#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.

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?”
ncc-bishop-ward

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. 

Equipping Advocates

by Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede

On the Sunday prior to a General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) Board meeting, I always ask the congregation I serve to pray for us, saying something like, “There’s less than 20 of us, we meet just twice a year, and we are charged with ending sexism in The United Methodist Church so it’s hard work, knowing you have a short time together to figure out how to deal with a systemic issue that crosses vast cultural differences and time zones.” It might be hard work, but it is also good work – and as we near the end of the quadrennium, I am pleased to share some of that good work with you.

Steph

Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede

This past quadrennium I’ve chaired the Justice for Women committee, the program committee of GCSRW that provides resources and training that deal directly with advocacy for women on issues other than sexual misconduct. Our focus these past four years have been on how best to leverage our resources to maximize the ability of local churches and Annual Conferences to provide meaningful programs and appropriate training so that more people can be involved in the important, life-changing, Spirit-filled work of advocating for women.

One piece of this work you can find under the Resources tab on the GCSRW website. You will first find a new Bible study, commissioned by GCSRW, entitled God of the Bible, which explores metaphors for God. This study is free and downloadable and includes both a participant and leaders guide. This study was written after GCSRW staff and board members received numerous requests for a new, downloadable resource for local churches to use on expansive language.

Next you will see a link to Women Called to Ministry, which is now available in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.  This six-session study was originally written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination in the UMC and is consistently our most-requested resource. This quadrennium we committed to expanding the number of translations, posting both student and leaders guides online, and working to continue to add to our list of translations as funds are available.

The above tools and more are examples of how GCSRW can use the strength of a small agency to be available day and night to women and men around the world to provide resources to advocate for women in the Church. Which brings me to a piece of legislation coming to General Conference from GCSRW which I think will also help facilitate advocacy for women at the local level.

We’ve reached a point in our organizational history where Annual Conferences have some freedom in configuring their ministry structures. This means that the work that used to be done locally in parallel to GCSRW is now sometimes split between several groups or combined into one larger ministry group. In that process, we have found that sometimes the specifics of what advocacy for women at the local level can get lost. Which brings me to Petition 60265-IC-R9999-G, “Functions of an Annual Conference COSROW or Related Committee.” It is a long title that could be paraphrased as, “here is a check list of what would be great to include in some entity in your Annual Conference to commit and care in the course of the year to accomplish this short list of advocacy for women tasks.” I guess my title is even longer! Placing this list in the Book of Resolutions makes it accessible to clergy and lay people, staff and volunteers, any time of day or night. The point is, advocacy work is hard yet rewarding – let’s at least make the starting point easy to find to help people move towards the reward of doing this good work.

The GCSRW Board members have worked hard these last four years to listen so we can be the best advocates we can, and in turn, provide resources so others can be the best advocates they can. Our staff have worked even harder, and we know that there are thousands of volunteers at the local level who have done so as well. It’s been a good four years. I am thankful for this time of listening and learning – and look forward to continuing to advocate for women in the Church and in the world, however I can.


Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede is pastor of South Gate United Methodist in Lincoln Nebraska, where she is Chair of the local Ten Thousand Villages Board. Ahlschwede is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School. Look for her at General Conference with the Great Plains delegation.  

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.

Changing the Mindset: Full Acceptance or Just an Exception?

By Lydia Istomina

Re: Book of Discipline Paragraph 4, Article IV

Amend ¶4. Adding “gender” and “age” to the list of what the UMC cannot discriminate against

What prevented The United Methodist Church from amending the original phrasing of Paragraph 4 earlier? The amendment is about female leadership in The United Methodist Church and the age of our leaders. Let’s leave social justice, democracy, and inclusivity aside for a moment and approach the problem from economical and performance standpoint.

lydia

Lydia Istomina

A recent study by Duke University shows that only 11% of women serve as “senior or solo pastoral leaders.” Ironically, the beginning of my ministry was with a “new start” congregation that became a fast-growing church. I became a poster-child for The United Methodist in Eurasia. But now, after 20 years of serving small American congregations, I do not see a way for me, as well as for many other clergywomen, to get even near the glass ceiling without divine intervention.

In 2008, there were 82 women who were senior pastors of churches with a membership of more than 1,000. In 2010, there were 94 women leading large churches. The survey found that 9 out of 10 lead women pastors of large membership churches were the first women to lead that church, as in the case of Grace Olathe UMC in Kansas.

Is the church scared of women’s sexuality behind the pulpit that it causes the church push a clergywoman to find a job outside of the church? Kira Schlesinger blogs about how often women clergy hear that they were “too pretty” to be a pastor. The still patriarchal Church continues viewing women as “desirable” or “disposable” objects. Could it be that out of the fear of sexual harassment lawsuits, The United Methodist Church keeps women away?

Pastors, like any other human beings, are mortal, and they do age. Harvard Business Review journal posted Zenger-Folkman’s results How Age and Gender Affect Self-Improvement.  Successful professional women with age develop the higher ability for self-improvement in all professions  because as they say themselves, “we must perform twice as well to be thought half as good.” The situation in business gradually improves.  Though it is still true that women have to work twice as hard compared with men while being paid less for the same job, the studies in  business show some progress. I find this study’s results quite ironic. In business, the study shows, women with age become not only more effective, but also more accepted while male’s performance declines. (see Table 1).[1] While businesses in America begin promoting women after 50 and electing them to higher positions, The United Methodist Church prefers young men fresh out of seminary.

