The Interconnectedness of Age

by Anthony Sy

In the United Methodist Church, no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.

Introduction

While the different changes to Article 4 are all inextricably linked, one change that may seem lesser to the others is age. From the descriptions of the changes produced by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, age constitutionally protects members from being excluded based on a person’s age; particularly the very young and the very old. One may think, why is this necessary? What role does age play in the church? What defines these age groups? I will attempt here to extrapolate my ideas on the inclusion of age in Article 4.

 

Social Diversity

Each church contains a variable age range which helps contribute to the social diversity. Within each United Methodist Church, decisions must be made on a regular basis regarding things like – but not limited to – financial investments of the church, vision and goals, community involvement, and congregational/church events. Without the inclusion of the very young and the very old, much of the immediate events may only be suited for a specific age range. This speaks to not only the awareness of the church and its members but also exhibits a lack of empathy and understanding of these groups of people.

In addition, it does not consider their role in the future of the church. If the very young and the very old are excluded from being members/constituent bodies of the church, then there is a higher chance of disregarding them as part of the future of the church. Though cliché, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” can very well be an issue if age is excluded from the changes in Article 4. Through my own experiences in the Church, I know very well that the dominant ideas in the Church do not come from the children, and not many may come from the very old. This should not discredit the necessity to include them in the Church. In fact, I believe that it should encourage congregations to include these ideas, however big or small. While this does not necessitate that the local church act on these ideas, it does speak to the hearts of the people in the church, saying, “We care about what you think.”

 

Who Am I?

I will ask you for a moment to think about a time you were young (in your own understanding of ‘young’). Whether it be in school, work, at home, think of a moment in your life where you were left out because of your age. I remember a particular time when I was presenting ideas to a crowd of much older people, and though they listened, they brushed off my idea with a simple, “Yeah, that sounds nice.”  Unfortunately, now that I have grown up, I have to admit that I have done this same thing to those who were younger than me. The reason I urge you to think about these moments is because these encounters make us who we are. They inform us of what ideas others think is important, and if what we say is important to them. In social settings, much of these exclusionary methods are common practice and some even thought to be social norms. What about the Church?

Some churches may work around the framework of building upon what the church has/needs. Though this may be true, what we as a church have to think about when discussing these changes to the Article 4 are not, “Who can contribute?”, but rather, “Who does God accept into the church?” All people should feel important; no, all people should know they are important.  Much has changed over the history of the Church, but I believe that these changes are not only helping think through what God envisioned the Church to be but, on a deeper level, making us as a people more human. More accepting of others. This is what I charge you to think about when deliberating the addition of ‘age’ to Article 4: Does this change bring the Church together? Does this change exhibit the love and inclusiveness that Jesus Christ showed when he walked the Earth? Does this change open our doors to God’s people?

 

Paragraph 4 by the Numbers…

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

A critical amendment to The United Methodist Constitution will be voted on by all annual conferences in the United States and Central Conferences.  It is called Paragraph 4, Article 4, and we would like to share some of the numbers behind it…

1 – the number of yes votes we are asking you to cast for Paragraph 4

2 – the two parts of the Church referred to in the amendment: the structure of The United Methodist Church, protecting persons with disabilities from exclusion; and membership in the church, protecting those with disabilities, as well as married, single, young, old, male and female.

3 – the levels of the church that this amendment ensures full and equal participation: life, worship, and governance.

4-  the number of categories identified for protection by Paragraph 4: ability, gender, age, marital status.   

5-  the number of times the phrase “marital status” is used in the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions advocating for protections from violence for people regardless of whether they are married or single.

6- the number of quadrennia the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) petitioned the General Conference to add “gender” to the list of protected categories in Paragraph 4 of The United Methodist Constitution.

7-  the types of people protected by the amendment: male, female, young, old, married, single, and persons with disabilities

144- the number of times the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions use the word disabilities to call for protections for people who are differently abled

200-  the number of times the word “gender” appears in the 2016 Book of Discipline (70) and Book of Resolutions (130) referring exclusively to men and women

509-  the number of General Conference votes in favor of Paragraph 4, Article 4

Over 80,000-  the number of votes across The United Methodist Connection needed to ratify a change to The United Methodist Constitution and adopt                                   Paragraph 4 (2/3rds of all United Methodists voting at their annual                                   conference)

Priceless- the importance of Paragraph 4, Article 4 in guaranteeing women, men, young, old, single, married and persons with disabilities the benefit of church membership

Open the Door to Add ‘Abilities’ in The United Methodist Constitution

By Sharon McCart

A few years ago, I was a member of a planning team for a worship service to be led by youth and young adults with autism. This was not going to be a segregated time. It was going to be at the typical Sunday morning worship time, with the members of the congregation present. The leaders we planned to invite were all people we knew or were connected to, either through their parents or their mentors. Many of them had never been to this church before. Still, we felt God’s call that this was something we should do, to break down the stigma around autism within this congregation.

