Shapers of the Journey: Celebrating Women of Faith

by Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone

I have been blessed throughout my life and ministry to be surrounded by Christian women who have been my source of strength and support. Some of these women have been in my life since my childhood and others have come into my life during the different seasons of my life and ministry. No matter when I’ve met these women, they each have played a special role in my life.


Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone


My mother, April Smith, is the first woman of faith that has played a very instrumental role in my life and ministry. When I first acknowledged my call to ministry at the tender age of 13, my mother was the first one to validate my call. I can remember her words so clearly, “I always knew that God had a special anointing on your life. There was just something different about you since you were a young girl.” My mother’s words gave me the hope and confidence I needed to begin my journey towards answering God’s call. Her ongoing support of my call inspired my decision to prepare for ministry by majoring in Religious Studies and Sociology in college.

I was blessed to have a mother that prayed with me and for me until she died in 1995. I was also blessed that my mother lived long enough to attend my Ordination services and to celebrate my first appointment. My mother was and continues to be with me (in Spirit) every step of my journey.

I was blessed to meet another woman of faith, the Reverend Dr. Barbara Isaacs, who was serving as the campus minister at the time I entered college in 1986. I knew I had decisions to make as I sought to answer my call to ministry and by God’s grace, Reverend Isaacs took me under her wing and began to mentor me. She took time to learn my faith story and about my call to ministry, even sharing her own story of faith and call with me.

As a result of Rev. Isaacs’s mentoring, I was given opportunities to participate in several International Mission trips she led. I traveled to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Africa. She assisted me in getting a Summer Mission Internship with the General Board of Global Ministries. Rev. Isaacs provided me leadership opportunities that opened the door for me to serve on the planning team for the college’s first Civil Rights Conference and to serve on the interviewing team for the hiring of the college’s first Multi-Cultural Affairs Director. She has been a rock in my life. She was very instrumental in helping me to develop my leadership and oratory skills, as well as further clarifying my calling into the Ordained Ministry. Rev. Isaacs was also helpful, as were my parents, with my decision to attend Seminary in preparation for a life in ministry.

I had a great Seminary experience! In the same year I graduated Seminary (1993), I married my college sweetheart and was appointed to a church where I served as an Associate Pastor. While I was both ready and excited to serve, I had a lot to learn. I can name several women, both lay and clergy, who supported me. They prayed for me and offered words of wisdom and encouragement. They all wanted me to be effective in my ministry and happy in my marriage. I knew that if there was anything I needed I had these women of faith to call upon. It truly does takes a village…!

In July of 1996, I was appointed to my second parish where I served as a solo pastor at the age of 27 years old. I had just buried both my mother and my father who died eight months apart from each other. This was a very difficult season in my life. While this was an exciting time in my life and ministry, I was grieving the loss of my parents and had inherited the responsibility of administering my parent’s estate and caring for my younger brothers and sisters. By the grace of God, I met a great woman of faith by the name of Florence Mitchell. Florence was a long-time, older member of my new church. Florence attended worship regularly and the Bible Study I led. Florence would come to the office to visit with me, to share her story of faith and took an interest in learning my story. Florence demonstrated that she had a profound respect for my ministry and was intrigued by my story of faith and courage.

Florence and I developed a special bond. She covenanted to pray for me and to be a confidant for me as deemed appropriate. Upon being reappointed to a different church in 2001, Florence offered to keep her covenant. Since meeting Florence in 1996, I have given birth to two daughters, completed a Doctorate of Ministry degree, served in three different appointments in different contexts, given leadership to two General Church Agencies, become an endorsed candidate for the Episcopacy and more. Through it all, Florence has been a source of strength and support. Florence is now 79 years old and has moved to Atlanta. She continues to pray for me. She prays for my marriage and family. She prays for my ministry. She affirms my leadership. She reminds me to keep balance and to take care of myself.  She calls me and visits with me. Florence is an embodiment of God’s love and provision.

