Women by the Numbers: Who from the Annual Conferences Is at the Decision-Making Table?

by Amanda Mountain and Rev. Leigh Goodrich


infographic made via Piktochart


A total of 864 delegates will meet from May 10-20th in Portland, Oregon to revise church laws, adopt new ones, and approve plans and budgets for church-wide programs. Half of the delegates are laity and half are clergy, and the number of delegates representing each jurisdiction and each annual conference is proportional to the jurisdiction and annual conference’s membership. Women by the Numbers takes a closer look at who will be at this decision-making table in May. This month, we provide a snapshot of women delegate representation by annual conferences within the United States.

As a review, 44% of the delegates from the United States are female, 56% are male. In addition, 36% of clergy delegates are clergywomen and 64% are clergymen, while 52% of lay delegates are women and 48% are men. The United Methodist Church in the US is divided into 5 regional areas called jurisdictions, and then into Annual Conferences within each jurisdiction.  The addendum included with this article shows the breakdown of delegates by annual conference.

Summary of Annual Conferences:

There are four annual conferences—New Mexico, Northwest Texas, Desert Southwest, and Yellowstone—that elected no female delegates to General Conference. Neither Alaska nor the Dakotas Annual Conferences elected any male delegates.  Notably, all of these delegations except Northwest Texas only elect two delegates each.  Red Bird Missionary Conference, South Georgia, Memphis, New Mexico, Northwest Texas, Wisconsin, and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary conference did not elect any female clergy delegates to General Conference, while Peninsula-Delaware annual conference elected no female lay delegates.

In addition to Alaska and the Dakotas with 100% female delegates, other annual conferences with high percentages of female delegates are Greater New Jersey (88% female delegation) and Minnesota (75% female). The annual conferences with the lowest percentage of female delegates are those cited above with no women in their delegation, followed by South Georgia at 12% female, Texas at 16% female, and West Ohio with a delegation that is 33% female.

Compared to overall membership:

Importantly, each annual conference elects an equal number of clergy and lay delegates.  The number of delegates varies every four years based on the number of lay and clergy members within that Annual Conference. The largest annual conferences in the United States according to membership are the North Georgia, Virginia, Western North Carolina, Texas and Florida Annual Conferences. [1]  These are important annual conferences to watch because they elect multiple delegates and have the greatest opportunity to exercise gender parity in those elections.  The percentage of female delegates in three of these annual conferences exceeds 50%. In contrast, North Georgia’s delegation is 27% female, and Texas elected a delegation that is 16% female. In summary, two of the largest annual conferences, North Georgia and Texas, with 22 and 18 total delegates, respectively, elected low percentages of female delegates to General Conference.

Lay membership compared to lay delegates

Three of the top 5 largest annual conferences hold a disproportionate amount of female delegates to female lay members. For example, women account for 57% of all lay members in the North Georgia Annual Conference but only 30% of their lay delegation. The Texas annual conference is similar with women accounting for 57% of lay members but only 22% of the lay delegation, and in Florida women account for 60% of all lay members but are less represented at only 56% of the lay delegation.

Women in two of the largest annual conferences are proportionately represented. Virginia’s lay membership is 57% female and their lay delegation is 64% women, and in Western North Carolina, women account for 56% of all annual conference lay members and 70% of their lay delegation.

Clergy membership compared to clergy delegates

Two of the top 5 largest annual conferences hold disproportionate amount of female delegates to female clergy members. In North Georgia, women account for 33% of all clergy, but only 25% of their clergy delegation. In Texas, 31% of all clergy are women, but only 22% of the clergy delegation.

Women in three of the largest annual conferences are proportionately represented, or better. Virginia’s clergy membership is 32% female and their clergy delegation is 36% female. So does Western North Carolina with its clergy delegation being 40% female while its annual conference clergy membership is only 35% female.  Florida is a standout, with 24% of its annual conference clergy members being women, while its clergy delegation is 56% female!


