In Celebration of Annual Conferences

By Rev. Leigh Goodrich

May and June are among the most welcoming months of the year.  They coax us outside without benefit of coat or jacket to breathe in the fresh smells of opening blossoms and freshly mown grass.  Among United Methodists in the United States, it is a time set aside for annual conferences to make plans, set rules, worship, reunite, and reignite with colleagues and friends.

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

 

The past annual conference season was notable for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women as we watched and witnessed discussions around an amendment to Paragraph 4, Article 4 of the Constitution that would guarantee women’s membership in the Church.  However, we observed so much more.

In the Mississippi Annual Conference, a sexual ethics training preceded the annual conference session.  The planning team recreated a fictitious sexual misconduct scenario, capturing the dynamics and complexity of the complaint process for about 800 participants. Questions poured out of the audience as they quizzed each of the characters in the story.  The comments revealed victim blaming, shaming, and church protection.

The following morning, before opening worship, a young clergyman requested a moment of personal privilege and made these remarks:

“Thank you for the ethics training.

I think it exposed many problems that clergy face and how easy it is to blame victims, particularly women.  As a male pastor who considers himself a feminist, I have been shaped by many clergywomen, many of whom are in this room and I want to say I’m sorry. Yesterday I heard sexual harassment in many of the questions that were asked and I was not cognizant of the pain many of my friends and colleagues felt, particularly clergywomen who heard that they were predators and responsible for the misconduct that happens to them.

There are women in the room who have experienced sexual misconduct by powerful men in the Church and their experiences were dismissed and diminished by us, their own colleagues….they heard that they were to blame.  There continues to be a male-centric perspective, and that can unintentionally marginalize the female experience and perpetuate unhealthy attitudes.

We all have our own experiences and we all felt different things yesterday, and our feelings and our own personal experiences do matter, and so we need to acknowledge that many of our words and inability to call out harassment was indeed hurtful.”

This pastor’s confession was followed by opening worship, in which Bishop Swanson appropriately preached about caring for the pains and suffering of the world. He told us that we have all the resources we need for that…our hearts.

Sensitivity to the hearts of all people seeking a more expansive God was evident in the Michigan Area Annual Conference.  Bishop Bard’s masterful use of inclusive language was notable throughout the ordination sermon, which focused on dismantling racism and sexism.  He even used the term “Mother God” in the liturgy. Bard went so far as to correct a quoted theologian who used the term “himself”, without including “herself” in relationship to God.  Bishop Bard modeled for us what it truly means to open ourselves to a God that is so much more than simply male.

Female-led worship was a marker of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference.  Never before have had so many women participated in annual conference worship!  During his sermon, Bishop David Graves apologized for the racism and sexism that he has witnessed in the Church.  This year’s Alice Lee award, presented by the Annual Conference COSROW and named for the author of the influential novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, went to the director of a groundbreaking ministry for Alzheimer’s patients.  Perhaps most powerful were the heartfelt remarks of Rev. Libba Stinson as she passed the torch by the retirees to the ordination class, marking the first time a woman had ever represented the retiring pastors in that capacity.

In the New England Annual Conference, there was much discussion about the aforementioned amendment guaranteeing women membership in the Church.  It was Fay Flanary, a deaconess and former GCSRW board member, who gave a rousing speech in favor of the amendment, explaining that GCSRW had been trying to establish women’s right to membership for over 28 years.  She clearly explained how women’s membership continues to be unprotected in The United Methodist Constitution and appealed to the body to simply let this “crack open.”  When she sat down, 28-year-old Rev. Sara Garrard rose to speak.  “Friends, we have been trying to protect women in The United Methodist Church for as long as I have been alive.  Isn’t it time?”

It is time for all of us to stand against the sexism that plagues The United Methodist Church and stand up for the rights and protections women deserve.  The annual conferences that we attended showed promising signs of a denomination moving closer to equity for women.  However, this is only a small sample.