What a journey! I praise God for the great women of faith who have been instrumental in helping to shape and form me into the woman of God I am today. There are others who are not named here but are named in my heart. During every season of my life and ministry, God continues to surround me with a community of love and support. To God be the glory!


Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. She has pastored several churches during her 23yrs years in ordained ministry She is currently the District Superintendent of the Chicago Southern District and Dean of the Cabinet in the Northern Illinois Conference. She is a delegate to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences and an Endorsed Candidate for the Episcopacy. 

Dominos and Equity

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

It wasn’t a surprise.  In fact, it was as predictable as watching a line of dominos fall in succession: the recent research findings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding women’s compensation, particularly clergy women.  First, the statistics were released, telling the world what many of us already knew: women still make a fraction of what men make in the same occupations and the discrepancy for clergywomen was among the highest.  Then the anecdotal evidence began pouring in.  Large numbers of female clergy began telling their stories of being compensated at levels well below their male predecessors in a particular church, being appointed to churches already scheduled to close, or being denied other benefits identified in the Book of Discipline.  Each story became as foreseeable as the one before it, only the names and places changed.  A long line of anecdotal dominos falling in rapid succession.

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

We all have stories to tell: our own stories or the stories of our friends.  Sad tales of long meetings with Staff Parish Relations Committees, Finance Committees and Administrative Boards.  Nasty comments and letters exchanged by people who haven’t read our United Methodist Discipline, or maybe even the Bible.  The stories are common, predictable and painful.  Dominos in the form of hurt feelings and painful experiences lying everywhere.

The problem with dominos is that someone has to pick them up.  After watching them rush through a rapid tumbling succession, someone has to clean up the mess.  Many would like to see our bishops, with the help of their Cabinets, do this work.  In all fairness, the responsibility for appointments lies squarely at the feet of our bishops.  So yes, in the end, bishops bear much of the obligation and the hope of resolving this problem.  So we count on them to help pick up this particular mess of fallen dominos.  Appointments are a key function of the episcopal office.

There are others who have said that this is an issue of competence and effectiveness.  Of course the implication is clear.  Let me just say it: Women receive lower compensation because they lack competence and effectiveness.  What makes a clergyperson effective?  Getting more people in the pews on Sunday morning?  Reaching out in mission and evangelism to the community and the world?  Paying mission shares?  Building a strong Sunday school?  Motivating a dying church to end its death spiral and either close or renew itself?  I see women clergy doing all of these things in the local church, yet there is still a large disparity in the compensation that women clergy receive compared to men.

While appointments are the responsibility of the bishops, compensation is the obligation of the local church.  Should it surprise us that the same biases about women’s compensation that plague society in general are also found in our parishes?  No, it should not.  However, a clergy woman who earns 76 cents for every dollar a man earns, a gap of 24 cents, experiences a much broader pay disparity than the typical U.S. woman who earns 83 cents for every dollar a man earns, or a gap of 17 cents.  Add to this a long term ripple effect that influences women’s pensions as well.

While the situation may be obvious and the responsibility for its resolution clear, it may be necessary to make our bishops and local churches aware of the severity of the problem and hold them accountable.  Annual Conferences, particularly our Annual Conference COSROWs and Boards of Church and Society, can take clear measures to ask our bishops, district superintendents and local churches to attend to this problem and move it to the top of their priority list.  Resolutions presented at our Annual Conference sessions can raise awareness for the need for equity, describe the current situation in an Annual Conference, and present clear and attainable objectives for correcting the situation.  Anyone can bring a piece of legislation forward.  The GCSRW website contains a sample piece of legislation for you to use as a guideline.

We cannot ignore the problem unfair compensation in our denomination.  It sits at our feet like a set of fallen dominos.  Playing the blame game only allows the problem to persist.  Instead all of us need to work together to honestly confront societal biases about women and move toward a fair method of compensation for all employees in The United Methodist Church.  We need to work together to pick up these fallen dominos and move toward a more just Church and world.