Female delegates from annual conferences in the United States tend to be more representative of lay and clergy membership with a few exceptions. When looking at the top 5 annual conferences by membership, and thus the largest US delegations, all of these delegations come from the South Central and Southeastern Jurisdictions in the United States, and the delegations from these annual conferences are not always proportionate to the annual conference female lay and/or clergy membership. We should ask ourselves if this is important. Do women want to be proportionately represented?  Do women want to challenge the church for a more equal representation at the table with a more even 50/50 split between the genders? Is proportional representation the best women can and should strive to do? What would our delegations look like in a world which promoted “a continuing commitment to the full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church, sharing fully in the power and in the policy-making at all levels of the Church’s life.”[2]

Copy of Delegates by Jurisdiction and Annual Conference

[1] See http://www.umc.org/gcfa/data-services-statistics for more information on annual conference membership

[2] ¶2102, Book of Discipline

For more Women by the Numbers, including the articles that examine Jurisdictions and Central Conferences, please visit our website

“Spotlight” on Plan UMC Revised

by Dawn Wiggins Hare

In February as I was flying to a General Conference delegate orientation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I finally had the opportunity to watch the Academy Award winning picture for 2016, SpotlightThis movie was not life imitating art, it was art documenting life. 

dawn headshot

Dawn Wiggins Hare

Spotlight illuminates the darkness of decades of sexual abuse and misconduct by those in a pastoral relationship that was hidden, tolerated and, in some cases, justified by administrative oversight by the Church.  The truth came into view because of the courageous and vigilant team of investigators, writers, reporters, editors, and publishers who spoke truth in the face of adversity, destroyed evidence, damaged sources and personal pain.  The movie is an essay on the potential harm of power.  The distribution of power and the misuse of power are the basis of our ministry at the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

As an attorney and former judge, I was taught the Socratic Method, a system of asking a series of questions to test the logic and facts of a premise.  I’ve been using this method to evaluate the proposed administrative structural revision coming before the General Conference called Plan UMC Revised. This legislation, divided among various legislative committees, calls for honest questions and responses.

The original version of Plan UMC, declared unconstitutional and unsalvageable at 2012’s General Conference, was touted by its authors as useful and streamlining for The UMC by reducing the size of boards and agencies, strengthening accountability systems and forcing agencies to cooperate with one another.

Here are some questions for examination:

  • Why Plan UMC revised?
  • Why now?
  • Why is a portion of the plan directly aimed at the ministries of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW), the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), and the General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH)*?
  • Why are these critical ministries that shine the “spotlight” on sexism, racism, and the injustices of our past which we must not repeat, the least funded and staffed in the Church?
  • What are the objectives, both spoken and unspoken?
  • What are the effects, both directly and collaterally?

I have been a delegate to General Conference for the last two quadrennia.  During those conferences, I sat as a lay delegate who worked as a volunteer in the local church, in my annual conference, in my jurisdiction and in the general church.  Over these past twelve years, I have read all of the reports and heard all of the criticisms of agencies, bishops, leadership, annual conferences, right down to the blame pointed at the everyday members of the church in the pews.  I have also been disheartened to observe people choosing to misrepresent facts, events, conversations and information in order to seek to “win” a particular position.  That is absolutely unconscionable.

As I head into this General Conference, I am seeing the Church in a different, but similar light.  I will sit in Portland as a lay delegate with concern and voice for my home conference, as well as one who serves The UMC as a General Secretary.  I have learned much in these nearly four years and the following is what I have found.  Almost every agency has reduced its board by significant numbers since 2012.  The agencies of The United Methodist Church do not operate in silos.  Within the first year of my becoming General Secretary, every agency that does work on some form of “women’s issues” met in Chicago at GCSRW’s request to review programming to assure that there was no overlap and to identify any gaps where trainings would be helpful and if they might be undertaken collaboratively.