 

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Sharon McCart

We chose what each young person would do based on their passions and gifts. One young person would sing. Another would read an inspirational paragraph. Each one had a part in leading worship. But who would bring the message?

 

A boy who had never spoken more than a couple of words at a time and had never spoken to a group did not have an assignment yet. It had been recently discovered that he could use a tablet to write essays and poetry and communicate. His mother told us he had recently written an essay that fit our theme for the service. Perhaps that was our morning’s message? But how could someone who doesn’t speak share the morning message?

The answer was simple. He could have his best friend read it while he stood next to her.

When the morning came, worship was powerful and moving. I was in awe of these young people as they led us in a wonderful time together. And during the message, the emotions ran high. Not because the boy has autism, but because he spoke with courage and strength. His words went straight to our hearts.

That congregation has had several such worship services since, and the young man who preached that morning has attended again, presenting poetry and other writings. His mother has described herself as formerly “church-phobic.” She has found her church home here. The whole family has. Just recently his father asked him on a Sunday morning if he wanted to go to church. He responded aloud, “Let’s go!” He is comfortable at church, often roaming the room, sometimes standing next to the speaker and sometimes in another part of the room. I have no doubt that wherever he is, he is always paying attention. He is accepted just the way he is. He belongs in a way that he probably doesn’t belong in many other places.

Jesus told a story about a man who gave a banquet. All his friends found reasons not to come, but the food was already cooking, so he sent a servant out to find people who were poor and/or had disabilities and bring them in. The servant found a few, but the table was still not filled, so the man sent the servant out to find still more people. The direction was not “Gently ask them if they might like to come.” It was “COMPEL them to come in and sit at my table!”

There is still room at the table today, and yet too often the door is too narrow for people in power chairs to come in. Too often there are stairs to the chancel, so people who cannot climb stairs cannot lead worship. Too often there is an unspoken, unwritten rule that people must fit within a certain expectation of ability before being accepted in our congregations. Membership vows sometimes require an understanding of difficult terms and too many times the curriculum for confirmation and membership class is not accessible to people who have difficulty reading and writing. We are failing to compel people with disabilities to come to God’s banquet. In fact, we are too often not allowing them to come in when they arrive!

So, what does adding the word “ability” to Article 4, Paragraph 4 mean to me? It means that everyone can be accepted at church. It means that everyone can belong and everyone can fully participate, offering their passions and their gifts to God and to the congregation. It means that all of us can answer our calls from God, whether to lay or ordained ministry, no matter what that ministry might look like. God calls all of us to serve and gives each one of us gifts to use in service, no exceptions and without mistakes. This amendment affirms that each one of us, regardless of ability, is God’s beloved, and each one of us is needed to make God’s Realm complete.


Born and raised in California, daughter, and granddaughter of Methodist ministers, I was the second of five siblings. I have been married to Dale for forty years, and we used to provide special music in worship. He has put me through school over and over again.

I began with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry (1978) and then worked in the industry for ten years. I hold multiple subject (elementary) (1994) and special education (1998) teaching credentials and have taught children with moderate-severe and profound disabilities for ten years.

When God called me into full-time ministry, it was hard for me to leave the children I love so much, but God gave me a dream that would meld my heart for God with my love for people with disabilities. Thus, I returned to the other side of the classroom at Claremont School of Theology, graduating with an M.Div in 2007. Now I am in full-time ministry and pursuing my call to minister with people with disabilities and serve people of all kinds in as many places and ways as God leads me. When I left teaching, I knew that I was not finished learning from children with disabilities. That vision is still expanding. My true calling is just beginning to show itself!

Paragraph 4, Article 4: Changing the Game

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

The season for Annual Conferences in the United States is rapidly approaching.  During late May and June, most people are settling into their summer routines: planting gardens, riding bikes, flying kites, enjoying picnics, or visiting the farmer’s market.  However, in the world of United Methodists in the United States, it is time to gather for “holy conferencing.”

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Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Holy Conferencing is an event that includes worship, prayer, fellowship, Robert’s Rules, and passing resolutions and amendments that reinforce or change the values and aspirations of our annual conference areas.  Many times those values and aspirations are reflected in legislation presented to The United Methodist General Conference, our denomination’s largest legislative body.