Leigh Goodrich is Sr. Dir. Of Leadership and Education, and the newest member of the GCSRW team.  She is a second-career clergyperson from the New England Annual Conference, and frequent blogger for GCSRW.  You can read more about her here or email her a 

Partnership in Ministry

by Rev. Robert Zilhaver

In the United Methodist Church and in the world today, we face a myriad of issues and problems.  God is calling us to make a difference in so many ways in people’s lives and in the world.  Our strength to overcome these challenges will require tested faith in God’s Spirit and grace.  In the great chapter of faith, Hebrews 11, Barak is listed among the ‘elders’ to whom faith is attested.  Why is Barak a hero of faith?  What is it that makes him a model for faithful?


Rev. Robert Zilhaver

The existence of Israel was threatened by the Canaanites.  Barak was commanded by God to muster the tribes of Israel and lead them to battle against Sisera, commander-in-chief of the confederate Canaanite forces.  He consented to act on the condition that Deborah would go with him.  What did Barak see in Deborah to know that he needed to work in partnership with her to achieve the ends to which God was calling him?

Deborah was a very gifted woman as attested in Judges 5:7, “The peasantry prospered in Israel, they grew fat on plunder, because you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.”  She was a judge in the ordinary, non-military sense of the word, and it was probably because of her judicial and charismatic wisdom, as well as her prophetic giftedness that brought many to her for help.   According to Judges 4:4-5, she had her headquarters under the “palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel” and was consulted by persons from various tribes who wished to have their disputes settled.  These issues were too difficult for local judges to decide or issues between the tribes of Israel.

Barak saw this giftedness and knew that these gifts were God given and fruitful in Deborah.  He saw success depended on partnering with such a gifted person so that Israel might be protected and God’s commands fulfilled.  He was not deterred when Deborah warned him that if they went forward in this partnership he would not get the credit for victory (Judges 4:9).  Together they went forward to accomplish God’s purposes.

The Israelites met the forces of Sisera at the waters of Megiddo.  We are told that, “The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (Judges 5:20).   During the battle, a cloudburst floods the watercourse of Kishon.  This miraculous flood swept away the Canaanite chariotry, threw the army into confusion and made it an easy prey for Barak’s men.  And as predicted, the main credit for the victory is given to Deborah.  Barak takes a role in the background.  The people of Israel are saved and have peace for forty years (Judges 5:31).

Our God is a God that shows not partiality (Acts 10:34).  Are we there yet?  Are we there yet as a people of faith to look and see God’s giftedness in all people? Are we there yet to show a willingness and take risks to partner with people different from us?   There is a sense that God’s purposes and success will continue to elude us until we can live out this truth, “that God pours out the Spirit upon all flesh, and that your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17).  That in this partnership of the Spirit there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female for all are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).

One of my roles in the church is working with youth and young people.  In that context, the question often arises how we can be sure that we are being inclusive?  Are we really looking for God’s giftedness in all people?  When confronted with this question, I always encourage them to first look at people who are different from them.  Look for God’s gifts first in people who are different from you.  Blending your gifts with the gifts of others, especially others different from you, will make a greater impact in the world for the Kingdom of God.

If you are young, look first at someone who is old.  If you are old, look first at someone who is young.  If you are white, look first at someone who is African-American or Korean.  If you are Korean, look first at someone who is African-American or white.  If you are a man, look first at someone who is a woman. If you are a woman, look first at someone who is a man.  When you find that giftedness, seek God’s help in making a partnership. And by faith, those partnerships can be so deep and effective in creating life giving outcomes and situations where God’s miraculous purposes will be accomplished. 

And in the end, it won’t matter who gets the acclaim or credit.   For when God’s purposes are accomplished, heroines and heroes of faith are born out of a partnership of the Spirit.   And whispering in the ears of the faithful are the precious words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Rev. Robert Zilhaver currently serves as the senior pastor for Lakeside United Methodist Church in the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.   He served as an officer in the United States Army from 1983-1993 in a variety of positions including being trained as an Equal Opportunity Officer.  Bob left the Army in 1993 to pursue his seminary education and ministry as an elder.   He is married to Amy and has four children (Laura, Sara, Polly, and Robert), two cats (Foster and Ninja), and one dog (Tuffie).