This is how we started the 2012 quadrennium and continued to frame our work of supporting women in leadership and challenging the Church to the full inclusion of women, turning our “spotlight” on the inequities that we find.

During this quadrennium, we discovered the following:

  • that an annual conference denied ordination to an approved candidate because she was a woman;
  • that an annual conference board of ministry required female candidates to have vaginal exams, with no like exam being required of male candidates;
  • that minimum salaries in one sample annual conference reflected a 2:1 ratio of women to men, even eight years out;
  • that women make up 58% of the membership of The UMC in the United States (this figure is not known worldwide), but only 36% of the delegates to General Conference and only 33% of the reported leadership positions across the church;
  • that even at the highest levels of leadership in the Church, women are subjected to more rigorous standards than men.

Each of these are documented facts.

The second prong of our work at GCSRW more closely aligns not with the resistance to sharing power, but with the actual abuse of power itself.

GCSRW is one of the smaller agencies. We are a staff of six people in Chicago, Illinois, with our offices in the First United Methodist Church of Chicago.  Our budget is one of the smallest across the church, and yet, we offer the only website and phone line staffed by one person (because that is all that our budget will allow) made available to provide comfort, care, support and guidance to victims of clergy sexual misconduct, to bishops seeking to offer appropriate process, and to district superintendents on the front line.

The lessons of Spotlight have not been lost on The UMC through the ministry of the GCSRW, but how this ministry will continue is not addressed under the current version of Plan UMC Revised.  One thing that is clear: the independence of GCSRW that is crucial in speaking truth to power, even to bishops who violate the sacred trust, is removed.

In 2012, I was one of the delegates who voted for Plan UMC that was found unconstitutional.  But my vote was based on false information that continues to this day.  GCSRW is not a party to this revised legislation.  We have not been consulted in any way.  

So, let’s go back to the questions:

  • What is GCSRW doing that requires accountability? As an agency that sets its goal to do as much as we can with the resources that are available, that takes all possible steps to avoid duplicity, whose 19-member board chooses to stay two-to-a room at board meetings and hold meetings in churches in the United States to save expenses, that has passed all audits, that has served annual conferences in every jurisdiction in the US and across the Central Conferences (within our capacity), and continues to provide the only advocacy to victims, we have no answer.
  • Why Plan UMC Revised and why now? We cannot answer this question because we have not been privileged to the motives, the reasoning, the rationale, the intended outcomes, the mechanisms for the plan, or even how the transition of our ministry to a non-program entity would occur.  No one has consulted us.
  • What would The UMC lose? That’s easy.  The “spotlight” would be turned off. 

I am reminded of a simple song that I learned at church.  Sing it with me…

“This little light of mine.  I’m gonna let it shine….. 

Hide it under a bushel?…… yes….”

….and Jesus wept.


*For information on the ministries of The General Commission on Religion and Race go to www.gcorr.org and for The General Commission on Archives and History go to www.gcah.org.

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 passion justice. 

Miles to Go Before We Sleep

by Kimberly Woods

As a child, my family would go on many road trips. Being an only child and having no siblings to argue with, my attention turned to my parents. I would constantly ask my father, since he was driving, if we were there yet. My father would glance into the rear view mirror and say, “Kimberly, look out the window. Does it look like we’re there?”

kim woods photo

Kimberly Woods

I would see corn fields, grass, and cows, but not our destination. I would then respond with a simple, “No.” To which my dad wisely followed, “If you have to ask, then we aren’t there yet. When we get there, you’ll know.”

While this seems obvious to an adult and not to an impatient child anxiously awaiting a trip to Six Flags St. Louis, I find myself feeling the same way regarding women’s equality in the Church. There are many areas in which we have made great progress on our journey towards inclusion, but we are not there yet.

When it comes to the role of women in the Church, be it as clergy or laity, I have viewed many discrepancies. While not a cradle-born United Methodist, I have been a Christian all of my life and a United Methodist for almost seven years now. In that time, I have witnessed many areas where equality should exist, but simply doesn’t.