We invite you to tell us the stories from your annual conference.  How were women lifted up and encouraged?  How did women share in “the full and equal responsibility and participation…in the total life and mission of the Church, sharing fully in the power and in the policy-making at all levels of the Church’s life?” Tell us tales of women being empowered in your annual conference.


Rev. 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. 

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#HerTruth

by Stephanie Arnold

The team knew we wanted to make a significant difference with our time serving on the North Alabama Commission on the Status and Role of Women. We all knew that women weren’t really getting their ‘fair shake’ as clergy or laywomen within many of our churches.

We began by working hard to plan our COSROW breakfast at Annual Conference. The team didn’t know that I had a personal story to share when they asked me to be our breakfast speaker last year. Yet, when we gathered to plan and as I shared that I had my own experience of sexual harassment, it became evident that many of the lay and clergywomen in the room had their own stories or knew someone who did. We talked about the ways that when these events happened to us we didn’t know what to call it, who to turn to, or if anything could even be done about it…often we just took the abuse. But what we did know is that it wasn’t right! So we decided to form the COSROW breakfast around storytelling, sharing the experiences of women in our Annual Conference and developing an honest, powerful narrative around these issues to remind us that if we could come together around this cause, we could affect change in dramatic and life-giving ways.

We sent a conference-wide email to women asking them to share their confidential stories of abuse, harassment, and discrimination, promising to protect their identity. We received far more stories than we could possibly share at one time! Then we recruited male allies in the conference who would read these women’s accounts in the first person as if it was their own personal story they were sharing.

During the breakfast, one by one, the men shared the accounts of abuse, harassment, and discrimination of some of the women in our Conference and the room grew silent. Eyes welled with tears. People audibly sighed. Our Bishop and some members of the cabinet were with us in the room listening to the experiences of women in our Annual Conference. It was as if something was breaking loose, or better yet, breaking free! Our stories were exposed, and, collectively, we told the ugly truth that had been hindering and wounding us for decades even as we had been carrying on masked in our smiling service to the Church. We left the breakfast with hope that now that we had named the abuse, harassment, and discrimination we faced daily as women, maybe we could begin to heal.

At our next COSROW team meeting it was expressed that many people were asking if we had recorded the breakfast. We had not. Then we considered redesigning it from a ‘talk’ into a resource for our Conference, churches, and others to use for training purposes. We felt that perhaps this video could help clergy and laywomen address the issues facing them without having to risk retaliation and isolation for bringing it up without support and statistical evidence of its validity. We wanted to turn our collective struggle and pain into a tool to empower and equip others to have healthier experiences.

So the team got to work! We rewrote the script, developed the shots, inquired with local churches to allow us to video on their premises, invited other lay and clergy persons to be in the video, and began editing it all together. I am not going to lie…it took more hours than we can count. We lived and breathed this project for months. We combed through personal stories, read the Discipline, listened to music to underlay on the video, memorized line by line of text to be spoken, and scheduled multiple days of shooting video.

When we completed the editing process we drafted The Book of Discipline appendix, discussion guide, and church assessment. All of these were part of the package to enable persons or churches to ask tough questions about their experiences and challenge assumptions and internal bias.

Once it was all ready the team had a plan in place to get it on our Annual Conference web page, social media, and send via email to as many people in our Conference as we could possibly reach. As we sent it out, we invited everyone in our networks to share the video with others, and if they had a story of abuse, harassment, or discrimination they felt they could share, to do so with the hashtag ‘#HerTruth’. We wanted to break the silence and spark a movement in our Annual Conference that we were not going to idly sit by and continue to be talked about inappropriately, objectified, abused, paid less, and given less opportunity without shining a spotlight on it for what it really is: abuse, harassment, and systematic discrimination. There is no place for sexism in The United Methodist Church and we were no longer going to be complicit to its prevalence!

The response has been overwhelming for our North Alabama COSROW team. While we are glad this work has touched so many and given voice to their pain and struggle, it has proven what we all experienced around the table that Saturday morning when we first planned the breakfast. Despite our condemnation of it in The Discipline, sexual abuse, harassment, and discrimination continue to be widespread, even in our beloved UMC. Bringing an end to sexism in all its forms is part of the ‘charge to keep’ we ALL have as United Methodist. Please join the fight!

