Journey of Leadership in the Church

by Harriett Jane Olson

Leadership is a matter of opportunity as well as gifts and experience.  In writing this piece, I realized several things.  One is how much change there has been in some of these places, quickly followed by the realization that we have a long way yet to go.  Another was to see how the doors were held open by others, and how each opportunity built on the last.  The church made a way for me to contribute my own voice and prepared me to feel as if I belonged at the table, even if gender barriers arose in the process. I didn’t follow any “normal” path, but I’m very grateful for the journey.


Harriett Jane Olson

My earliest experience as a leader in church was probably being asked to serve as the youth representative to the Administrative Board in my local church in Oaklyn, New Jersey.  I don’t have a clear recollection of anything earthshaking that I brought to the Board, but it was an introduction into how the congregation was organized, how the members related, and how important it was for the pastor and leaders of the various committees to receive both feedback and support for the work.  It was very clear that the lay members were deeply invested in the life of the church, as was the pastor, and that their roles were different.

I brought that understanding with me when I returned to New Jersey after graduation and started practicing law in Morristown. There I joined The United Methodist Church on the Green where I still hold my membership.  Because I was reading and having various conversations about women, our image of ourselves and the range of biblical images of God, our associate pastor suggested I get involved with the Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women. Rev. Shirley Oskamp is the first clergywoman I knew personally, and the blessing of having a woman pastor and learning even a little about her journey shaped my own. Serving on COSROW was not only a chance for me to learn and see the workings of the Annual Conference for the first time when I served as a monitor, but it also opened up another step in my spiritual journey as I studied and then taught using the resource “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal” that had been jointly produced by GCOSROW and the Women’s Division.  It seems to me that my own journey has always been enhanced by the positions in which I was able to serve.  I remember testifying before a Bar Association Committee on women and minorities in the profession, that although the church had not erased the impact of sexism or racism, at least we had strategies that were designed to create change, addressing membership on committees and opportunities for leadership experience.  I might have been overly optimistic about the impact of those strategies, but the point remains that my spiritual life and my professional life and the way I was seeing the world were all profoundly impacted by the places I served.

The Conference staff person working with COSROW was Grace Risley, a Christian educator.  Out of the blue, Grace called me to ask if I would be willing to let her put my name out for nomination to General Conference.  When I asked what that would require, she assured me that I was unlikely to be elected, but that it was important to get my name in the mix.  As it turned out, the unlikely happened and I was privileged to be able to represent the Conference to General Conference in 1988, 1992 and 1996.  I don’t know if Grace was surprised, but I certainly was! Only later did I learn that Grace had not only nominated me, but she also supported me, recommending that others in the Conference meet me as the voting was going on.  What I learned from this is how important it is to be looking out for people—young people, women, people of color—who can be supported for positions, even if they haven’t come up through the ranks, and what a great impact current leaders can make beyond their role or job description.

I also saw the importance the leadership of lay women as I served on various Conference committees and through the Morristown United Methodist Women.  We have perspective and expertise from our experiences that is important to good decision-making, and we are sometimes willing to take up issues or to speak about issues that some of our male colleagues and our clergy brothers and sisters may not see or may find harder to address. It is important that we not be put off by the technical complexity or the history of an issue, but that we are in positions in which we can bring our gifts into the mix.

I am so grateful to have served on the Discipleship Legislative Committee at the 1988 General Conference that considered the “new” hymnal, and to have been a member of the board of directors of the General Board of Discipleship for 8 years.  Here too, I learned so much, including about the Baptism study and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.  Bishop Woodie White asked me to chair a new budget subcommittee there and that took me in a new direction—learning more about the finances and the financial processes of the Church. I’m sure that I was not the most business savvy member of the Board, so this is a role I assumed with a fair amount of trepidation.  I will be everlastingly grateful to Mr. Ike Brown, the Board’s treasurer, for his patient tutelage. This gave me an opportunity to work in an area in which I depended on the expertise of others and to realize that I still had things to contribute.

