by Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede
On the Sunday prior to a General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) Board meeting, I always ask the congregation I serve to pray for us, saying something like, “There’s less than 20 of us, we meet just twice a year, and we are charged with ending sexism in The United Methodist Church so it’s hard work, knowing you have a short time together to figure out how to deal with a systemic issue that crosses vast cultural differences and time zones.” It might be hard work, but it is also good work – and as we near the end of the quadrennium, I am pleased to share some of that good work with you.
This past quadrennium I’ve chaired the Justice for Women committee, the program committee of GCSRW that provides resources and training that deal directly with advocacy for women on issues other than sexual misconduct. Our focus these past four years have been on how best to leverage our resources to maximize the ability of local churches and Annual Conferences to provide meaningful programs and appropriate training so that more people can be involved in the important, life-changing, Spirit-filled work of advocating for women.
One piece of this work you can find under the Resources tab on the GCSRW website. You will first find a new Bible study, commissioned by GCSRW, entitled God of the Bible, which explores metaphors for God. This study is free and downloadable and includes both a participant and leaders guide. This study was written after GCSRW staff and board members received numerous requests for a new, downloadable resource for local churches to use on expansive language.
Next you will see a link to Women Called to Ministry, which is now available in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. This six-session study was originally written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination in the UMC and is consistently our most-requested resource. This quadrennium we committed to expanding the number of translations, posting both student and leaders guides online, and working to continue to add to our list of translations as funds are available.
The above tools and more are examples of how GCSRW can use the strength of a small agency to be available day and night to women and men around the world to provide resources to advocate for women in the Church. Which brings me to a piece of legislation coming to General Conference from GCSRW which I think will also help facilitate advocacy for women at the local level.
We’ve reached a point in our organizational history where Annual Conferences have some freedom in configuring their ministry structures. This means that the work that used to be done locally in parallel to GCSRW is now sometimes split between several groups or combined into one larger ministry group. In that process, we have found that sometimes the specifics of what advocacy for women at the local level can get lost. Which brings me to Petition 60265-IC-R9999-G, “Functions of an Annual Conference COSROW or Related Committee.” It is a long title that could be paraphrased as, “here is a check list of what would be great to include in some entity in your Annual Conference to commit and care in the course of the year to accomplish this short list of advocacy for women tasks.” I guess my title is even longer! Placing this list in the Book of Resolutions makes it accessible to clergy and lay people, staff and volunteers, any time of day or night. The point is, advocacy work is hard yet rewarding – let’s at least make the starting point easy to find to help people move towards the reward of doing this good work.
The GCSRW Board members have worked hard these last four years to listen so we can be the best advocates we can, and in turn, provide resources so others can be the best advocates they can. Our staff have worked even harder, and we know that there are thousands of volunteers at the local level who have done so as well. It’s been a good four years. I am thankful for this time of listening and learning – and look forward to continuing to advocate for women in the Church and in the world, however I can.
Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede is pastor of South Gate United Methodist in Lincoln Nebraska, where she is Chair of the local Ten Thousand Villages Board. Ahlschwede is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School. Look for her at General Conference with the Great Plains delegation.