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.

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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.

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.

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Anthony Sy is pictured front row, center.

 

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 that 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?


Anthony is a graduating senior at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. He hopes to take his bachelor’s in Early Childhood and Family Studies to graduate school and attain a Doctorate in Physical Therapy with a specialization in pediatrics. Anthony is very involved within his local church of Beacon UMC and plays the drums for the praise team. He is also a leader in their youth group. One of Anthony’s passions in ministry is Christmas Institute – Pacific Northwest. Anthony is a co-director of the Christmas retreat and finds some of the most meaningful work connecting youth and young adults to Christ. 

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.