Sexual Misconduct on Stage: A Dramatic Vignette As A Poignette Approach to Ethics Training

by Walter Frazier

Once again, I was tasked with the requirement to develop a clergy ethics workshop for the Mississippi Annual Conference.  Even with two years to plan, I felt under the gun to develop a good training event that addressed clergy sexual misconduct before the June 2017 deadline.  I’ve organized training programs before, but I was feeling apprehensive this time.  I had no good ideas for how to make this happen.  How do you offer a training for an audience of 750 clergy?  Given the subject, how do you make a sexual misconduct training event remotely interesting without creating that, “Gotcha,” feeling?  Who wants to attend an ethics workshop that feels like the presenter is checking a box that proves you were forewarned?

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Walter Frazier

I remember the first United Methodist Conference-sponsored ethics workshops I attended years ago.  These events routinely featured a lawyer-type person reviewing cases of sexual misconduct with warnings about what can happen to clergy that repeats these offenses.  While the workshops are typically billed as important and beneficial to the participant, the fact that these events are mandatory only magnifies the “We told you so!” theme that permeates the presentations.  Just recollecting these events gives me a junior high school flashback of Coach Johnson assuring me that the paddling he was giving me hurt him worse than it hurt me.  I’m sure it did, Coach!

Surely, we can create ethics trainings that are compelling and constructive, right?  I have made a commitment to myself that I would find ways to make learning about ethics more interesting and meaningful to the folks sitting in the seats.  Why can’t we create an ethics training event that helps the participants feel empowered and prepared?  Who said that ethics workshops must be frightening?  Have you noticed that if an ethics training is not scary enough, the opposite effect takes place?  Watching paint peel can seem more interesting than a dull ethics training.

My creative juices were sent into overdrive while attending the 2015 Do No Harm Conference sponsored by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.  I went to this conference in hopes of some ideas, resources, and contacts to create the next Mississippi Conference Clergy Ethics Training.  I attended the Chicago meeting with members of my committee and others from the Conference, and I asked everyone to watch for opportunities, particularly to find a person that may come lead our training.  While we saw some excellent presentations, nothing was developing for us.

Then came the Rutgers University Scream Team.  I had not anticipated that their presentation would apply to our search for training resources, so I had my guard down when they poked me with a shot of hot reality.  The Scream Team travels to college campuses across the nation presenting various theatrical vignettes that depict incidents of campus-related sexual assault.  They use these dramas to start conversations and poignantly highlight the real challenges of campus sexual violence to audiences of college students.  The team members are undergraduate athletes reflecting very real events such as date rape, alcohol misuse, and social conflict on college campuses all across our country.  After portraying a 20-minute snapshot of a graphic and raw chain of events that lead to a young woman falling to the manipulations of a sexual predator, the students fielded questions from the audience while maintaining their stage personas.  The audience got to confront the predator!  We heard from the girl’s friends that blamed her for her drinking.  We watched in horror as the young men expressed their conflicting roles in the assault.

I was beyond belief!  Actually, I was brought to tears.  Just re-reading this story causes my eyes to well up, now!  I was frightened to the quick.  In that same year, my family was celebrating my daughter’s senior year of high school.  We were anticipating her admission to Mississippi State University, and this story scared me to death.  Tess, my daughter, has been a dancer nearly her entire life.  We’ve taken the philosophy of keeping her busy to keep her on track.  She danced, played the piano, cheered, and danced some more.  I guess you can say as parents, my wife and I may have smothered her with activities.  I remember when she was a very small child, I prayed for the mercy of successfully getting her to adulthood without her having to manage any kind of traumatic crisis.  And as I watched this drama unfold, I realized how frightened I was to send her to college.

I was motivated!  First, I was motivated to run home and tell Tess what I saw.  I wanted her to know what the Rutgers group was teaching students!  I trust that knowledge is power, and I wanted her to feel empowered by knowledge!

But I was motivated for our training plans, too.  I realized that I was just one reflection of the Rutgers message that unfolded at that conference.  The theatrical vignette shared graphic and compelling intricacies of the complex realities that occur within human relationships.  There’s no way a case study could duplicate what the actors portrayed on stage!  And every person in the convention hall caught different aspects of that story as it resonated with their own life circumstances.  If there were 500 people in the room, there were 500 compelling reflections of the students’ message!

I have to give my colleagues a special thank you for their openness to the ideas popping from me after that gathering.  I remember gathering them together and telling them, “That’s what we need to do!  We need a vignette, a short drama!”  I started rambling about some kind of interaction between a pastor and others, a sexually poignant scene, a graphic presentation of misconduct.  And they actually listened!  They said, “Walter, whatever you want to do!”

We returned to Mississippi and reported to our Board of Ordained Ministry our plans to present a theatrical vignette.  The following June, a year in advance, we shared with the whole clergy session plans to hold a poignant, compelling presentation for the ethics workshop to be held at the next conference.  We were on the hook; I promised big!  But I had no idea what the story was really going to be.  Our team had plans to meet in conjunction with the Board of Ordained Ministry at a September meeting, and by mid-August, I had nothing planned.  All I could say is that we would find a scriptwriter to compose, another person to direct, and some actors to portray a theatrical vignette.