Rest. Reflect. Renew.

by Rev. Hilda R. Davis

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5a


The Christmas pageants are over. All the faithful have come, brought joy to the silent nights, and departed in peace. We have celebrated the humble birth of Jesus—God with us—with family and friends, congregations and communities. Then, we prayed out 2015 as we welcomed the New Year. HildaDavisHeadshot

We begin 2016 with anticipation, gratitude, and something else—exhaustion. As women, we have spent time preparing for, caring for, creating comfort for others; now it is time to think about our own self-care.

I invite you to join me as we look together at ways to make your self-care as much a priority as you make the care of others. Whether you are ministering across the world, in a local congregation or in your own home; you may be a caregiver or learning to care for your own changing needs; or you may be juggling all of the above with your capable hands—this is an opportunity to do a “new thing.” Regardless of your level of health and wellness, in 2016, begin this year by examining your lifestyle and asking if you can add more spaces for “Rest, Reflection, and Renewal.”

At the end of this post, you will find a link to download instructions to create your own “self-care plan” for body, mind, and spirit wellness.  However, just in case you have to rush to the next thing after reading this, thank-you for joining us and you will not leave empty-handed. I have included brief, quick self-care tips that give instant benefits. Really! Rather than creating a list of New Year’s Resolutions (that sometimes don’t make it past January), I suggest using these wellness tips to incorporate small changes into your day, which create a wellness lifestyle and you never have to make another New Year’s Resolution!!


Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he [Jesus] said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31

Jesus noticed the disciples were tired and encouraged them to rest. God rested on the seventh day after creating the world in six days. The prophet, Elijah, was instructed by God to eat and refresh himself for the journey ahead of him—he also took the time to sleep. (1 Kings 19)

It is often challenging for women to find time to eat and sleep. Our work is 24/7. Children need to eat every day (often all day). Congregations need care; crisis calls come during dinner and even when we are trying to sleep. Friends and family have emergencies and sleep has to be delayed and resting is only a memory. Women continue to be present for others and become sleep deprived, in spite of the research that emphasizes how necessary sleep is to our well-being. “If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.”

However, you can improve your sleep and make some small changes to provide spaces to rest. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) gives some suggestions for improving sleep:

  • Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Turn off the television before going to sleep.
  • Make your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark at bedtime.
  • Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bedtime.

TIP: Breathe in to the count of three: 1-2-3; Breathe out to the count of six: 1-2-3-4-5-6. This is one of the quickest, cheapest, and immediately beneficial practices you can begin to relieve stress and boost your energy. Deep breathing is an easy way to take care of yourself. Practice often.


        “Be still, and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10a

Jesus spent time in prayer and solitary reflection. (Matthew 14:23) When we spend time in quiet reflection, we are able to hear and respond to God’s call on our lives.

The Daily Room offers daily reflections online that give you a prayer, a meditation, a scripture, and more to guide your thoughts.  You can subscribe and receive the daily reflections by email. Use their reflections or your favorite meditations to bring calm, comfort, and peace to your day.

TIP: You don’t have to spend a long time sitting in a meditation pose or repeat a mantra to benefit from the sense of calm and serenity that arises from time spent in quiet reflection. Sit in a comfortable position. Bring to mind a scripture, an affirmation (suggestion: “Today I have peace because I trust God for the outcome.”), or a positive word said to you by someone. Allow yourself to experience the joy and peace from your thoughts. Continue to reflect on how God is present in your situation. Sit and relax for 5-10 minutes. Go in peace.


“but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:31

This is a favorite scripture of many, including me. What attracts me to this verse, aside from the poetry of it, is that it reminds me that when we wait for and trust in God we are able to take action. We have renewed strength, which allows us to soar or run or walk. Whatever our capability, God gives us the strength to do all we are able to do because our strength comes from God.

