By Tyler Schwaller
Significant time at General Conference on Tuesday was spent in preparation for the work ahead through orientations and various legislative briefings. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, General Commission on Religion and Race, Division on Ministries with Young People, and Women’s Division (United Methodist Women) hosted a joint orientation Tuesday morning with the theme of intersectionality.
As individuals, we are characterized by intersecting identities that shape our experiences of the world. We are never our gender alone or our age or race or ethnicity or class, etc., but the fullness of our selves is brought into dynamic interplay with complex others. How then do we honor the vibrant intricacies that constitute our being, affirming the whole humanity of all persons as each has been created by God? This is one of the significant challenges that faces the church in any age.
In this age, we encounter a society that is increasingly young, female, ethnically diverse, and in which more languages are spoken. But the United Methodist Church largely does not reflect this shift. The joint orientation posed to delegates what might be the defining question for a church in transition: how will we prepare now to be the church of the future, a church that makes space for and values the rich intersections of diversity?
Following worship and some thought-provoking presentations on this theme, delegates were given time to meet with others who will be serving on the same legislative committees so as to begin making connections and forming circles of support.
Afterward, the four sponsoring organizations separated for their own legislative briefings. In the women’s briefing hosted by GCSRW and Women’s Division, delegates again met in groups according to legislative committees. Significant time was given to discuss how it is that officers are selected to lead committees and who among those present might be interested in being nominated and serving as officers. The fact of the matter is that, as much as we want to be “good church folk,” this is a political process, and doing effective work requires effective strategy. The real value of this time together was to have honest conversation about how the committee process functions and to begin collaborating so as to foster support for policies and practices that will empower women throughout the church and world.
As an observer, it was heartening and inspiring to recognize a spirit of support and encouragement. I did not get the sense that these women were hoping to manipulate the process toward their ends, nor was there expectation that all would agree on everything. Rather, the gathered women delegates shared their questions and wisdom in order that they might do their work together faithfully and with confidence.
And this is what GCSRW and Women’s Division do: they work to equip women (and men too) to serve fully in the church and world. They do not force opinions but instead encourage critical thinking that starts by asking questions to identify the issues and areas of need. Whose voices are heard? Whose are not? And how do we create space for the sharing of stories yet untold?
GCSRW and Women’s Division truly model for the whole church–not just delegates at General Conference but all persons and congregations–how to ask the questions that will unveil unmet needs and can then lead to transformative action that serves, equips, and empowers all.