As I often do, I worried about this in the back recesses of my mind but accomplished nothing toward actually securing any of the plans.  While some call this procrastination, I hope to think it is work-in-progress.  The noise of my anxiety grew until one night I could not go to sleep.  I tossed and turned as flashes of a storyline appeared in my head.  I heard myself spell-out the script.  I recalled real-life circumstances clients of mine had shared with me, raw stories that I had tucked away, even forgotten.  But those stories, the images of real-life events, my own surroundings drew together in a coherent timeline.  Somehow in the early hours of the morning, I finally found exhaustion and fell asleep.

Two weeks later, I began to feel panicked, again.  Our team meeting was looming, and I still had not pulled together a scriptwriter or anybody to serve as a director or actors.  We only had a plan.  I just had a vision, an unwritten script that was eating at me.  A few nights before our meeting, I sat on the back porch of my house with my computer on my lap.  I decided I needed to write some notes to explain what I envisioned.  For two hours, I typed the conversations and action that flashed through my head two weeks earlier.  I felt the story was rough, and it had no ending, but that was all I had from my sleepless night.

Our team gathered a few days later, and I passed copies of my rough script to each member for a read-through.  To my surprise, as we all listened to one another read through the lines and scenes of the story, it made sense, even without an ending.  We made a few tweaks to include social media and to inject a more genuine female perspective in some of the comments made by the women in the story.  It was complete.

At that same meeting, a lay member of the Board of Ordained Ministry arrived with her husband; he was just along for the ride.  Just by chance, her husband was a director of his community theater group!  He said, “Yes.”  Serendipity!?

Our director assembled a group of actors and prepared the vignette for our ethics workshop.  Again, our team pulled together the workshop including registration, a fabulous panel discussion, lunch for everyone, and break-out sessions that came together for a very productive and meaningful ethics training.  Our workshop was an incredible success!

The vignette featured a woman, Sally that was experiencing difficulty managing her boundaries with her estranged husband.  She sought support from her pastor who offered understanding and encouragement.  The vignette also depicted the pastor as a man managing too many other challenges, and with so much on his plate, his own boundaries become blurry.  With an ongoing commentary from others on his staff and the pastoral friend in the community, the crossing of boundaries slide into a complaint filed with the District Superintendent for sexual misconduct.  After the vignette, the actors, in character, responded to very pointed and impassioned questions and comments from the audience.  Then a panel of stakeholders discussed their roles in cases similar to this one.  A District Superintendent, the conference legal counsel, a representative from COSRW, the Conference Relations Chair from the Board of Ordained Ministry, and the Bishop all shared their insights into this situation.

People learned.  People were stirred.  People reflected a wide variety of experiences.  Even months later, I’ve had people offer insightful reactions and genuine appreciation for confronting such a difficult topic in a way that worked.  How do you measure whether or not people were changed by this training?  That may be hard to accomplish, but I can say they remembered this vignette much longer than most sexual ethics trainings I’ve attended in the past!

Frankly, this story I have shared is my story of admiration and surprise.  I was shocked that my colleagues were so willing, empowered, and motivated to construct our workshop.  From the moment we said go, all hands were on deck moving forward.  I was also awestruck by the experience of inspiration I had; I had a dream.  You know, like in the Bible.

But where did this all come from?  I think the short answer is divine inspiration.  I’m usually cautious about such pronouncements, but this time I have no other explanation.

But here’s the long answer.  At the time all this came together, I had been working as a licensed counselor for about 20 years.  I had also served on the Executive Committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry for almost 8 years.  Also, I’d been serving as a member of the state counselor licensing board for about four years.  I’ve listened to a lot of stories of people’s experiences, particularly experiences of power and oppression, conflict and pain, brokenness and growth, and abuse and recovery.  I like to think I’ve seen real-life stories like a lot of ministers, counselors, and teachers.  We’ve seen a lot of the good and a lot of the bad.

In our workshop, we wanted to emphasize the interaction between sexual misconduct and abuse of power.  The two go hand-in-hand.  And we wanted to underscore the fact that misconduct is not an act perpetrated by the person in the weaker position.  The responsibility lies in the hands of the person that is in the position of power, whether it is the minister, teacher, supervisor, coach, celebrity, politician, senior student, president, police officer, or older kid.  But this can be very complicated because we must consider the complexity of everyone’s experiences.  I think that our theatrical vignette portrayed that complexity more so than a written case study or lecture.

We wanted everyone to look into themselves and see this complexity.  I am not in a power position in every aspect of my life.  While I am white and male, a counselor, a minister, and a teacher, I am also a subordinate, a debtor, a patron, and a patient.  We must recognize that the intersection of power and oppression can be complicated.  But this also lends us an opportunity.  Every one of us can find within our experience identification with both the oppressor and the oppressed, the powerful and the powerless.  Today, we see a persistent wave of accusations of sexual misconduct among celebrities, politicians, and other powerful people.  I hope that our collective consciousness will raise the standard of expectation of how people should relate to one another, especially across lines between those with and without power.  Remember, sexual misconduct is not a psychological disorder of a few people, it is a product of misappropriated power.  I hoped our theatrical vignette punctuates this subtle reality.  It doesn’t happen only when bad people act badly.  It happens to good people who manage their own lives poorly, too.  Sexual misconduct is not something that only happens in heterosexual contexts.  It is also not something reserved for only male perpetrators.  The common denominator is that a power differential is involved.  One person utilizes power over another person to obtain a sexual benefit, to meet sexual needs or desires, or simply to control the will and choices of another through sexual means.