#HerTruth


View the #HerTruth video and resources here.

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. 

Why We Count Women

by Elaine Moy and Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Let’s take a moment to play a game.

Please think of a “power” committee in your local church. A committee that wields a good degree of influence, perhaps the Finance Committee or the Board of Trustees. Picture the people in the group. Look at the faces of each man and woman who sit on the committee. Remember this is not real, it’s a game. For every man on the committee, replace him with a woman. For every women on the committee, replace her with a man.

What does the committee look like now?

How do you feel about the committee?

In many instances, this committee might look more like the Children’s Ministries or Hospitality Committee. The newly revised Finance Committee is now populated with a majority of women. This is because, in most of our United Methodist churches, districts, annual conferences, jurisdictional conferences, and at General Conference, important decisions, many of which involve money, are made by men.

Why does gender matter?

Many times it isn’t that a man is nominated or elected because he is a man. It is because of the role he fills in society or in the church: a banker, a lawyer, a business owner usually translates to a good person to lead finance, trustees or SPRC. That leadership role moves the person to other forms of leadership in the Annual, Jurisdictional or General Conference. The intent is not to place a man in a position. The intent is to transfer skills assumed to exist in one role into another committee.

So what is wrong with having those roles on the power committee? A woman can be in those roles too. I have heard, if she is in that role, she can be on the committee. It is not because we exclude women intentionally.

However, the question still plagues us: does a woman have the same opportunities to be in those roles too? Let’s think of an annual conference structure in which leadership includes people on the cabinet – DS, DCM, Finance, Bishop, Assistant to the Bishop. Does a woman have the same opportunity as a man to be placed in those roles? Will the answer to this question be different if a man or woman is answering it?

In reality, there are still systemic issues regarding women within the life of the Church (ie: people nominate others in their own social circles for the committees in which they are active, local churches request that they not be sent a woman pastor, female clergy who have no intention of having children are “mommy tracked,” and so on), we can safely say that men and women do not have the same opportunities for leadership roles.

Let’s play the game again…

What if we switched every man for a woman and every woman for a man on the cabinet in your annual conference? How does that change the gender composition of the cabinet? How does that affect the perception you have of the cabinet? How will others perceive the cabinet? What might people say?

Sometimes parishioners who learn that their ordained clergy staff includes more than one woman complain that this is not inclusive. They believe that, if the church staff includes a woman pastor, then the other ordained clergyperson should be male. However, for decades our churches have happily welcomed two male clergy on their staff. Why is having two women clergy unacceptable, but having two male clergy is acceptable? What is the difference between two male clergy and two female clergy?

Some men say that the leadership doesn’t look like them anymore? In terms of gender, our leadership does not reflect the over 50 percent of female parishioners who populate the pews. While 58% of our members are women, over 72% of ordained clergy are men. So, for the majority of our members, leadership frequently doesn’t look like her. And for men, leadership has looked like them for a very long time. This is a shift that has slowly worked its way into our denomination, and will continue to move us to a new place.

So why does it matter?

We can all agree that to make decisions, people need to have important information. This information comes from facts and some from experiences. We can also agree that there are many different types of facts and some are contrary to each other. Experience is a different matter…who we are contributes to our individual experiences. And different people (men and women, young and old, etc.) experience things differently.

In order to make the best decisions for a large organization, it is important to hear the most voices, with the most diverse experiences. So, we encourage committees to be as diverse as possible in order to embrace many viewpoints.