I have heard many stories from female clergy about how they struggle to be accepted in the pulpit, especially in certain parts of the state of Illinois. When my spouse was appointed to a parish in Southern Illinois, one of his three churches was essentially a matriarchy. However, when the time came for my spouse to be appointed to a new church, this matriarchal “small family church” stated that people would leave if they had another female in the pulpit, as my spouse’s predecessor was. I was shocked to think that a church comprised primarily of women would so openly reject the idea of being led by a woman. I have also heard of many women in the candidacy process in different parts of our conference being told to “just be laity” because pursuing ordination had been “too difficult” in the past for women and that many churches still don’t accept female clergy.

However, I feel that in the pursuit of equality, we can be guilty of over-correcting for our past errors. As someone who is pursuing ordination as a deacon, I have heard often that I don’t need to be ordained to follow God’s call in my life. I have also heard that I should not pursue deacon’s orders because “women don’t have to settle for being deacons anymore.” In a few instances, while seeking employment as a youth minister in a local church, I have been asked if I can handle the boys in youth group, since I’m a woman and “can’t relate to them.” I have also been told by a church that they would not hire me because “my husband’s itinerancy” meant they had no guarantee that I could keep the position long-term and they worried that hiring me would “impede his ministry,” with no mention of my ministry, my passions, or God’s call on my heart to work with youth. I have even been told by people that my call is “clearly to support my husband’s ministry,” that I am called to be “a good pastor’s wife” and to “support him, like God wants me to do.” In some senses, I recognize that the church has a tendency to favor elders over deacons or men over women because of its past preferences, but when we over-correct and push female deacons away from their call or put the ministry of a one spouse over that of another, clergy couple or not, we are merely setting ourselves up for failure.

While I am sure many have experienced gender issues in the Church, I don’t want to dismiss all the work we have done. Many advances have been made for full inclusion of women in the Church over the years. To even have women serving as elders, deacons, district superintendents, and bishops shows remarkable steps in the right direction. We can see a number of women, lay and clergy, being elected to General and Jurisdictional conferences, myself included. I even know of young women who have entered into the ministry or even just set foot in a church for the first time because of a female pastor or mentor who served as their role model, an example of what could be achieved. That does not mean, however, that our journey is over. As one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost, penned: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep.”

We are on an incredible and lovely journey towards women’s inclusion in the Church. But if we have to ask if we are there yet, I implore you to look around. We are still in the woods and while the view is beautiful, there is still a journey ahead. We cannot rest fully because there is more to be done for us to reach that destination. So let us press onward, let us walk together on this journey, and let us ask ourselves how many more miles we have to go and what can we do to get there?

Kimberly Woods is a twenty-six year old pursuing ministry for Deacon’s Orders in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, teacher’s aide in resource/special education and a pastor’s spouse. She finished courses at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary & will receive my master’s in Christian education this May. She is a General/Jurisdictional Conference lay delegate, passionate about social justice, and enjoys working with children and youth in a variety of settings, including through teaching & writing.

Sliding Off-Base

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

The score was a close 3-2 at the top of the ninth inning.  The Tampa Bay Rays were leading. With one out and bases loaded, Blue Jays batter Edwin Encarnación hit a ground ball to third.  The ball was sent to the second baseman to force an out on a potential double play.  But not before the runner, José Bautista, slid not into the base, but intentionally into the second baseman.  The second baseman added. “When I first saw him coming in, I thought he was going over the bag, but then I didn’t know if he kicked his foot out to try and catch a back foot. He kind of swung me around a little bit, the throw went a little left.”