I do think that there are many ways to illuminate the complexities of sexual misconduct, but I believe the portrayal of a scenario such as our theatrical vignette multiplies the angles from which we shine the light on the phenomenon.


Walter is the Executive Director of the Grace Christian Counseling Center in Vicksburg, MS, and is a Core Faculty Member in the Ph.D. in the Counselor Education and Supervision Program at Walden University. He is a licensed professional counselor, a board qualified supervisor in Mississippi and a National Certified Counselor. He served as a member of the Mississippi State Board of Examiners for Licensed Professional Counselors where he was the Board Chair. Walter is an Ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church and serves as the Chair of the Order of Deacons in the Mississippi Annual Conference.  Walter obtained his M.Div from Emory University in 1993, and in 2009 he completed his Ph.D. in Counselor Education from Mississippi State University.  Walter is married to Terri Frazier, and they have four children and four grandchildren.

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General Commission on the Status and Role of Women Urges United Methodist Support for Amendment One

CHICAGO— The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) urges United Methodists to support Constitutional amendment one that will be brought forth for a revote in all annual conferences in 2018 and 2019.

The proposed Constitutional amendment affirms that both men and women are made in the image of God and commits The United Methodist Church to confront gender discrimination. If ratified by 2/3 of all voting members of annual conferences, the amendment will become Paragraph 6 in The United Methodist Constitution.

“The mission of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women is to equip the church in addressing gender justice issues and to help the church to recognize children and adults, women and men, lay and clergy, as full and equal members of God’s family,” stated Bishop Tracy S. Malone of the East Ohio Annual Conference, President of GCSRW’s board of directors. “This added paragraph specifically addresses confronting and eliminating discrimination and the dehumanization of women and girls, and this commitment is foundational to the mission and scope of GCSRW’s work.”

“The lessons of the first vote show us that the worldwide Church was only 100 votes away from affirming the value of women and girls in our United Methodist Constitution,” said Dawn Wiggins Hare, General Secretary of GCSRW. “Every vote at every annual conference around the world counts! This is a time for action. Call, email, write letters, post on Facebook, and talk to friends. Spread the word. This is the time to act!”

On May 10, 2018, The Rev. Gary. W. Graves, Secretary of the General Conference, announced that there was an error in the proposed Constitutional amendment. A sentence that had been removed by the General Conference was included in the text provided to annual conferences for voting that occurred in 2017 and early 2018.

The amendment approved by the General Conference should have read: “As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten women’s and girls’ equality and well-being.”

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The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women advocates for the full participation of women in the total life of The United Methodist Church. GCSRW helps the church recognize every person – clergy and lay, women and men, adults and children – as full and equal parts of God’s human family. They believe that a fully engaged and empowered membership is vital to The United Methodist Church’s mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

GCSRW Statement Regarding Proposed Constitutional Amendments One and Two

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

For twenty-eight years, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) has attempted to pass an amendment to The United Methodist Constitution protecting the rights of women to membership in the local church. Our legislation, which was modified by the General Conference, passed by the necessary two-thirds majority at General Conference 2016 and was forwarded to each individual annual conference across the connection for a vote. A two-thirds aggregate vote was needed for ratification of the decision of General Conference.

On Monday, May 7, 2018, the Council of Bishops released the results of the church-wide votes on the five Constitutional Amendments that passed General Conference. The two Amendments that sought to claim language that both women and men are created in the image of God, that committed our church to work for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls, and that sought to assure an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the local church for women did not receive the two-thirds necessary vote.

For the last several days, we have taken time to grieve.

Today, we give thanks.

We give thanks for the tireless efforts of our board members, colleagues, and allies across the church, including Annual Conference Commissions on the Status and Role of Women, United Methodist Women, the Division on Young Peoples’ Ministry, and DisAbility Ministries, who not only worked for the passage of this legislation, but who work every day in ministry to teach young girls that they are of sacred worth, who nominate and elect women into positions of leadership within and beyond the local church, who encourage women to use their gifts, and who welcome women pastors.

We give thanks for the Council of Bishops and its statement making an unequivocal commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church.

We give thanks for the women bishops of the church who issued a pastoral statement (and for the men bishops who unanimously affirmed their statement) committing themselves “to researching why these amendments failed and what actions we can take to create a world where all people are able to live in safety, justice, and love.”

We give thanks for the transparency that the Council of Bishops shared in releasing the breakdown of the annual conference votes on the amendments.

We ask that you not point fingers, but reflect and examine what the data of the votes shows for each annual conference by making the following inquiries:

  • What is my annual conference doing to encourage the full inclusion of women in leadership?
  • What is my local church doing to teach girls and boys, women and men, that they are all created in the image of God and are of sacred worth and have a right to an equal place in the full life of the local church?

As mandated by The United Methodist Book of Discipline, we, The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women challenge The United Methodist Church to do more than “talk the talk.” We challenge the church to “walk the walk.”