Which causes us to wonder about the Bishops’ “Way Forward” proposal. The architects of this proposal were eleven “conversation partners.” They were probably all picked because of their roles in The United Methodist Church. That is a good place to start. Four represented a more conservative theological position. Four were pastors of some of our largest churches who represent the “middle” theological space, and three were from the progressive arm of the Church. Ten were male, one was female. Ten were white, one was black. If the committee was only to include 11 seats, why 10 men and one woman? Why ten white people and one black person? Why 4 large membership church pastors, when the majority of our churches are much smaller. If the number of committee members were able to be larger, would we add the missing voices? One woman and one racial ethnic man do not speak for all. And, while we do not expect any of the nine white men at the table to yield their seat to a woman, and we hope the one woman and one African American will not yield their seats, we do hope someone might have asked for the circle to be drawn wider to include more women, other races and ethnicities, small and medium size church leaders, young people, and, well, the list goes on…

If this committee was composed of ten women and one man, what would the men say?

Wider representation and a broader perspective is unquestionably what our church needs in order to serve all of her constituencies. That is why the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women counts women. Our Women by the Numbers, published once or twice each month, provides insights into the ways women are represented at key decision-making tables throughout our denomination. We also look at the representation of different races and ethnicities, and ask questions about how these numbers influence the direction of our denomination.

Are We There Yet?

by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward
I simply share comments, heard repeatedly, in too many places for way too long.
“We have had wonderful leadership by men, but will you send us a woman this time?”
“We have done that.  We once had  a male pastor.  It will not work here.”
“How can he do the job of a pastor while being a dad?”
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Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

“We have special worship services with our neighbors in other traditions, and they do not accept male pastors.”
“Why are you sending us two clergymen in a row?”
“We hope our next pastor will have a husband and children who will be active in our church.”
“It seems odd to have two men in leadership – a male lead pastor and a male associate pastor.”
I confess.  I changed the gender.  We grin because the questions sound odd, or we laugh because we have been caught in the hard place between the distancing words and our call to ministry.
I was 5 years old in 1956, the year women were granted full clergy rights by my church.  It took 15 years for this news to reach me.   As a result, my own call to ordained ministry was clouded by unknowing and absence of mentoring.  I yearn for women as well as men to be awake and alert to the beckoning grace of God who calls.
Each Advent, I have fun hosting an open house for clergywomen in our conference.  We celebrate the annunciation with laughter, comradeship and deep joy.  I open the episcopal residence to clergywomen as my witness of support for the clergy among us who have a more challenging path simply because they are women.
I am told a few clergymen have asked in good humor when I will host an open house for them.  I want to support my brothers in ministry in every way possible.  I enjoy their companionship in ministry immensely.
I hope the shared comments-gender-reversed are never uttered, but if they are uttered, an open house for clergymen will be planned immediately.  I wait for the end of wounding resistance to women in ministry and to lay women in vocational and public roles.  We yearn together for welcome, encouragement and support for all laity and clergy who are called to share in Christ’s mission.
Sixty years have passed, and we are not there yet.

A native North Carolinian, she was raised on the Morgan family farm in northeastern North Carolina in the community of Corapeake. Her home church, Parkers United Methodist Church, is on a three point charge. Morgan attended Duke University and Duke Divinity School. She met her spouse, Mike, on a volunteer in mission workteam to Bolivia in 1975. They were married in 1977. Together they served as teaching parents at the Methodist Home for Children in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has served as a youth director, Christian educator, pastor, Director of Connectional Ministries and district superintendent in the NC Conference. She was elected to the Episcopacy in July, 2004 and assigned to the Mississippi Conference in 2004 and 2008. She is now back home serving as bishop for the North Carolina Annual Conference. 

Are We There Yet?

by Rev. Laurie Haller

“Laurie, if you and Gary return to Michigan, we’ll have a church waiting for you.  Would you like an appointment in the West Michigan Conference?”  In 1981, two district superintendents in the West Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church traveled to Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut for a seminary visit with my husband, Gary, who was a candidate for ministry.  We were thinking about making our home in Michigan after completing seminary, but there was a major challenge.  I was taught about the love of Jesus as a child, felt called to ministry at a young age and was seeking to become one of the first women ordained in the General Conference Mennonite Church.

laurie haller

Rev. Laurie Haller

“You mean you would allow me, a Mennonite, to serve in a United Methodist Church?”  Knowing that there was great opposition to women in ministry in Mennonite churches, I wondered whether their welcoming gesture was a sign that this might be where God wanted me to live out my call.  In fact, all of the clergy in my Mennonite district in Pennsylvania boycotted my ordination in 1982.