That stood me in good stead for a huge transition in my life.  In 1996, I became the editorial director of The United Methodist Publishing House.  The hope was that my experience in the various aspects of the Church would strengthen our ability to serve the church—I hope it did.  I know I was part of a great community of experts, each of whom was integral to bringing materials to publication. The role also included the titles Editor for Church School Publications and Book Editor.  The Book Editor has particular responsibility for the production of the Book of Discipline, and I was the first woman to serve in that role.  We did not say much about that, or about the efforts that Publisher Neil Alexander was making to diversify the leadership, but I thought about it.  While some of the very male dominated aspects of the publishing world reminded me that there was need for much more progress in work on gender, I did not find this to be a significant issue for the formal work of the Book Editor.

This was another role for me in which God seemed to be bringing disparate things together, even though I had not sought it or planned it.  While it was a big decision to give up being a partner at my law firm (and I’m sure it felt like a risk for Neil and the team as well), I grew immensely from working with my colleagues, the chance to learn more about curriculum and Christian Education, and the chance to hear papers and lectures by authors and potential authors.  I especially loved the chances to use my high school Spanish and love of music to connect with those parts of our publishing work.

Coming to the Women’s Division (now United Methodist Women) also was a big change.  It was yet again a different kind of work, I was again taking up a role without coming up through the ranks, and I was sure that both mistakes and some new thinking would be part of the experience.  Again, I found great colleagues, some of whom are still here, and some of whom are not.  I want to mention the late Lois Dauway, in particular, who served as interim during the search to fill the position and who informed, supported and challenged me as appropriate once I arrived.  I have also been supported by our board and elected leaders through things they request, questions they ask, and things they affirm. It is true here as it is everywhere that appropriate risk-taking is important, change is both essential and challenging, and that God is calling us to faithful action.  As women shaped by grace in a Wesleyan way, we recommit over and over again to express God’s love for women, children and youth around the world through both service and advocacy for justice. As a leader among leaders, I am constantly growing, learning and listening to God and others.   I hope that I’m also on the lookout for ways to open doors for other women for the good of the whole church and the world that God so loves.

Harriett Jane Olson serves as General Secretary and chief executive officer of United Methodist Women’s national office. She joined the staff of the then Women’s Division in 2007. Her lifelong passion is supporting spiritual growth that equips and impels people to works of mercy and works of justice.

From 1996-2007, Ms. Olson was senior vice-president for publishing, editor for church school publications and United Methodist Church book editor at the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, TN. Her responsibilities included supervision of book, curriculum and music publishing as well as the production of the Book of Discipline. A Harvard Law School graduate, Ms. Olson practiced real estate and environmental law in New Jersey from 1983-96, before working for the church full-time. 

Ms. Olson has a bachelor’s degree from Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y., where she serves on the board of trustees.


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 


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!


View the #HerTruth video and resources here.

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.

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.

If Every Barrier Is Down, Why Does My Head Hurt from Hitting the Stained Glass Ceiling?

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

In 1995, Sally Purvis wrote one of the first books about clergywomen and the significant discrimination they face.  It was called The Stained-Glass Ceiling: Churches and Their Women Pastors.  Since that time, at least 50 books have been written about the pitfalls of women who choose ordained ministry as their primary vocation.

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

In case you are wondering, the stained-glass ceiling is a societal and economic phenomenon similar to the “glass ceiling” many women encounter in secular employment.   Just like the discrimination women face in broader society, women frequently find themselves barred from particular leadership roles in their faith community, or they find it particularly difficult to rise to levels of authority, status or power within their denomination.  Thus, they hit the predictable “stained-glass ceiling”— a metaphor that tells women they have accomplished all that the power structures are willing to tolerate.