Creating a plan for your continued health and wellness begins with “rest, reflection, and renewal.” Once you are renewed, the next step is action. The Self-Care Plan can be downloaded. It gives you a model for how to bring body, mind, and spirit health to your day. It asks you to consider “What action will you take?” “When will you start?,” “Who will help you?” Once you write your answers you have a plan. It’s that simple!

TIP: Let your action begin with taking simple stretches every morning before you jump out of bed and rush into your day. Lie flat on your back. Begin by taking a deep breath. Release slowly. Place your arms next to your body and stretch them as if you are trying to stretch them to your feet. Relax. Next stretch your legs—extend them, point your toes—as if you are trying to touch the end of your bed. Relax. Finally, gently move your head from side to side; then up and down. Repeat, if you have time. Give your body a good shake and sit up refreshed.

Begin new wellness practices. Start now. May you live in renewed health and wellness in 2016 as you Breathe, Reflect, and Act.

HDavis_SELF-CARE Action Plan1.2016

Hilda Davis is an ordained Deacon in the Tennessee Conference and has had the privilege of serving as a local pastor, an Editor with the United Methodist Publishing House and first Project Manager for United Methodist Communications’ Global Health Initiative. 

Currently, she is the founder of Hilda R Davis Consulting and has the honor of working with clients long distance through technology, but remains committed to delivering person-centered counseling. Her primary focus is the healing and wholeness of individuals, families, congregations, and communities. She has written articles for religious books, clinical publications, and a weekly health and spirituality column in a regional newspaper.

Her work in local congregations led to the publication of her book for women, Live Healthy & Be Well: Create an Action Plan, which offers Bible stories, meditation, and activities that are designed to encourage holistic wellness. For more information about her book and for other wellness tools you can download, visit her website:

Another vocational opportunity was to serve as founding Director of the Faith Based Initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Health where she reported to the Commissioner of Health. As Director, she cultivated public health and faith collaborations across the State, designed and led trainings in congregations to promote healthy behaviors, and developed a multimedia curriculum for building a health ministry, Power in the Pews: Having a Heart for Health.

She has taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School and Tennessee State University. Her collaboration on research projects at Meharry Medical College and the Cancer Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center focused on the disparities in breast cancer mortality rates for African American women, cancer and spirituality, and faith and chronic illness. She also worked as Chaplain at Vanderbilt Cancer Clinic where she offered spiritual direction to people living with cancer.

Davis received her doctorate in Religion and Psychology from Vanderbilt University. She has both undergraduate and master’s work in Psychology and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Tennessee. She has a daughter, Erin A. Grimes, who makes her proud. Erin was a member of the first class to graduate from Dillard University after Hurricane Katrina and continues to flourish.

Advent Through the Eyes of Women: The Innkeeper’s Wife

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

“She gave birth to her firstborn, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn.”

 – Luke 2: 7 (The Inclusive Bible)

It is odd how one small phrase can set free the Biblical imagination.  For example, how many Christmas pageants have you attended in which Mary and Joseph knock on the door of the inn and encounter a grouchy, disheveled innkeeper, accompanied by a silent wife? Gruffly the innkeeper tells the expectant couple, with little or no explanation, that there is no room for them at the inn, and abruptly slams the door in their blessed faces.  However, nowhere in the scripture is an actual innkeeper, or an innkeeper’s spouse, mentioned.  The Bible just tells us “there was no room for them at the inn.” Perhaps Mary and Joseph simply found a “No Vacancy” sign posted on the door, or received no response at all to their frantic knocks.

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

However, the innkeeper role is one that allows us to explore the human condition in greater depth.  In my childhood, the innkeeper was a part coveted by the boys in my Sunday school class.  It was an opportunity to participate in the obligatory Christmas pageant without having to spend too much time in front of the congregation, or dress in an angel or animal costume.  At the same time, they might get to express their “coolness” by slamming a door really hard.  On occasion, the shiest girl in the class would pose as his wife, standing by idly through the insult of the holy and expectant family.  Hence, the Christian Midrash of the innkeeper and his wife.