This year, General Conference is presenting the annual conferences with a unique opportunity to change the course of our United Methodist history and take a significant step into the next millennium by passing an important amendment to The United Methodist Constitution.  The amendment is called Paragraph 4, Article 4, and this is what it says…

 In the United Methodist Church, no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition. 

The amended portion of the Constitution adds ability, gender, age and marital status (highlighted in red) to existing social categories that clergy in The United Methodist Church cannot use to discriminate against a potential member.  Said another way, a pastor may not deny a person membership in the church because they have a disability, are female or male, married or single, young or old. 

To many of us, this seems so simple.  Of course we would never discriminate against anyone based on these attributes.  We throw the doors of the church wide open for all who want to participate in the life, worship and governance of our local churches.  However, if you have been watching the changes in our society recently, all of these groups have been under attack in some way.

The shift in our society is not something anyone predicted.  People in our society have been observed mocking persons with disabilities, talking about physically attacking women, making assumptions about the lifestyles of single persons, or blatantly disregarding the contributions of the young or old.  These are all examples of the ways people are pushed to the margins of our society.  Yet there seems to be a blindness to this type of abuse; a blindness that easily finds its ways into other societal venues, including the church.  Protecting people in The United Methodist Constitution is a game changer for our denomination because it guarantees the young and old, men and women, married and single persons, and those with disabilities entry into our churches, all of our churches, throughout the denomination.  It shows the world the love we have for God’s creation.  This amendment throws wide the doors of our churches and imagines God’s enormous embrace of creation. 

This amendment is, indeed, a game changer for our local churches and our denomination.  That is why we need your affirmative vote to pass this important legislation during your annual conference meeting.  In a world in which the average person might be targeted for any of a broad range of attributes, The United Methodist Church must stand fearlessly on the side of acceptance and love.  Please vote yes for Paragraph 4.


Leigh Goodrich is Senior Director 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.  Email her at lgoodrich@gcsrw.org. 

What Might Heraclitus Think? : Some Thoughts on Our New Female Episcopal Leaders

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic philosopher from Ephesus, famous for his insistence that change is an always present and fundamental quality of the universe. He is famous for two sayings. The first, “No man [sic] ever steps in the same river twice.” The second saying reflects the unity of opposites, “the path up and down are one and the same”.  It seems the results of the recent episcopal elections in The United Methodist Church in the United States would not come as a surprise to our friend Heraclitus.for leigh bishop blog

After two relatively static quadrennia, a change in the gender composition of the Council of Bishops might seem overdue. From 2008 to 2012, 28% of our episcopal leaders in the United States were women, and from 2012 to 2016 that percentage dropped four points to 24%. While this number roughly reflects the percentage of women serving in ordained ministry in the U.S., it does not come close to representing the nearly 58% of women who call themselves United Methodists in this country.

However, the recent episcopal elections promise to change the landscape of the United States’ representatives on the Council of Bishops. The addition of seven new female bishops to the nine female bishops remaining after retirements, brings the total number of women bishops to 16 for the next quadrennium. This means that the percentage of US women bishops on the Council of Bishops jumps from 24% to 35% for the next four years. This is a significant increase in female episcopal leadership both nationally, and in the five U.S. Colleges of Bishops.

The Western Jurisdiction continues to lead all jurisdictions in percentages of female bishops, moving from 40% to 60% with the election of one woman. The Northeast follows, electing two women, and jumping from 33% to 44% female bishops. The Southeast also elected two women, moving up from 23% to 38% women bishops.   The North Central Jurisdiction also elected two women, jumping from 22% to 33%. Only the South Central College experienced a decline in female episcopal leadership, moving from 22% to 10% with the retirement of Bishop Huie. In terms of raw numbers, the Southeastern Jurisdiction has the most female bishops with 5, followed by the Northeast with 4, North Central and Western with 3, and South Central with 1.

Perhaps the greatest change will be seen at the Annual Conference level. At the local level, a new female bishop can provide a model and foundation on which other talented women, both lay and clergy, might develop skills, find a mentor and discover their unique voice in their Annual Conference and beyond. All of our bishops, regardless of gender, have the potential to significantly impact the future of the Church, since their choices of District Superintendents and Directors of Connectional Ministries, as well as appointments to large churches, often prepare clergy for the episcopacy, while their suggestions and promotion of jurisdictional and general church board members create new opportunities for both lay and clergy. It will be interesting to see the influence of women clergy in this process. Will it vary significantly from their male counterparts? Will their influence change the overall demographics of United Methodist leadership?