We, at The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, commit ourselves to continue to advocate for women individually and collectively within The United Methodist Church, to work to be a catalyst to redress inequities of the past and to prevent future inequities against women in The United Methodist Church, and to monitor to ensure inclusiveness in the programmatic and administrative functioning of the church by providing resources and support.

As mandated by Christ, let us live fully into the gospel promise that “there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Therefore, we call on the people of The United Methodist Church to develop and fund programs, resources, and ministries within each annual conference to help us be who Christ has called us to be.

Take time to grieve. Take time to give thanks. Take time to act!

 

Blessings,

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Bishop Tracy S. Malone                                             

President of the Board

General Commission on the Status and Role of Women of The United Methodist Church                         

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Dawn Wiggins Hare

General Secretary

General Commission on the Status and Role of Women of The United Methodist Church


Find a PDF of this statement here: GCSRW statement

 

“Stand Erect, Lift Your Head, Let Your Voice be Heard”

“Another world is not only possible,

 She’s on  the way.

And on a quiet day,

If you listen very carefully,

You can hear her breathe.”

-Arundhati Roy

by Erin Hawkins

As the General Secretary of an agency of the Church that stands for the embrace of cultural difference in all its forms, I am confronted daily with words, actions, and beliefs that serve as an affront to the way of Christ which is peace, love, and justice. In too many places the feelings of fear and hopelessness that arise due to division within the human family is palpable.  But these feelings of despair are not everywhere. Just as I am confronted with the grim realities of exclusion, discrimination, and oppression, I am simultaneously comforted by the beautiful truth that abundant love, joy, and hope are present all around.  I see it in the faces of heroes and heroines known and unknown that represent and defend the power of women to change the world.  I hear it in the cries of our young people advocating for change.  I feel it in the urgency of the times, the insistence that a better way of living together is possible and must be found.  I wholeheartedly believe that role of leadership especially that of women in the Church at this time is to proclaim in the face of anxiety and despair that God is… love is… hope is…  We are called to be bearers of hope.

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Erin Hawkins

My journey of leadership within The United Methodist Church began as a child whose discipleship and leadership formation started at a very early age. At Christmas and Easter, I was given a speech to memorize and recite in front of the congregation. Every day as my parents would drive me to preschool, then kindergarten, and then elementary school, the routine during these times of year would be the same, “Put on your seat-belt and let me hear your speech!”  When Easter or Christmas Sunday would come I knew to stand erect, lift my head, and project because there were numerous “coaches” in the church, mostly women, who “educated me” in the finer points of oratorical exposition. I laugh as I think back to those sessions that at the time felt like pure torture. One year, after reciting a particularly long and complicated speech, not typically given to one of such a young age, one of the elder church women came to my mother and said, “That girl is gonna’ be somebody!” The seeds of leadership were planted. This story may resemble the story of many people raised in the church but it is particularly representative of the Black Church experience. The Black Church, one of few havens for African Americans enduring slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, segregation, and the legacy of systemic discrimination and racism that continue even today, was and in some places still is the fertile soil where the seeds of gifting are nurtured and refined.  And while my childhood during the 1980’s seems far removed from those difficult historical realities, the culture and legacy of excellence in the Black Church was alive and instilled into me. Laywomen played a critical role in my development.

I moved from Christmas and Easter speeches, to serving as liturgist during worship, to participating in my local, district and conference MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). My senior year in high school, I was the speaker for the youth service at the California-Pacific Annual Conference.  My experiences would eventually lead me into the world of diversity where wonder and creativity as well as conflict, division, and disappointment were sure to find me.  Through it all, those early lessons – stand erect, lift your head, let your voice be heard would hold me in good stead.

After college and graduate school, I moved to Washington D.C. to work as a staffer for a member of the US Congress. My professional aspiration was to have a career in politics (an aspiration I now realize I have unwittingly succeeded in fulfilling as a General Secretary in The United Methodist Church!). While working as a Legislative Assistant, I was writing a grant application to the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) for my home church back in Los Angeles, CA.  I reached out to one of the Associate General Secretaries of GCORR at that time (Ms. Constance Nelson Barnes) for assistance with the application. Connie was a lay person when we first met via phone conversation.  At some point during our multiple exchanges she informed me that she would soon be leaving the staff and encouraged me to consider applying for the position she was vacating.   I applied and in nothing less than what I believe was a move of the Holy Spirit, I was given the job. I was a lay woman in her early twenties, with no prior General Church experience when I became an Associate General Secretary of a General Agency. I had no professional contemporaries at that time and those early years were tough as I learned “on the job”.  There were many people- male and female, clergy and lay- who mentored, encouraged, and assisted me as I grew as a church leader.  The number of laywomen, however, who nurtured the seeds of leadership within me by helping me as well as challenging me are too numerous to count or to name here. They gifted me with courage, confidence and a thick skin so that when the time for me to assume the role of General Secretary came, I would be ready.

Looking back over my journey to this point, I am clear that as a young child reciting her Christmas and Easter speeches, not only was I being formed as a leader, I was a leader.  I was a leader because through the expression of my gifts I gave the people in my church family hope.  Hope that the struggles they endured for access and opportunity would not be in vain.  Hope that the next generation would indeed take the baton and carry it on the next leg of the race, striving for the liberation of all people.  Those early childhood experiences have done more to cultivate my leadership and to open doors for me than most of the formal leadership development experiences I have had.  I say this because for every opportunity that I have been given in this church, a door had to first be opened in my mind and heart which would allow me to step into the possibilities being presented to me.