Even thirty-five years ago, The United Methodist Church had open hearts, open minds and open doors and welcomed me into the fold with open arms.  I found a new home and transferred my ordination credentials to The United Methodist Church in 1987.

This is not to say that I haven’t had my moments of struggle as a clergywoman in a traditionally male profession.  In my first part-time rural appointment, I was approached by a congregant who was upset by one of my very first sermons and called the district superintendent.  He gently recommended that I wait to preach a sermon on peacemaking until I had been there for a few months.

I offered to add extra hours to my responsibilities in order to start a youth group and asked if parents would volunteer to take turns caring for our two young children.  We had no family in the area, and all of our babysitters were either in my youth group or Gary’s youth group.  A few SPRC members were upset with my request, with one woman explaining her scramble to find child care when she works odd hours in a grocery store.  As we talked about how prevalent child care concerns are with working parents, we discovered common ground and grace.

At my next part-time appointment, the United Methodist Women gifted me with a portable crib so I could nurse our third child in my office during the first months of her life.  But when I brought the baby with me, it was suggested that this appeared to be unprofessional.  One time when I was serving communion by intinction, a middle-aged man put his hands around my hands as I was holding the cup and left them there for ten seconds.  It was an unsettling position in which to be.

In my first full-time appointment, a complaint was made to the church council that I wasn’t managing my three young children while I was leading worship and preaching.  Oh, and two families left the church before I even arrived because they did not believe in women pastors.  All of this, and it ended up being one of my favorite churches!

A different culture welcomed me at my fourth appointment at a large downtown congregation whose first reaction after hearing that Gary and I would be appointed as co-pastors was, “Who is going to have the senior pastor’s office?” and “Which pastor is going to make the final decisions?”  Even though I was occasionally called the “pastor’s wife,” the congregation strongly affirmed the importance of us making major decisions together, treated us as equals and provided the same salary.  Gary and I decided together that I should take the senior pastor’s office.

In good Wesleyan fashion, we continue going on to perfection.  The stained glass ceiling is still in place at times, as many of our largest congregations prefer to have a male as their senior pastor.  In truth, most small and medium size churches would also love to have a male pastor whose wife who is active in the congregation.  Two for one is always a bargain!

I am mindful that clergywomen still earn less on average than clergymen.  Racial ethnic clergywomen face a different of challenges in cross-racial appointments as well as in their own communities.  In addition, United Methodist clergywomen in other parts of the world have unique, yet similar experiences. 

I am deeply grateful for every church to which I have been appointed and for each congregation in the district where I served as a superintendent.  Like many of my colleagues, I have occasionally been bullied, insulted, dismissed and threatened and have experienced sexual harassment.  People have made comments about my clothes, shoes, accessories and hair.  Yet, most of the time I have been shown grace upon grace.  In every appointment, I have gained new skills, grown in my faith, partnered with laity in creating vital ministry and have had the privilege of walking with parishioners through the most devastating, beautiful and sacred times of their lives.

I have been accepted for who I am and have learned to be kind and understanding with those who are uncomfortable with a female in a clergy role.  Most congregation members eventually realize that the most important quality of their pastor is not their gender but their ability to motivate, inspire and courageously lead their congregation into the future God has in store for them.

Yes, we are still on the journey to full participation of women in the life of the church.  Are we there yet?  Not quite.  Yet we rise every day with joyful hearts, thanking God for the privilege of being in ministry in The United Methodist Church.


Rev. Laurie Haller is an ordained elder in the West Michigan Conference and currently serves as the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Michigan, the largest UM Church in the Detroit Conference.  She is a delegate to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences and is an endorsed candidate for the episcopacy in the North Central Jurisdiction.  Laurie’s book Recess; Rediscovering Play and Purpose, was published in 2015 by Cass Community Publishing House in Detroit, Michigan.

