Update from the General Secretary…

Nov. 7, 2008

Six months after the 2008 General Conference, the Council of Bishops and the General Secretaries (heads of churchwide agencies) are organized around the four areas of focus that delegates affirmed last spring. The four are:

Developing principled, Christian leaders;

Creating new places for new people (and renewing existing churches)

Eliminating poverty

Attacking killer diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria

When these “four foci” were first proposed to the GCSRW board of directors, there was excitement but also questions, mainly about what wasn’t named: the role of women and people of color in setting priorities and making decisions; the relevance for our international and highly diverse denomination; the theological framework for our common tasks (would feminist/liberation theologies be embraced and respected?).

And two overriding concerns:  “Where does GCSRW plug into these four focus areas?” and “What about the works already mandated to GCSRW by The Book of Discipline?”

For me, these are exciting questions that inform the denomination’s life around “the four foci.” In fact, the primary task of our church—making disciples of Christ to transform the world—is the task of GCSRW.  And we will continue to sprinkle our unique flavor over every one of the foci, starting in the next two years.

Leadership: GCSRW has addressed the issue of principled leaders for most of our history. By challenging the denomination to embrace and include women laity and clergy as equal partners in ministry, we have been clear that the church of Jesus Christ is not whole in its witness and mission if women are not at the leadership tables at all levels.  And we have also led the way in inviting a diversity of women’s voices, leadership styles, points of view and theological perspectives into the conversations about how we live out our corporate faith in congregations, annual conferences and connectional structures. Beyond that, however, has been our work in the area of preventing and addressing ministerial misconduct of a sexual nature. GCSRW will continue to create education resources and offer training for clergy and laity to foster healthy living and healthy boundaries for clergy and to say to the church that the integrity of our Christian witness is maintained only when ministerial leaders are clear about the sacred trust of their office conduct themselves accordingly.  Starting 2009, for example, we will develop a seminary class on “sex, money and power,” to address ethical behavior of clergy.

Church growth and renewal:  GCSRW has declared—and will continue to declare—that a congregation that fosters sexism or racism is not an authentically Christ-focused congregation, and that a church that balks at women pastors, ushers, trustees, etc., is not yet ready for God’s hand of renewal. GCSRW plans to identify 25 “women-positive churches,” that is, congregations in which women are nurtured into leadership and are helped to explore a call to professional ministry, and where the worship and mission undergird women’s discipleship, spiritual growth and intersection of faith and social action. We will feature these 25 churches on our website and share their “best practices” with denominational leaders, including those who are focused on new church development.

Eliminating poverty.  In 1999, GCSRW sponsored an unprecedented “Women’s Congress,” which brought together 175 lay and clergy women from across the United States for a week of worship, hands-on mission work, spiritual nurture and a crash course in United Methodism. The purpose was to bring new-to-church women into a fuller understanding of the resources, support and opportunities for ministry beyond their congregations that the denomination offers. Many of the women had never traveled alone before and many were from low-income households. GCSRW paid all expenses, so that finances would not keep some women from attending. The goal was to bring a new group of women into church leadership and life. In 2011, we will again host a “Women’s Congress,” this time in partnership with the Women’s Division/United Methodist Women. We plan to invite young women and women from low-income communities, and at least one-fourth of the women will come from United Methodist congregations beyond the United States.

(We’re still seeking ways to be involved in attacking killer diseases. One idea I’ve discussed with the General Commission on Religion and Race is getting African-American clergywomen together to address the epidemic of HIV/AIDS among African-American women. However, we’re still discussing this idea.)

GCSRW’s primary mandate is to bring women into full and equal participation in the life of the church and to help the church confront and undo institutional sexism. We do this to help open the door for Jesus Christ to come into the lives of women and men in a way that transforms the church, transforms homes and transforms society.  The “four foci” are not beyond our mandate; rather, they offer specific handles for our work as a change-agent within the denomination.

I encourage annual conference CSRWs to consider how your work informs the way the “foci” will be lived out and expressed in your area. We have something important to offer the church at all levels. Let’s make sure our voices are heard.–Garlinda

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