Most of us are familiar with the stained glass windows that adorn many of our churches.  They are filled with images that represent stories illuminating Biblical scriptures and Christian tradition.  However, sometimes those scriptures and traditions, grounded in a patriarchal worldview, hold back women from fulfilling God’s call on their lives.  What does that stained-glass ceiling look like?  When we speak with women who feel safe sharing their experiences, we find disturbing themes running through their experiences:

  • Clergywomen “mommy tracked,” that is, given positions of less responsibility during the “child rearing” years, whether they have children or not.
  • Women paid less than their male counterparts because they are married and “don’t need” the salary, insurance, parsonage, etc.
  • Clergy couples, in which the woman is paid less than her spouse so he won’t “feel bad” because she makes more money.
  • Clergywomen asked to take a part-time appointment so their spouse can take a larger, more prestigious church.
  • Churches that cut the salary of their newly appointed pastor when they learn she is a woman.
  • Women discouraged from pursuing ministry by their pastors and district superintendents, and encouraged to “go home and take care of your children.”

And there are many, many more examples!

That does not mean that women have not persevered.  For the last twenty-four years, our Women by the Numbers column has faithfully reported a small but steady increase in the percentage of women in the pulpit.  From 1992 to 2002, the percentage of clergywomen in The United Methodist Church rose from 11% to 19%, an 8 point shift.[1]  It has taken us thirteen years to realize the next 8 point movement from 19% in 2002 to 27% in 2015.[2]

Conversely, the number of female bishops in the United Methodist Church seems to be waning from 25% to 19%.[3]  While the number of bishops in the church has increased to 66 throughout the world, the number of women filling those positions has decreased from 16 to 13.  However, in 2012, we did see the election of the first woman in Africa.

All of this is happening in a denomination that reports more than half of its members are women!

In The United Methodist Church, it seems that we have, as a denomination, hit an impasse, a metaphorical “stained-glass ceiling” in which women comprise about 25% of all ordained people in parish leadership and are hovering between 19% and 25% of all bishops.  Yet, women continue to make up half of our seminary graduates who intend to enter some form of full time ministry.

Is that good enough?  Are we a “credible and reliable witness to Christ’s exemplary embrace of all women as valued, respected partners in the total institutional life and global witness and impact of the Church?”[4]  Do we truly believe Paul’s prophetic pronouncement in Galatians 3:27-28 that men and women are one in Christ?  Do we live it?

Let me ask the question another way.  If we have removed all of the barriers that allow women to grow and rise in esteem and effectiveness in the Church, why do our collective feminine heads hurt from hitting them on the stained-glass ceiling?

Until we are able to remove every barrier to women’s equal status, role and advancement, we cannot claim to truly be following the example of Christ in the world.  One way we can promote change and reduce the barriers women face is by supporting Resolution 3442, “Every Barrier Down: Toward Full Embrace of All Women in Church and Society” when we join together in May at General Conference 2016 in Portland, OR.  This legislation reflects upon the current state of women in the United Methodist Church.  It continues to ask the nagging question, “Are we there yet?”

[1] “Women By the Numbers,” July 2005

[2] “Women By the Numbers,” July 2015

[3] The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, Resolution 3442. Every Barrier Down: Toward Full Embrace of All Women in Church and Society.   (Note the change from the 2012 report to the 2016 report)

[4] Ibid

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 

Women by the Numbers: Who from the Jurisdictions Is at the Decision-Making Table?

by Amanda Mountain and Rev. Leigh Goodrich


infograph made via Piktochart


A total of 864 delegates will meet from May 10-20th in Portland, Oregon to revise church laws, adopt new ones, and approve plans and budgets for church-wide programs. Half of the delegates are laity, half are clergy, and the number of delegates representing each jurisdiction and each annual conference is proportional to the jurisdiction and annual conference’s membership. For the next two months, Women by the Numbers will be taking a closer look at who will be at this decision-making table in May, especially regarding the representation of women at General Conference. This month we will provide a closer look at the 504 delegates from the United States, who make up 58% of all General Conference delegates.

Total: 44% are female and 56% are male

Clergy: 36% female/64% male

Laity: 52% female/48% male

The United Methodist Church in the US is divided into 5 regional areas called jurisdictions. These are the Southeastern, South Central, Northeastern, North Central, and Western Jurisdictions. Each Annual Conference within the United States resides in one of these regional jurisdictions. Below, Women by the Numbers provides a breakdown of delegate representation by jurisdiction. 