In every church all over the world there are young girls and boys whose gifts of self-expression are yearning to the recognized and nurtured.  Girls in particular face daunting obstacles to charting their own course and fulfilling their God-ordained destiny.  In my opinion, one of the greatest things that The United Methodist Church can do to cultivate, affirm and engage lay women’s leadership is to be a global movement reminding girls and young women to stand erect, lift their heads, and let their voice be heard. We must encourage girls in every way we know how, to stand in the sure knowledge that they are worthy, valuable, honorable, and able. We must celebrate young women so that they know how to hold their heads high when others seek to diminish them in any way.  We must carve out time, space, opportunity, and protection for women to express themselves and their leadership in ways that are authentic for them rather than insisting that they do it in a way that is acceptable to the status quo.

There is no better time than now to take on the task of encouraging and lifting up the importance of the leadership of laywomen of all ages.  There is a cloud of fear and anxiety that is currently enveloping our church and I believe that laywomen are in a prime position to be bearers of hope in the midst of despair.  Laywomen who have historically been the engine behind the Methodist movement that established the schools, hospitals, missions, community centers that met the needs of people all over the world are a vital resource as the church seeks to find its way toward being a movement again.  No matter the fate of The United Methodist Church as we know it, a new reality and way of living together as the body of Christ and the human family, indeed another world, is on the way.   We are on edge but we are also on the edge, of something new and beautiful.  I believe women hold the key to the future and we will assist in the birthing of this new world when we stand erect, lift our heads, and make our voice heard and as we teach our children to do the same.


Ms. Erin M. Hawkins is General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR). Ms. Hawkins is dedicated to building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people by providing practical resources and support to leaders throughout the Church to help them engage and embrace the cultural diversity present in our congregations and communities. Ms. Hawkins works to share lessons in creating holy relationship with God by, “holding in tension our capacity for greatness that calls us, as Christians, to persevere in the struggle toward becoming our better selves, and to combat our worst tendencies, of racism, sexism, and classism.”

Ms. Hawkins earned her master’s degree in Organizational Development from American University in Washington, D.C., and her master’s degree in Public Policy from Indiana University. She credits these educational opportunities in providing her with an awareness of how system processes can perpetuate the sin of racism and carry from the local to the global arena.

Leading from the Pew—“Why Not?”

by Dawn Wiggins Hare

Managing $22,000,000,000 (yes, that’s billion) for the financial security of our dedicated UMC clergy and lay staff, organizing  laywomen across the world for focused missions, building bridges across racial divides, and helping lead the #MeToo charge across the Church: these are just a few of the tasks assigned to women in leadership roles in The United Methodist Church.  What do they have in common?  These tasks are carried out by female professionals who answered the call to ministry, but not ordained ministry.  This month we have celebrated Women’s History Month by focusing on laywomen leaders in The United Methodist Church.  We include in that group the laywomen who serve as General Secretaries.  They lead from the boardroom….and from the pew.

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“Are you on the Administrative Council?”  It was an innocent question posed by Reverends Libba and Judd Stinson, my pastors at First United Methodist Church in Monroeville, Alabama, thirty years ago.

“No,” was my eye-rolling reply.

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Dawn Wiggins Hare

“Why not?” was their snarky retort.

That is the moment in time when my path as a laywoman on the journey to serving as General Secretary for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, one of the thirteen General Agencies of The United Methodist Church, began.

I grew up in another denomination with my mother playing piano, and  my father leading the singing (the choir tended to be an impromptu chorus with everyone who could/would sing walking up to the choir loft for the musical selection).  I learned to hear and sing harmony, witnessed lives of service, and grew to feel responsible for the operations of the church.  That setting is where I first realized that church did not magically happen.  Church was a community of laypersons, women and men, who maintained the building, visited and prepared meals for the sick, nurtured the children and youth, educated the young and old, and maintained the loving ministry of Christ as pastors came and went.  A life of service was not taught to me.  It was modeled for me.

When I was a young college student, Rev. Dr. Ed Hardin, the pastor of The First United Methodist Church of my hometown (Brewton, Alabama), stopped by my parents’ Western Auto store where I was working and hired me to sing alto in the choir for the summer.  My summer job ended, but my tenure in The United Methodist Church began.  I still remember talking to Dr. Ed, telling him that I did not know what I was going to major in or what I was going to do with my life.  I can still hear him saying, “Dawn, where the needs of God’s people intersect with your gifts and talents, that is where you are supposed to be at that moment.”  I know that quote did not originate with Dr. Ed, but I like give him credit for it anyway.