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Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Our philosopher friend Heraclitus would probably say yes. From the perspective of 2,500 years, he might tell us that the one thing about life that never changes is change. The river continues to flow, morphing into a new river with each passing second, complete with new life and new streams. So it is with our Church, which moves and changes into something new regularly, although it may seem barely discernible to some. Heraclitus would also remind us that the path up is the same as the path down. The future of The United Methodist Church rests on the willingness of our episcopal leaders to groom talented people in their Annual Conferences for leadership positions, just as they were groomed.

We will have to wait and see the impact of more women on the Council of Bishops and the Colleges of Bishops. However, it is our hope that these significant shifts will continue to guide us on the journey toward “the full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church, sharing fully in the power and policy-making at all levels of the Church’s life.” May it be so.


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. 

Equipping Advocates

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.

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Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede

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.  

Dominos and Equity

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

It wasn’t a surprise.  In fact, it was as predictable as watching a line of dominos fall in succession: the recent research findings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding women’s compensation, particularly clergy women.  First, the statistics were released, telling the world what many of us already knew: women still make a fraction of what men make in the same occupations and the discrepancy for clergywomen was among the highest.  Then the anecdotal evidence began pouring in.  Large numbers of female clergy began telling their stories of being compensated at levels well below their male predecessors in a particular church, being appointed to churches already scheduled to close, or being denied other benefits identified in the Book of Discipline.  Each story became as foreseeable as the one before it, only the names and places changed.  A long line of anecdotal dominos falling in rapid succession.

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Rev. Leigh Goodrich

We all have stories to tell: our own stories or the stories of our friends.  Sad tales of long meetings with Staff Parish Relations Committees, Finance Committees and Administrative Boards.  Nasty comments and letters exchanged by people who haven’t read our United Methodist Discipline, or maybe even the Bible.  The stories are common, predictable and painful.  Dominos in the form of hurt feelings and painful experiences lying everywhere.

The problem with dominos is that someone has to pick them up.  After watching them rush through a rapid tumbling succession, someone has to clean up the mess.  Many would like to see our bishops, with the help of their Cabinets, do this work.  In all fairness, the responsibility for appointments lies squarely at the feet of our bishops.  So yes, in the end, bishops bear much of the obligation and the hope of resolving this problem.  So we count on them to help pick up this particular mess of fallen dominos.  Appointments are a key function of the episcopal office.

There are others who have said that this is an issue of competence and effectiveness.  Of course the implication is clear.  Let me just say it: Women receive lower compensation because they lack competence and effectiveness.  What makes a clergyperson effective?  Getting more people in the pews on Sunday morning?  Reaching out in mission and evangelism to the community and the world?  Paying mission shares?  Building a strong Sunday school?  Motivating a dying church to end its death spiral and either close or renew itself?  I see women clergy doing all of these things in the local church, yet there is still a large disparity in the compensation that women clergy receive compared to men.

While appointments are the responsibility of the bishops, compensation is the obligation of the local church.  Should it surprise us that the same biases about women’s compensation that plague society in general are also found in our parishes?  No, it should not.  However, a clergy woman who earns 76 cents for every dollar a man earns, a gap of 24 cents, experiences a much broader pay disparity than the typical U.S. woman who earns 83 cents for every dollar a man earns, or a gap of 17 cents.  Add to this a long term ripple effect that influences women’s pensions as well.

While the situation may be obvious and the responsibility for its resolution clear, it may be necessary to make our bishops and local churches aware of the severity of the problem and hold them accountable.  Annual Conferences, particularly our Annual Conference COSROWs and Boards of Church and Society, can take clear measures to ask our bishops, district superintendents and local churches to attend to this problem and move it to the top of their priority list.  Resolutions presented at our Annual Conference sessions can raise awareness for the need for equity, describe the current situation in an Annual Conference, and present clear and attainable objectives for correcting the situation.  Anyone can bring a piece of legislation forward.  The GCSRW website contains a sample piece of legislation for you to use as a guideline.

We cannot ignore the problem unfair compensation in our denomination.  It sits at our feet like a set of fallen dominos.  Playing the blame game only allows the problem to persist.  Instead all of us need to work together to honestly confront societal biases about women and move toward a fair method of compensation for all employees in The United Methodist Church.  We need to work together to pick up these fallen dominos and move toward a more just Church and world.


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 a lgoodrich@gcsrw.org.