So if we allow our Biblical imagination some additional freedom, we might wonder what happened after the innkeeper closed the door.  Would the silent wife remain silent?  Would she push back against her excluding and uncaring spouse?  Do the two simply go back to bed? Do either of them take food or blankets to the hungry and shivering young couple preparing to welcome their first child in a bed of straw?

Here is one rendition of the couple’s exchange.  I encourage you to consider a few of your own.

“What are you looking at?” mumbled the innkeeper to his spouse.

Quickly she averted her eyes, looking at the floor.  She had seen him turn others away in the night, but there was something different about this couple.  The man was travel-worn and his spouse doubled over, seeming to be experiencing pain.  Judging from her clothes, she might even be pregnant.

“I asked you a question,” he provoked.

“Nothing,” she mumbled, eyes still staring at the dirt floor.

He started to walk past her, through the small area where food was prepared, to the back sleeping rooms.  Then he heard her speak.

“This just feels different,” her small voice uttered before she even knew she had said anything.

“Don’t question me,” he retorted. “What do you know about this?  You don’t run this business, or make a single mite to keep this family fed. I break my back every day keeping this business going.  You don’t know anything.”

“But I think the woman might be pregnant and even in labor,” the wife said, lifting her eyes to see if this observation had escaped her already irate spouse.

 “Are you questioning my decision?” His voice grew louder.  “Who are you to question me?  That woman is with child and could render this entire house ritually unclean if she stays here. All of the clients will leave, I will have to refund their money, and my reputation as an innkeeper will be ruined forever.  We will have no money and be out in the streets begging because you wanted to be merciful to some strange women and her unborn child.”

His anger always frightened her, although he had never actually hit her.  Still she persisted.

“Would your God, our God, the God of our ancestors, want a woman to give birth in a cold cave among the cattle?  Is ritual cleanliness that important to God?  What about hospitality and compassion?”

Now his face was bright scarlet.  He turned and backed her into a corner of the kitchen, grabbing her arms so she could not escape. 

“Now you question God,” he roared down on her.  “Never question me or God!”

With that, he grabbed some kitchen rags, binding her wrists.  He put another across her mouth, gagging her. 

Stomping out of the kitchen, he passed two sets of horrified eyes.  “You’ll be next,” he growled.  “I just need some peace.”  With that, he went back to the bed, leaving his two daughters to huddle in fear next to their mother for the night.

But he never actually hit her.

peace on earth_photo

This family Christmas photo caused waves across social media last week. The women in this family have tape over their mouths, bound in Christmas lights as the men stand over them, a thumbs up and a sign declaring “Peace on earth”.

When we pray for peace on earth, what are we asking for?  For some it means silencing the voices that are uncomfortable to hear…the voices that keep us from our “silent” night.  Nagging spouses and tired children might ruin a peaceful night’s sleep.  Still, peace on earth cannot happen if we are only concerned with what is “ours”: our inn, our money, our property, our economy, our security, our comfort, and ourselves.  True peace on earth starts with the restraint we practice when we are willing to hear all the voices, even those that might seem vexing or whiny.  It starts when we listen to the marginalized with the same interest and attention as the powerful. It happens when legislators and leaders yield their power to make room for the voices of women and children.   Peace on earth happens when we are in relationship with people of all genders, all races, all religions, all abilities, all ages, all ideologies and all classes.  Peace on earth happens when we treat all humans with dignity and respect.  It happens when the loud and powerful lion makes a safe place for the timid and vulnerable lamb to lay.  Peace on earth begins with each one of us, in our homes and in our families. 

During the holidays, stress and alcohol abuse can break the peace of our families and incite domestic violence.  If you are a victim of domestic violence, or you suspect that at friend or relative might be, we encourage you to call your local domestic violence hotline.  Or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800)799-SAFE (7233).  They provide confidential and anonymous counseling in 170 languages.    

