have all seen improvements in our ability to hold the attention of a room—whether a sanctuary or a board room—and be heard clearly.

Another module covered finances. Although several of us felt comfortable in the financial realm, we realized that this is an area in which women pastors (and women in general) are often perceived to be less knowledgeable. We met with mortgage brokers to learn about church debt, a financial planner to learn about our personal finances (and figure out how to read our UMPIP statements) and an experienced church administrator to learn best practices for money collection. Finally, we spent time with a successful executive pastor to glean his knowledge about successful capital campaigns and stewardship drives and what it looks like to think about money from the perspective of holiness.

Processed with Rookie

The remainder of our modules focus on conflict resolution, resiliency in ministry, organizing for leadership and exploring what Servant Leadership looks like for women. All of these modules feature relevant reading material and guidance from experts, but we have realized that the most important component to our time together has been the companionship of other women in ministry and the wisdom and experience we can share with each other. Women pastors often find themselves having to prove their competency again and again, so continuing education and fully-developed skill sets are a necessity. But in order to succeed in ministry we need more than just skills and knowledge; we need each other. I have been honored to be a part of Holiness in High Heels, and it is my hope and prayer that other women clergy will have access the opportunity to form similar groups, not only for their own well-being and success, but for the success of our mission in The United Methodist Church as well.