My husband Chip and I married in that same church in 1987, with Bishop Lawson Bryan officiating (obviously during his “pre-bishop” days).  Chip and I settled in Monroeville, Alabama, (his hometown) where I once again found my community in singing, playing hand bells, teaching Sunday School, and directing children’s and adult theater productions at First United Methodist Church of Monroeville.  In retrospect, I probably over-volunteered, but I both enjoyed serving and I knew church did not magically happen.  We had two sons, Nicholas and Eli, and having them grow to be loved by a church family, to have a solid foundation, to learn to serve, and to know the church was their home, was a driving force in my endless volunteerism.  Our family was rocking along just fine when the inquiry noted above was made to me by Libba and Judd, our clergy couple co-pastors.  (On second thought, maybe it was not so innocent.)  Which brings me to my second point.  Clergy are in perhaps the best place to see the members of the congregation, to assess the gifts of the laity, and to coach them into service where their gifts fit.  The key is to find the perfect match of respecting and honoring the talents that a person brings and finding how those fit naturally into the needs of the church, the community, and the congregation.  (You will notice that I never volunteered to chair the stewardship committee.  I REALLY hate asking for money, which in my current position proves God has a sense of humor.)

While I was being coerced by my pastors, little did I know that another female lawyer in town, who happened to have a famous sister, who was our annual conference delegate, and who had been the first woman to lead the Alabama West-Florida annual conference delegation to two General Conferences, had her eye on me.  I did not stand a chance.  Miss Alice Lee became my friend, my mentor, and my example.  She taught me to love the workings of the church.  She put faces to stories of gender inequality and racial injustice.  She filled me in on behind-the-scenes church policies and politics as I sat in her law office with my annual conference brochures.  When I was elected as a reserve delegate to Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in 2004, and two women were elected to serve as bishops, one of Alice’s dear friends (and Alabama-West Flordia UMM chair) insisted that I call her right away.  Alice was practically deaf, and I had to call her law partner who went to her home to announce the news.  When I was elected as a General Conference delegate in 2008, I sat in Alice’s office again and we walked page-by-page through each piece of legislation.  At the close of each day of General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, I would email  another of Alice’s partners with the events of the day.  Her partner would print and read my emails to her, and email me back her thoughts.  It was magical.  Alice’s love of The United Methodist Church at all levels from service in the local church to service at General Conference was contagious.  Which brings me to my next point.  Lay leaders must mentor future lay leaders.

While some folks live double lives, mine has been a parallel life.  Lawyer, assistant district attorney, judge on one hand.  Sunday school teacher, choir member, Staff-Parish Chair, Lay leader, annual conference delegate, general conference delegate, on the other. [To this day I have two resumes…the legal one and the church one.]  The common thread– love of family, love of community, love of Christ, and love of the church. In 2012 I was faced with questions about my future life’s work.  The change in my career path occurred coincidentally on the first day of General Conference in Tampa.  A couple of months later, an ad appeared announcing an opening for the General Secretary of The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.  Graduate degree—check. Knowledge of women’s issues—check. Knowledge of employment issues—check. Knowledge of The United Methodist Church and The Book of Discipline—check. Located in Chicago—uh, oh…

This southern girl did not own a winter coat.  What did I do?  I called Reverends Libba and Judd Stinson.

“Are you applying for the position?” …..”Well, why not?”  I could feel the eye-roll through the phone.

I am reminded of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25.  I believe that the talents for which we have responsibility are both the gifts we have within ourselves and those that we see in others within our circles of influence and encouragement.  Many are the gifts, the talents, the passions, and the life-giving ministries of our laywomen.  As I have traveled around the world and across the connection, I am continually amazed at the humble, brilliant souls serving, and those longing to serve.  Sometimes all these laywomen need is to be encouraged.  Perhaps failing to ask a laywoman to serve in a capacity where her gifts and talents can shine is analogous to burying our talents, for she is part of us, a part of that with which we, the church, have been entrusted.   Let us use all of our talents, especially through nurturing and encouraging those gifts we see in others.

And if we are met with any resistance, all of us should be prepared to roll our eyes and ask, “Well, why not?”


Dawn Wiggins Hare is the General Secretary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women of The United Methodist Church. Dawn has love for music, musical theater, children’s ministry and a passion for justice. 

Finding Our Voices—A Path for Women

by Barbara Boigegrain

Serving as a lay leader of a United Methodist Church general agency informs the essence of who I am as a woman, business professional, and person of faith. From my earliest memories, I was a “preacher’s kid” (PK) blessed with a large extended family of caring parishioners. The Church shaped my lifelong values of connectionalism, community, inclusivity, and service to others. Years later, my role as general secretary of Wespath Benefits and Investments (Wespath) brings my journey as a PK full circle, as now I am a steward for the financial security and well-being of others who serve this Church.

My journey has taught me that while the path for each woman is unique, women share in common the important roles of advocate and leader.

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Barbara Boigegrain

 

From Corporate to Church—A Curved Road
My personal journey to becoming a lay leader within the Church followed an unplanned path that brought me back to my UMC roots. I was a working mother of young children, juggling the commitments of a household while navigating the corporate world.

Then I heard the calling for the unique opportunity to lead the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (renamed Wespath Benefits and Investments in 2016). I was challenged by the opportunity to be an agent of change for the Church.

My role as general secretary blends my roots and faith as an ardent United Methodist with my business experience in consulting, insurance, and benefits. My daily work allows me to serve and make a difference in other people’s futures and in the future of this Church.

I am honored to serve as the first female general secretary of this agency. We have reshaped Wespath into a financial services institution that is a recognized leader in corporate advocacy for responsible, sustainable investment and among the top 100 pension funds in the U.S.—yet firmly grounded in values of The United Methodist Church. We are honored to secure the long-term sustainability of the pension plans and retirement savings for more than 100,000 clergy and lay employees of the UMC, and for our UMC-affiliated institutional investors.