Leigh Goodrich is Sr. Dir. Of Leadership and Education, and the newest member of the GCSRW team.  She is a second-career clergyperson from the New England Annual Conference, and frequent blogger for GCSRW.  You can read more about her here.

Advent Through the Eyes of Women: Trust Like Ruth, Give Like Ruth, Honor the Other

by Rev. Alka Lyall

If you are like me, then you too may know the story of the birth of Jesus pretty well with all the little details that the gospels give us. And even though I can tell that story from memory, I confess I do not give much attention to the first 17 verses of Matthew 1. I know the verses are full of names and the genealogy of Jesus. Even though I have not spent much time on those verses, I know that amid the many names of the male persons of Jesus’ family tree are a few women.


Rev. Alka Lyall

I have always been fascinated by these women. Why do they find a place in the genealogy? Why are they so special? In a world that was so male-dominated, how did they get their name inserted into the document?

One of the things I have observed about these women is that they are identified not for who they are but for who they gave birth to. Of the four women mentioned, excluding Mary, I find myself attracted most towards Ruth.

Ruth is a Moabite woman. She marries a man from Bethlehem. She becomes the foreigner in the family and as a foreigner, she finds a place in the genealogy of Jesus. As an Immigrant, I connect with Ruth. I know the life and the struggles of an Immigrant. I know what it means to be a stranger. I know the feeling when we do not understand the culture, the language or the people. I know how Ruth may have felt in a family that was not part of her own culture. Ruth stays strong. She survives but she also challenges us.  In our world today-

  • where Immigration is such a controversial issue,
  • where we are constantly thinking of tightening our borders and toughening our Immigration laws, and
  • where we keep refusing those who come to our country as refugees and asylum seekers

Jesus’ family tree reminds us to welcome strangers and points to the idea that Jesus’ ministry will include all people- even those who are considered aliens, strangers, outsiders, refugees or asylum seekers.

After the death of her first husband, Ruth moves to Bethlehem, with her mother-in-law Naomi. She leaves the familiar, stays faithful to her mother-in-law and comes to live in a strange land. As a woman, I connect with Ruth. I connect with the many times we pay little attention to our needs but are willing to sacrifice everything to keep our family members happy and content. Ruth’s sacrifice makes Naomi find another husband for Ruth, and she finally gives birth to the child that will become part of Jesus’ genealogy. Ruth seems powerless but in that powerlessness reminds us that when we think less of our own good but focus on the needs and welfare of others, we find amazing blessings coming our way. We find God opening doors that we did not even know existed.  Ruth found herself named in the story of Jesus’ birth.

Ruth was first a foreigner in an Israeli family and then becomes an alien resident in a foreign land. Ruth had to make some choices that she was not convinced she needed to make. Anyone could easily lose hope in the situation. But Ruth did not give up hope. She continued to dream and trust and have visions. She continued to think of herself less and more of others and God fulfilled the promise to be always faithful to humankind.

As we live in this last week of Advent and prepare our hearts, homes and lives for the coming of the Christ-child, I pray that we always learn from Ruth. I pray that we trust in God’s faithfulness and live as people of hope. I pray that we will work towards making room for the ‘other’ in our world and in our communities. I pray that we will make efforts to welcome strangers with open arms and minds. I pray that we will think of others before we worry about our own needs. I pray that we always find strength within ourselves, to stand up against anything that is oppressive and unfair and unethical. I pray that whenever we feel like giving up, we will look at the life of Ruth and find renewed strength to keep on moving forward. May we learn to trust like Ruth, to give like Ruth and to honor the other.

Some commentators have also suggested that all the women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus lived lives that were shady. However, I am not going to focus on that. Instead I will continue to HOPE for love, joy and peace in this season of Advent and Christmas. 

Rev. Alka Lyall is an ordained elder in the Northern Illinois Conference. She is a life-long Methodist, growing up in the Methodist Church in India. She came to the United States in 1996 as a seminary student. Alka is at the table fighting for the inclusion of those who continue to be voiceless and excluded. Currently she serves as co-pastor at Broadway United Methodist in Chicago. 