2016 Numbers:                                                                                  

SEJ- 41% female delegates/59% male                                   

Clergy- 33% female/67% male

Lay- 49% female/51% male

SCJ- 35% female delegates/64% male*                                

Clergy- 31% female/69% male

Lay- 39% female/ 61% male

*does not equal 100% because 1 delegate did not report gender

NEJ- 54% female delegates/45% male *                                              

Clergy- 48% female/52% male

Lay- 64% female/36% male

*does not equal 100% because 1 delegate did not report gender

NCJ- 49% female delegates/51% male                                  

Clergy- 39% female/ 61% male

Lay- 59% female/ 41% male

WJ- 47% female delegates/ 53% male                  

Clergy- 40% female/60% male

Lay- 53% female/ 47% male

Summary of Jurisdictions:

The Northeastern Jurisdiction has the highest percentage of female delegates at 54%, and is the only jurisdiction where the delegation is 50% or more female. The South Central Jurisdiction has the lowest number of female delegates at 35% of its delegation being women. Interestingly, when looking at clergy and lay categories, clergywomen account for less than 50% of all clergy delegates from the US in all jurisdictions. The South Central Jurisdiction has both the lowest percentage of clergywomen (31% of all clergy), and the lowest percentage (39%) of all female lay delegates. The Northeastern Jurisdiction has the most at 48% of clergywomen delegates and 64% of its lay delegates being women.

Comparison to 2012 Delegate numbers:

2016       Total Numbers                                                                 2012 Total Numbers

Total: 44% female/ 56% male                                                      Total: 44% female/56% male

Clergy: 36% female/64% male                                                    Clergy: 39% female/61% male

Laity: 52% female/48% male                                                       Laity: 50% female/50% male

Overall, the number of female delegates from the US stayed the same at 44%, but the number of clergywomen delegates went down from 39% in 2012 to 36% in 2016. The percentage of laywomen delegates is up from 50% in 2012 to 52% in 2016, a marginal increase at best. Most of the jurisdictions did not see much change in female representation among their delegations, except for the Western and Northeastern Jurisdictions. Female delegates from the Western Jurisdiction actually dropped from 63% in 2012 to 47% in 2016, while they increased in the Northeastern Jurisdiction from 49% female in 2012 to 54% in 2016. The number of clergywomen delegates from the Western Jurisdiction also dropped from 39% in 2012 to 36% in 2016, and the number of lay women delegates went down from 75% in 2012 to 53% in 2016. The number of clergywomen delegates from the Northeastern Jurisdiction increased from 44% clergy being female in 2012 to 48% in 2016.


Similar to the Central Conferences, women have not gained much ground in representation among delegates to General Conference within the United States. In fact, women are losing ground in some areas. Why the stagnancy and why the decline?

Next time, Women by the Numbers breaks down the delegates by Annual Conference.

2016 Numbers                                                                                   2012 numbers

SEJ- 41% female delegates/59% male                                    SEJ- 42% female/58% male

Clergy- 33% female/67% male                                                    Clergy- 38% female/62% male

Lay- 49% female/51% male                                                          Lay- 45% female/ 55% male


SCJ- 35% female delegates/64% male                                    SCJ- 38% female/62% male

Clergy- 31% female/69% male                                                    Clergy- 33% female/67% male

Lay- 39% female/ 61% male                                                         Lay- 44% female/56% male


NEJ- 54% female delegates/45% male                                   NEJ- 49% female/51% male

Clergy- 48% female/52% male                                                    Clergy- 44% female/56% male

Lay- 64% female/36% male                                                          Lay- 55% female/45% male


NCJ- 49% female delegates/51% male                                   NCJ- 46% female/54% male

Clergy- 39% female/ 61% male                                                   Clergy- 39% female/61% male

Lay- 59% female/ 41% male                                                         Lay- 52% female/48% male


WJ- 47% female delegates/ 53% male                                   WJ- 63% female/38% male

Clergy- 40% female/60% male                                                    Clergy- 50% female/50% male

Lay- 53% female/ 47% male                                                         Lay- 75% female/25% male

See more Women by the Numbers, including all of the Who Is At the Decision-Making Table? series, on our website.