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Bautista’s play was overruled based on a brand new rule in baseball.  “The Chase Utley” rule was developed during the off-season to avoid injuries when slides into second are made on double plays.  More specifically, when a runner intentionally slides into the second baseman instead of onto the bag, there is potential for serious injuries.  That is exactly what happened during the 2015 playoffs when Los Angeles Dodgers player Chase Utley seriously broke the leg of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.  Utley did not aim for the base but directly at Tejada to break up a potential double play.  Similarly, Toronto Blue Jay José Bautista, was attempting the same strategy.

In the end, Toronto lost the game, 3-2.

Frankly, everything I know about baseball I learned from my father and son.  To me, it sounds like the runner was trying to do something dangerous and unfair.  However, to make matters worse, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons let his sexism fly when he commented that major league players “might as well wear dresses.”  After refusing to apologize, he defended his comments by saying his mom, wife and daughter all found his remarks “kind of funny.”

Truly, this behavior is wrong on so many levels.  A leader should promote a degree of fair play and a desire to follow the rules.  That person should also know enough about the history of their sport to understand that playing in dresses, which women did at one point, is particularly tough business.  A leader should not pander in sexist comments.  Further, a leader should never be a poor loser.  So, John Gibbons is not a good leader.  Point made.

But what about the women: mom, wife and daughter?

Gibbons said that his comments don’t “offend my mother, my daughter, my wife…” Is it that these remarks don’t bother them, or is it that they, along with so many other women, have heard these types of comments so often and for so long that they simply don’t know what to say when they are raised?

In so many cases, women stop challenging sexism in their homes because they no longer know what to say.  There is no opportunity to have a rational conversation about the way expressions are used, their intent, or the harm words cause. They are tired of the arguments and belittling.  Think of your own response when someone you care about drops a comment that is sexually or racially charged.  What do you say?  Do you say anything?

When we hear blatant sexism or racism, it usually surprises us, so we should plan ahead about how to respond when it happens.  A simple “Wow,” or “Really?” can cue the culprit that they are off-base.  It might even prompt an apology from a particularly sensitive person.  If not, consider starting with a clarifying question.  “Exactly what did you mean when you said that?” You might try the presumption that the person did not mean to say something harmful, and that the comment is below the high regard you have for the offender.  “Did you really mean what you said?”  “That doesn’t sound at all like you.”  These responses let people know you have found their statement disturbing, and also allow them to feel a level of respect from you.

Still, there are some people, like John Gibbons, who will tell you to “lighten up,” and “it was meant as a little humor.”  When that happens, we have to be more direct.  Statements like these may help: “It is not a light thing to demean and belittle other human beings.” “True humor does not come at the expense of another gender (or race, for that matter).”

Remember, this is a time for clear communication and an honest message.   Be sure your nonverbal communication reflects your spoken word.  This is not a time for hanging your head in submission or a coquettish smile.  This is an opportunity to right a wrong.  If you must use a facial expression, disbelief is the best approach.

Whether someone breaks the rules of a baseball game by sliding off-base, or breaks the rules of civility by speaking off-base, it is dangerous to the other players, sometimes an entire gender or race, and we need to call them on it.  That is the reason there are rules in baseball and rules of civil discourse: to keep us safe and encourage all of us participate equally.

For more information about responding to sexist language, go to stopsexistremarks.org for ideas about ways and words you can use to respond to sexism in your home, work or community.

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 at lgoodrich@gcsrw.org. 

What It’s Like to be a Pastor’s Kid in a New Church Start


by Paige Lowery

I have an odd life.  My mom, dad, and my mom’s mom are all pastors.  My other grandma is an organist for a church.  At one point, I felt like all the adults that I knew, including my parents’ friends, worked at churches.  Nowadays I feel like I work in a church, too.  My parents started a new church in 2013 when I was 8.  It was hard to leave my friends in our old town, but I was excited to have an adventure in the big city of Portland.

paige lowery

Paige Lowery

Once we got settled in, life started to get into a natural rhythm.  We went to church on Sunday mornings and then church again on Thursday evenings.  On Sunday mornings we went to Capitol Hill United Methodist Church where my mom worked part-time.  On Thursday evenings we stayed home.  We had a dinner church at our house.  It eventually changed to Sunday nights.  I thought it was easier to have it all on one day, but sometimes it’s a long day.