Statistics, Stigma and the Stained-Glass Ceiling

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

What can elicit a firestorm of stigma, bias and unfair generalizations better than the release of some brand new statistics on the state of the church?  Even more specifically, those that portray women as underrepresented.  The release of the National Congregations Study last week has precipitated just such a milieu of articles and commentary.

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

The study shines new light on what has become known as “the stained-glass ceiling”, a term referring to the limits women clergy find regarding their vocational opportunities.  Specifically, it reported that only 11.4% of congregations have a female head clergyperson or leader (p. 47). As a result, good United Methodists are reflecting on our own research that shows that 27% of women are ordained in our UM system and only two women occupy the primary leadership position in our 100 largest churches.

While statistics in our denomination exceed the national averages, it is important to remember that the numbers reported in the NCS include religions and denominations that do not ordain women at all.  The fact that the UMC ordains women is a positive first step that we took in 1956.  However, our progress in supporting and promoting women clergy has seriously stalled over the past twenty years.

Enter “the Stained Glass Ceiling,” a metaphor for the limits placed on women’s call to ministry.  Jeremy Smith’s December 2014 blog, “Why Do the Largest #UMCs Not Have Female Pastors?” provoked a variety of comments.  Sadly, many of them seem to propagate the same stigmas that have held women back for the past 60 years.  Let’s look at a few of them:

Women don’t do new church plants.  My first appointment in the United Methodist Church was to a new church start.  I pastored that church for nine years.  It was one of the most spiritually rewarding times in my career, but new church starts do not always, or even frequently, result in mega churches.  In fact, according to the North American Mission Board, across all denominations, only 68% of new churches survive the first four years.  Do women accept the challenge of starting new churches?  You bet we do! Is that entrepreneurial spirit and faith rewarded?  Rarely.

Women will support women.  It is true that some women, placed in powerful positions, will use that power for the good of women, although statistically it would be nearly impossible to measure.  Anecdotally we learn that women who are raised to more influential positions lose their voice, or become part of the existing power dynamic that continues to marginalize those who are already pushed to the sidelines.   It is too easy for those in advantaged positions to lose touch with the struggling.  Rather than give away influence, those with power, even women, tend toward accumulating more, even if it means ignoring their greatest supporters.               

The local church has no bias toward womenOur local churches are full of wonderful, spirit-filled people.  Many of them understand that society has changed dramatically in the last 60 years.  However, even churches who believe they are welcoming to women treat them dramatically different than they do men.  Women are asked about their plans to have children, their income compared to a spouse, their nail polish, shoes and weight and their menstrual cycles.  Churches will even accept a woman pastor for a year or two, with the stipulation that they never be asked to do so again.

Women don’t want to lead.  This may be the biggest stigma of all against women.  Women want to lead and have led in our churches.  Perhaps the bias is that women’s leadership does not look like men’s.  Women bring a new set of skills and methods to the task of leadership.  This may turn the arena of leadership, established by men, on its head.  It might also be uncomfortable for those accustomed to old leadership motifs.  However, it does not mean that women don’t want to lead or can’t lead.

Women across the United Methodist Church are still hitting their heads on the stained-glass ceiling.  It is a painful reality that the Church still discriminates against women.  Yet, Jesus Christ, in the tradition of the prophets before him, implored us to make level the mountains and valleys so all might have equal access to power and influence.  What are the possibilities if we let go of our fears and allowed all people the opportunity to lead in the United Methodist Church?  What might it look like if we acknowledged the statistics, let go of the stigma, and broke through the stained glass ceiling?  Perhaps we might see the kin-dom of God.


Leigh Goodrich is Sr. Dir. Of Leadership and Education, and the newest member of the GCSRW team.  She is a second-career clergyperson from the New England Annual Conference, and contributing editor of this publication.  You can read more about her here.