I’m also pleased that Wespath recognizes women as valued leaders. Women comprise more than 40% of our agency’s senior leadership and management roles.

Women as Leaders in the Church
Women make up the greater share of UMC local church membership: outnumbering men 4:3[i] according to 2016 data from GCFA. By sheer numbers, laywomen have a voice in the UMC. We’re the ones who get the family to church on Sundays; who welcome families into a new church community; and yes, who cook for the infamous church potlucks.

But more noteworthy: women lead committees, community service outreach and missional initiatives in churches large and small across the country. We cultivate grace and justice. Like Susanna Wesley three centuries ago, women of the UMC bring strength and structure to today’s Church and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.

Women in History
When I think of women using their voices and positions to promote justice and positive change, I call upon history to inform the present. These strong women come quickly to mind:

  • Susanna Wesley—the mother of Methodism, who inspired sons John and Charles to become spiritual leaders and launched the concept of calling on lay people to lead prayer when no minister was available. Susanna Wesley’s Bible study sessions were well-attended and well-respected.
  • Georgia Harkness—ordained decades before female ordination was accepted in the Church and the first woman to teach theology in a U.S. seminary, she used her voice to condemn racism.
  • Lydia Patterson—who championed the education of immigrant children who otherwise were hidden in the shadows.
  • Lucy Rider Meyer—a female physician (when most medical schools banned women) and a Methodist deaconess, Meyer’s commitment to eradicating injustice through faithful connections led her to establish an orphanage, which evolved into multi-tiered advocacy for children through today’s ChildServ organization.
  • Coretta Scott King—while not a Methodist, she was nonetheless a pastor’s wife. In partnership with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and after his death, she was a powerful voice for social change, human dignity, nonviolence, and protecting the needs of the poor and disenfranchised around the world.

I say to women of any age: use your voice wherever you feel called: at your church, in your local community, at your children’s school, on the political field, in the business realm, or wherever your passions lead you. My adult daughters use blogs and other social media avenues to drive change. Other women may feel more comfortable sharing their voices in small-group discussions—or in huge multi-city marches—or somewhere in between.

However you express it, you can use your voice to advocate for whatever you believe to be right and righteous. Your voice will be heard, and your actions can make a valued impact on someone else’s life.


[i] 2016 Membership by Ethnicity and Gender, UMC General Council on Finance and Administration, gcfa.org.  [women: 4,007,523; men: 2,917,949]


Barbara Boigegrain has served as the chief executive of Wespath Benefits and Investments (formerly known as The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits), a general agency of The United Methodist Church since August 1994. Under her leadership, a strategic approach for the organization has been established to secure the long-term viability of pension plans, retirement savings programs, and health and welfare benefit plans for more than 100,000 clergy and lay employees of the worldwide Church. In addition, the agency added an institutional investments arm in 2011, increasing assets by $3 billion.
As general secretary, Barbara oversees all fiduciary services and administrative operations of Wespath, which has over $24 billion in assets under management.
Barbara is active with a number of professional associations including the Church Benefits Association, she is the Chair of the Church Alliance, and serves as a board member and Compensation Committee Chair with First Midwest Bancorp, Inc.
Prior to joining Wespath, Barbara spent 11 years with Towers Perrin. Earlier in her career, Barbara held positions with Dart Industries in the group insurance benefits function and with KPMG Peat Marwick tax practice. Barbara received her B.A. from Trinity University and completed graduate coursework at the University of Chicago and UCLA.

“…the Church and I are stronger for it.”

by Judi Kenaston

I am on a plane on my way to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and chatting with my seatmate who asks why I’m going to Africa. I give her my brief answer, “I am a United Methodist and we have churches all over the world. I am going to work with other United Methodists to plan how we are in ministry with one another.” But the question makes me think, how did I, a laywoman from West Virginia, end up on this plane on my way to Africa?

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Judi Kenaston

My first realization of service beyond my local church came in college where I was involved with campus ministry. My campus pastor, the late Rev. Martha Loyd, was a pioneering supporter of women in ministry and the first leader of our Conference’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women. I didn’t know that then – I just knew that she was the first woman I’d ever known in ordained ministry. Martha nominated me to be on the Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry. Eight inches of snow meant my first scheduled meeting was changed to a conference call. I remember sitting on my bed listening to strangers I could not see conduct a wide-ranging conversation about full-time and part-time ministries, and hearing words for the first time like “apportionments” and “payout shortfalls.” The next meeting came at the end of the semester. It was several hours away, I didn’t know anyone going, and I was busy preparing for finals, so I considered sending my regrets. And then a laywoman on the Board called and told me she’d pick me up and take me to the meeting (I don’t recall her asking!) After that, Miriam always checked to make sure I had transportation and that she expected me to attend. I also recall eating a meal with the board in a restaurant and ordering the smallest dish I could afford. No one had told me that the cost of meals would be reimbursed. Even so, having cash available was a challenge for a college student!