At Capitol Hill UMC my responsibilities are to light the candles and to be the liturgist.  I’ve gotten a lot of experience talking to crowds.  I like the cozy feel at Capitol Hill and all the nice people.

At Sellwood Faith Community things are a lot different.  For one I have to help set up, which can be fun if we make it a game.  Most of the time it is not so fun when we are in a rush or my parents are in a grumpy mood.  I also have to keep my office very clean because that is where the kids’ program meets.  I help serve communion after dinner.  All of the kids help with this at Sellwood Faith Community, which is pretty cool.  Another cool thing is that dinner is a potluck.  One week we had mostly bread.  Another week we had mostly vegetables.  One time there were two platters of roasted broccoli.  If I haven’t mentioned it, I love roasted broccoli.  I did a taste test and couldn’t decide whose was better, so I just ate a lot of broccoli that night. My community had lots of awesome people.   One of the women makes the best desserts in all of Oregon.  Another woman and I came up with an extensive dance play that we like to perform sometimes after dinner if it’s not too late. We also do service projects and really cool meditation hikes.  We work at the Oregon Food Bank and Bethlehem House of Bread.  I like working with my community and doing the hikes to be in nature and see God there.

At Capitol Hill we sing from the hymnals and the Faith We Sing.  At Sellwood we sing after dinner.  We do more modern songs, including some my dad has written.  Sometimes it feels like an extra thing to make my night longer, but most of the time it is really fun to sing with everybody in the community.

I have decided that even though I may feel like I work in a church now, I don’t think I’ll be continuing this career.   It is not my passion.  I have more of a feel for the political side of things and that is how I think I can best help people and work for God.

Paige Lowery is nearly 11 and she is in the 5th grade.  She hopes to one day be elected to General Conference so she can be a decider.  She has 2 cats, 2 guinea pigs and a collection of giant stuffed animals.  Paige is part of a band with her dad called the Functional Monkeys.  They have a CD that raises money for Imagine No Malaria that can be purchased at jeffloweymusic.com.  

If Every Barrier Is Down, Why Does My Head Hurt from Hitting the Stained Glass Ceiling?

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

In 1995, Sally Purvis wrote one of the first books about clergywomen and the significant discrimination they face.  It was called The Stained-Glass Ceiling: Churches and Their Women Pastors.  Since that time, at least 50 books have been written about the pitfalls of women who choose ordained ministry as their primary vocation.

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

In case you are wondering, the stained-glass ceiling is a societal and economic phenomenon similar to the “glass ceiling” many women encounter in secular employment.   Just like the discrimination women face in broader society, women frequently find themselves barred from particular leadership roles in their faith community, or they find it particularly difficult to rise to levels of authority, status or power within their denomination.  Thus, they hit the predictable “stained-glass ceiling”— a metaphor that tells women they have accomplished all that the power structures are willing to tolerate.

Most of us are familiar with the stained glass windows that adorn many of our churches.  They are filled with images that represent stories illuminating Biblical scriptures and Christian tradition.  However, sometimes those scriptures and traditions, grounded in a patriarchal worldview, hold back women from fulfilling God’s call on their lives.  What does that stained-glass ceiling look like?  When we speak with women who feel safe sharing their experiences, we find disturbing themes running through their experiences:

  • Clergywomen “mommy tracked,” that is, given positions of less responsibility during the “child rearing” years, whether they have children or not.
  • Women paid less than their male counterparts because they are married and “don’t need” the salary, insurance, parsonage, etc.
  • Clergy couples, in which the woman is paid less than her spouse so he won’t “feel bad” because she makes more money.
  • Clergywomen asked to take a part-time appointment so their spouse can take a larger, more prestigious church.
  • Churches that cut the salary of their newly appointed pastor when they learn she is a woman.
  • Women discouraged from pursuing ministry by their pastors and district superintendents, and encouraged to “go home and take care of your children.”

