By Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett
I have been inspired as I have read the various articles posted on this blog during Women’s History month. Particularly, I have been reminded of how the actions of today’s leaders can affect the tomorrows of women in ministry.
My story is like that of many female leaders in that I stand upon the shoulders of other women. My mother . . . daughter . . . sisters . . . some close friends . . . grandmothers . . . aunts . . . and the previous generations of women clergy and lay leaders in Methodism are some of the women whose lives have influenced mine.
I also have been blessed with both women and men in my life who have opened doors of opportunity for me. Today, I want to tell you about one such man who spent a lifetime opening doors for others, including women.
Robert C. Morgan was a retired United Methodist bishop who died on Sunday (March 16, 2014). His 12 years as an active bishop included eight years in Missisippi, where he helped merge two annual conferences, then another eight years in Kentucky, where he oversaw a merger yet again.
Bishop Morgan’s path first crossed mine 22 years ago. I am not alone in benefitting from his mentoring and encouragement. Indeed, I am one of several persons positively affected by his commitment to opening leadership doors for others. We will be celebrating his life at his funeral today (March 19); but as I reflected on his mode of operation earlier this month I noted some principles that revealed his style and form.
Recruiting without ceasing: Bishop Morgan was one of the best recruiters I ever met. If he had not been called to ministry, top quality sports teams would have been wise to have employed him as one of their recruiters. This was driven home to me soon after my arrival in North Alabama. Bishop Morgan and his partner in ministry and spouse, Martha, invited me to a luncheon they hosted for some of the young clergy they knew from BirminghamSouthern College, a United Methodist college where he taught upon retirement. As I listened to the stories of these young clergy, I heard account after account of Bishop Morgan helping them to hear the call to ministry and encouraging them to attend seminary. He had singlehandedly recruited dozens of bright and capable young people – many of them women — to enter ministry and serve in North Alabama Methodism.
Paying it Forward: Bishop Morgan had some bishops and district superintendents in his life who, seeing great promise in him, assigned him to high-potential appointments in the North Alabama Conference. His gifts and graces, coupled with his work ethic and God’s anointing, resulted in vitality and growth wherever he served.
Bishop Morgan never forgot those in his life who appointed him in places where he could best utilize his leadership gifts. He paid it forward to those under his care by placing them in strategic leadership roles where they could develop and demonstrate their effectiveness. He expanded the target audience, though, to include women and ethnic clergy.
Ignoring the Critics: I am sure Bishop Morgan received criticism for some of the strategic appointments that he made of women, ethnic and younger clergy. In fact, I suspect that some questioned his judgment when he made me a District Superintendent at the age of 39. However, he dared to focus on developing future leaders as opposed to others’ assessment of his appointment-making. Bishop Morgan ignored the skeptics and made unexpected — in some cases, even unpopular — appointments when they seemed to him to be right.
Thank you, Bishop Morgan, and thank you to countless other men and women who have encouraged lay and clergy women in leadership roles. Not only have you positively affected women in the opportunities that are available to us, you have inspired us to do the same for others.
Bishop Debra Wallce-Padgett is assigned to the North Alabama Annual Conference. She was elected bishop in the Southeastern jurisdiction in 2012, after serving eight years as lead pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Lexington, KY. Previously she was a district superintendent and cabinet dean in Kentucky. Wallace-Padgett is president of the board of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.