Miles to Go Before We Sleep

by Kimberly Woods

As a child, my family would go on many road trips. Being an only child and having no siblings to argue with, my attention turned to my parents. I would constantly ask my father, since he was driving, if we were there yet. My father would glance into the rear view mirror and say, “Kimberly, look out the window. Does it look like we’re there?”

kim woods photo

Kimberly Woods

I would see corn fields, grass, and cows, but not our destination. I would then respond with a simple, “No.” To which my dad wisely followed, “If you have to ask, then we aren’t there yet. When we get there, you’ll know.”

While this seems obvious to an adult and not to an impatient child anxiously awaiting a trip to Six Flags St. Louis, I find myself feeling the same way regarding women’s equality in the Church. There are many areas in which we have made great progress on our journey towards inclusion, but we are not there yet.

When it comes to the role of women in the Church, be it as clergy or laity, I have viewed many discrepancies. While not a cradle-born United Methodist, I have been a Christian all of my life and a United Methodist for almost seven years now. In that time, I have witnessed many areas where equality should exist, but simply doesn’t.

I have heard many stories from female clergy about how they struggle to be accepted in the pulpit, especially in certain parts of the state of Illinois. When my spouse was appointed to a parish in Southern Illinois, one of his three churches was essentially a matriarchy. However, when the time came for my spouse to be appointed to a new church, this matriarchal “small family church” stated that people would leave if they had another female in the pulpit, as my spouse’s predecessor was. I was shocked to think that a church comprised primarily of women would so openly reject the idea of being led by a woman. I have also heard of many women in the candidacy process in different parts of our conference being told to “just be laity” because pursuing ordination had been “too difficult” in the past for women and that many churches still don’t accept female clergy.

However, I feel that in the pursuit of equality, we can be guilty of over-correcting for our past errors. As someone who is pursuing ordination as a deacon, I have heard often that I don’t need to be ordained to follow God’s call in my life. I have also heard that I should not pursue deacon’s orders because “women don’t have to settle for being deacons anymore.” In a few instances, while seeking employment as a youth minister in a local church, I have been asked if I can handle the boys in youth group, since I’m a woman and “can’t relate to them.” I have also been told by a church that they would not hire me because “my husband’s itinerancy” meant they had no guarantee that I could keep the position long-term and they worried that hiring me would “impede his ministry,” with no mention of my ministry, my passions, or God’s call on my heart to work with youth. I have even been told by people that my call is “clearly to support my husband’s ministry,” that I am called to be “a good pastor’s wife” and to “support him, like God wants me to do.” In some senses, I recognize that the church has a tendency to favor elders over deacons or men over women because of its past preferences, but when we over-correct and push female deacons away from their call or put the ministry of a one spouse over that of another, clergy couple or not, we are merely setting ourselves up for failure.

While I am sure many have experienced gender issues in the Church, I don’t want to dismiss all the work we have done. Many advances have been made for full inclusion of women in the Church over the years. To even have women serving as elders, deacons, district superintendents, and bishops shows remarkable steps in the right direction. We can see a number of women, lay and clergy, being elected to General and Jurisdictional conferences, myself included. I even know of young women who have entered into the ministry or even just set foot in a church for the first time because of a female pastor or mentor who served as their role model, an example of what could be achieved. That does not mean, however, that our journey is over. As one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost, penned: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep.”

We are on an incredible and lovely journey towards women’s inclusion in the Church. But if we have to ask if we are there yet, I implore you to look around. We are still in the woods and while the view is beautiful, there is still a journey ahead. We cannot rest fully because there is more to be done for us to reach that destination. So let us press onward, let us walk together on this journey, and let us ask ourselves how many more miles we have to go and what can we do to get there?


Kimberly Woods is a twenty-six year old pursuing ministry for Deacon’s Orders in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, teacher’s aide in resource/special education and a pastor’s spouse. She finished courses at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary & will receive my master’s in Christian education this May. She is a General/Jurisdictional Conference lay delegate, passionate about social justice, and enjoys working with children and youth in a variety of settings, including through teaching & writing.