And there are many, many more examples!

That does not mean that women have not persevered.  For the last twenty-four years, our Women by the Numbers column has faithfully reported a small but steady increase in the percentage of women in the pulpit.  From 1992 to 2002, the percentage of clergywomen in The United Methodist Church rose from 11% to 19%, an 8 point shift.[1]  It has taken us thirteen years to realize the next 8 point movement from 19% in 2002 to 27% in 2015.[2]

Conversely, the number of female bishops in the United Methodist Church seems to be waning from 25% to 19%.[3]  While the number of bishops in the church has increased to 66 throughout the world, the number of women filling those positions has decreased from 16 to 13.  However, in 2012, we did see the election of the first woman in Africa.

All of this is happening in a denomination that reports more than half of its members are women!

In The United Methodist Church, it seems that we have, as a denomination, hit an impasse, a metaphorical “stained-glass ceiling” in which women comprise about 25% of all ordained people in parish leadership and are hovering between 19% and 25% of all bishops.  Yet, women continue to make up half of our seminary graduates who intend to enter some form of full time ministry.

Is that good enough?  Are we a “credible and reliable witness to Christ’s exemplary embrace of all women as valued, respected partners in the total institutional life and global witness and impact of the Church?”[4]  Do we truly believe Paul’s prophetic pronouncement in Galatians 3:27-28 that men and women are one in Christ?  Do we live it?

Let me ask the question another way.  If we have removed all of the barriers that allow women to grow and rise in esteem and effectiveness in the Church, why do our collective feminine heads hurt from hitting them on the stained-glass ceiling?

Until we are able to remove every barrier to women’s equal status, role and advancement, we cannot claim to truly be following the example of Christ in the world.  One way we can promote change and reduce the barriers women face is by supporting Resolution 3442, “Every Barrier Down: Toward Full Embrace of All Women in Church and Society” when we join together in May at General Conference 2016 in Portland, OR.  This legislation reflects upon the current state of women in the United Methodist Church.  It continues to ask the nagging question, “Are we there yet?”

[1] “Women By the Numbers,” July 2005

[2] “Women By the Numbers,” July 2015

[3] The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, Resolution 3442. Every Barrier Down: Toward Full Embrace of All Women in Church and Society.   (Note the change from the 2012 report to the 2016 report)

[4] Ibid

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 at lgoodrich@gcsrw.org. 

Women by the Numbers: Who from the Jurisdictions Is at the Decision-Making Table?

by Amanda Mountain and Rev. Leigh Goodrich


infograph made via Piktochart


A total of 864 delegates will meet from May 10-20th in Portland, Oregon to revise church laws, adopt new ones, and approve plans and budgets for church-wide programs. Half of the delegates are laity, half are clergy, and the number of delegates representing each jurisdiction and each annual conference is proportional to the jurisdiction and annual conference’s membership. For the next two months, Women by the Numbers will be taking a closer look at who will be at this decision-making table in May, especially regarding the representation of women at General Conference. This month we will provide a closer look at the 504 delegates from the United States, who make up 58% of all General Conference delegates.

Total: 44% are female and 56% are male

Clergy: 36% female/64% male

Laity: 52% female/48% male

The United Methodist Church in the US is divided into 5 regional areas called jurisdictions. These are the Southeastern, South Central, Northeastern, North Central, and Western Jurisdictions. Each Annual Conference within the United States resides in one of these regional jurisdictions. Below, Women by the Numbers provides a breakdown of delegate representation by jurisdiction. 