Marriage and graduate school took me out of the conference for several years. When I came back, I was asked to chair the Division of Campus Ministry. So at age 29 and a mother with young children, I was responsible for the coordination of our conference’s five full-time campus ministries. Our conference didn’t provide childcare at the time (they do now!) so I had to be creative in order to make site visits and meetings. I learned a lot about leadership and accountability by being a young woman in a church still dominated by men.

I went to Annual Conference and began seeing where I could plug in. I wrote for the Conference newspaper; I was part of the Resolutions Committee; I assisted the Conference Secretary. I headed a task force to update the Parsonage Standards, turning the church on its head by recommending that our churches no longer provide furniture. I learned about negotiating through passionately opposing positions – a skill that would become useful many more times. When our conference chose a quadrennial Stewardship Emphasis, I was asked to recruit and chair that group. During this time, Bishop Ives nominated me to become the Conference Secretary, replacing Dewayne, a clergyman who had been conference secretary for 30 years. As he moved into retirement, he mentored me along the way and never hesitated to show his pride that I was the first layperson and the first woman to be conference secretary in our Annual Conference. Now I’m one of the longest-serving Conference Secretaries in the denomination (although not challenging Dewayne’s 30 years!)

In 2004, I was elected as a reserve delegate to General Conference and in 2008, I was elected for the first time as a delegate to General Conference and also an 8-year term on the Commission on General Conference, including four years as chair preparing for General Conference 2016 in Portland. My world suddenly got bigger. I met and worked with so many people while chairing the Commission. When I stood on the platform to welcome the delegates in Portland, I was overawed by the sea of faces. But I was also amazed by how many of the people I knew without the aid of name tags! And I held in my pocket notes of support from people that had been nurturing me along the way.

I have a great deal of respect for the people I have worked and served with – women, men and young people who came from backgrounds wildly different from mine but who love The UMC. We didn’t always agree, but when I sat at the table I began to see that my voice mattered: That a laywoman from a small conference has something to say. I have learned so much I didn’t know: about The UMC, about our faith, and about listening to God’s voice in the midst of the pressing matters before us.

It has been my joy to work with and encourage other women of all ages and from many places to speak up and be heard. Being a leader isn’t always easy. Sometimes the tasks we are given suit our natural inclinations and we are well received. Many times we are asked to do things that push us well beyond our comfort zones and there are certainly moments of discouragement. When I pray Wesley’s “Covenant Prayer,” I ask to be employed or laid aside in whatever way best serves God. Even so, I am sometimes surprised and amazed at what is put before me. The work I have done would not have been possible if I hadn’t been given an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and then be supported when the road wasn’t easy.

I’m so grateful for the many areas where I have been able to serve. I love campus ministry, but I am glad that it wasn’t assumed that was my only interest. If I had been asked to list all the areas I would like to serve when I was 20, I doubt I would have known what to include. I’m pretty sure that there are things I have done that I would NOT have included because I didn’t know that I was capable in those areas. I’m glad that no one put me in a box and made me stay there! Are we looking for women, lay and clergy, whom we can nurture and support for the future UMC? Are we taking care of impediments to their serving, such as childcare, transportation and helping them feel included? Do we offer travel reimbursement without making a young mother feel like she’s being selfish? Do we remember to tell the college students how to be reimbursed and make sure they can pay the money upfront? And, perhaps most importantly, are we giving her time to grow into her position and at the same time accepting that she already has something to offer, even without previous official experience?

Now the plane is landing in Abidjan where, as a member of the Connectional Table, I will meet with the Committee on Central Conferences Matters to talk about the proposed general Book of Discipline and how that impacts the US churches and their decision making. Although I’m prepared, for a moment I feel alone. But then I recognize that I am surrounded by those people who have nurtured, encouraged and trusted me: a campus pastor, a determined laywoman, a retiring conference secretary, a former chair of the Commission on General Conference, an entire Annual Conference, several bishops, my sisters and brothers around the world that I have come to know as friends. We all get off the plane together and the Church and I are stronger for it.


Judi Modlin Kenaston grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, one of four sisters in an active United Methodist home. She earned a B.A. in Counseling and Rehabilitation and an M.A. in Education. She has taught in a variety of settings. She has been active in the West Virginia Annual Conference for her entire adult life. Since 2002, she has been the Conference Secretary and Journal Editor for the Conference. Judi and her husband are also certified in Marriage Enrichment leadership.

Judi was elected a lay delegate to General and Jurisdictional Conferences in 2008, 2012 and 2016, and as a reserve to General Conference in 2004. She served as Head of the West Virginia Conference delegation in 2016 and in preparation for the Special Session in 2019. She was elected to the Commission on the General Conference in 2008 and served as the chair of the Commission from 2012-2016, planning the General Conference in Portland, OR. She currently serves as vice-chair of the World Wide Nature Working Group of the Connectional Table.  In the Northeastern Jurisdiction, she has served on the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee since 2012.

Judi met her husband, Joe, at a West Virginia United Methodist high school youth camp and they were married six years later, proving that occasionally church camp romances DO last! They have been married for 36 years and have three grown children. They have lived in Chicago; Manchester, England; and several places in the West Virginia Conference, where Joe now serves as a district superintendent. Judi is a member of United Methodist Temple in Beckley, West Virginia. She enjoys spending time at their camp on the Greenbrier River, walking the dog, backpacking and adding pins to the map showing places the Kenaston family has traveled.