2016 Numbers:                                                                                  

SEJ- 41% female delegates/59% male                                   

Clergy- 33% female/67% male

Lay- 49% female/51% male

SCJ- 35% female delegates/64% male*                                

Clergy- 31% female/69% male

Lay- 39% female/ 61% male

*does not equal 100% because 1 delegate did not report gender

NEJ- 54% female delegates/45% male *                                              

Clergy- 48% female/52% male

Lay- 64% female/36% male

*does not equal 100% because 1 delegate did not report gender

NCJ- 49% female delegates/51% male                                  

Clergy- 39% female/ 61% male

Lay- 59% female/ 41% male

WJ- 47% female delegates/ 53% male                  

Clergy- 40% female/60% male

Lay- 53% female/ 47% male

Summary of Jurisdictions:

The Northeastern Jurisdiction has the highest percentage of female delegates at 54%, and is the only jurisdiction where the delegation is 50% or more female. The South Central Jurisdiction has the lowest number of female delegates at 35% of its delegation being women. Interestingly, when looking at clergy and lay categories, clergywomen account for less than 50% of all clergy delegates from the US in all jurisdictions. The South Central Jurisdiction has both the lowest percentage of clergywomen (31% of all clergy), and the lowest percentage (39%) of all female lay delegates. The Northeastern Jurisdiction has the most at 48% of clergywomen delegates and 64% of its lay delegates being women.

Comparison to 2012 Delegate numbers:

2016       Total Numbers                                                                 2012 Total Numbers

Total: 44% female/ 56% male                                                      Total: 44% female/56% male

Clergy: 36% female/64% male                                                    Clergy: 39% female/61% male

Laity: 52% female/48% male                                                       Laity: 50% female/50% male

Overall, the number of female delegates from the US stayed the same at 44%, but the number of clergywomen delegates went down from 39% in 2012 to 36% in 2016. The percentage of laywomen delegates is up from 50% in 2012 to 52% in 2016, a marginal increase at best. Most of the jurisdictions did not see much change in female representation among their delegations, except for the Western and Northeastern Jurisdictions. Female delegates from the Western Jurisdiction actually dropped from 63% in 2012 to 47% in 2016, while they increased in the Northeastern Jurisdiction from 49% female in 2012 to 54% in 2016. The number of clergywomen delegates from the Western Jurisdiction also dropped from 39% in 2012 to 36% in 2016, and the number of lay women delegates went down from 75% in 2012 to 53% in 2016. The number of clergywomen delegates from the Northeastern Jurisdiction increased from 44% clergy being female in 2012 to 48% in 2016.


Similar to the Central Conferences, women have not gained much ground in representation among delegates to General Conference within the United States. In fact, women are losing ground in some areas. Why the stagnancy and why the decline?

Next time, Women by the Numbers breaks down the delegates by Annual Conference.

2016 Numbers                                                                                   2012 numbers

SEJ- 41% female delegates/59% male                                    SEJ- 42% female/58% male

Clergy- 33% female/67% male                                                    Clergy- 38% female/62% male

Lay- 49% female/51% male                                                          Lay- 45% female/ 55% male


SCJ- 35% female delegates/64% male                                    SCJ- 38% female/62% male

Clergy- 31% female/69% male                                                    Clergy- 33% female/67% male

Lay- 39% female/ 61% male                                                         Lay- 44% female/56% male


NEJ- 54% female delegates/45% male                                   NEJ- 49% female/51% male

Clergy- 48% female/52% male                                                    Clergy- 44% female/56% male

Lay- 64% female/36% male                                                          Lay- 55% female/45% male


NCJ- 49% female delegates/51% male                                   NCJ- 46% female/54% male

Clergy- 39% female/ 61% male                                                   Clergy- 39% female/61% male

Lay- 59% female/ 41% male                                                         Lay- 52% female/48% male


WJ- 47% female delegates/ 53% male                                   WJ- 63% female/38% male

Clergy- 40% female/60% male                                                    Clergy- 50% female/50% male

Lay- 53% female/ 47% male                                                         Lay- 75% female/25% male

See more Women by the Numbers, including all of the Who Is At the Decision-Making Table? series, on our website.