Table 1. Leadership Effectiveness Between Males and Females by Age.

lydia graph

 

Table 2. Gender Breakdown within Age Cohorts – United Methodist Elders[2]

image for lydias blog

A Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s study shows a 17% increase of men elders after the age of 35 in 2015 while the number of women elders in the same category drops from 26-29% in the same year.[3]

The United Methodist denomination operates largely at the level of organizational interests. It is not a secret that large, wealthy churches continue insisting on getting young men for their pastors, but young men feel less and less attracted to ministry due to multiple factors: long hours, high stress and low pay. Women pastors have to work twice as hard compared to clergymen, but their salaries remain 13% less, according to UMCOM.[4] Why have women pastors kept silent for decades? The reasons are many. One of them is the societal expectation of women to be “good girls” and to choose the “higher road.” Marie Fortune found that abused woman usually suffer in silence, “Christian women aren’t supposed to feel angry, are we?”[5] On another hand, that very silence makes women appear weak as leaders.

Though Rev. HiRho Park reports in the study that the “percentage of female pastors in the UMC increased by about 50% over the study period, and seniority of female pastors increased on an average of about 30%,” it is not a secret that large, wealthy churches often request a young man as their pastor in spite of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that protects certain categories based on gender, race, age and others.[6]

In some cases, if a local congregation accepts a woman under the Bishop’s pressure, soon, the church leaders tell their clergywoman, “No offense, but if we had a young man with a band, we would start growing.” And this is when their community profile is blue-collar, white residents, retired or close to retirement and the congregation itself is in their seventies. This anecdotal exchange tells a lot about the present attitude toward women in The United Methodist Church.

Women are not wanted by larger churches because they are viewed as fragile and easy to be coerced into doing something they do not want to do.  Women have a deeper sense of compassion and people interpret it wrongly. Women are raised as “good girls to do this or that.” We even hear that women are more vulnerable and too emotional.  For the same qualities of being seen as a strong leader as a male leader, a woman is usually labeled a trouble-maker, nuisance, pest and an instigator. How do I know? I’ve worn those labels for years.

Let’s be honest, considering the ways girls and women are socially conditioned from birth, women are understood to be much more patient and more emotionally mature. Many women are fit and well-equipped for ministry in many cases, but they are not viewed as serious candidates. If women proved their efficiency in this business world, which is more demanding and technologically complex, does it not mean that The United Methodist denomination misses a huge opportunity retiring qualified, better educated, healthy and hard-working professionals? As a result, women clergy feel discriminated against and unjustly treated when it comes to getting a well-deserved appointment. The stained glass ceiling of The United Methodist Church is hard to break.

When, by an extraordinary chance, I became the first female pastor in the former Soviet Union after 70 years of atheism, I was not meant to participate in the governance of the Church as a woman according to the present reading of The Book of Discipline. I was told by Bishop Vaxby from the Northern European Conference that the General Board made an exception for me. I was given a green light to serve on the General Board of Global Ministries and serve a local church without any theological education.

Rev. Canon Gina Gilland Campbell became a Canon Precentor of Washington National Cathedral after serving The United Methodist Church for 36 years. She is a good reason for me to believe that there should be no more exceptions in appointing deserving women in leadership positions, especially after 50, but a usual practice.[7] It’s clear from both the data and the personal experiences of many women in the denomination that the vision of a church where women have the same opportunities and support as men is not yet a reality. Becoming a United Methodist, I thought that I joined a community of equality and acceptance. To make it a law, not an exception, I propose to add “gender” and “age” by amending ¶4. Article IV to ensure inclusiveness of gender and age in the global UM Church.

Learn more about Paragraph 4 Article IV and other GCSRW petitions here.


[1] Bob Sherwin is the COO of leadership consultancy by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, who published his three-part series for Business Insider that was first published in a 2012 Harvard Business Review.  Harvard Business Review continues this topic in 2016 https://hbr.org/2016/01/how-age-and-gender-affect-self-improvement
[2] Ibid.
[3] Clergy Age Trends in the United Methodist Church. A Lewis Center for Church Leadership. 2015 Report, 7 http://www.churchleadership.com/pdfs/ClergyAgeTrends15.pdf
[4] UMCOM,Report Examines Salaries for United Methodist Clergy in the U.S.  http://www.gbhem.org/article/report-examines-salaries-united-methodist-clergy-us
[5] Fortune, Marie M. (2009-10-13). Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse (p. 50). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
[6] Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Unlawful Employment Practices. Sec. 2000e-2. [Section 703] http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm
[7]https://www.cathedral.org/staff/PE-5BT4H-6P0015.shtml

 

After a short career in engineering, and nine years as Executive Branch Manager of the Russian nonprofit association Znanie (Knowledge), Lydia Istomina founded the Institute of Management for local entrepreneurs in partnership with Ural State University. She is also a founding pastor of the first United Methodist Church in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Lydia is the first woman pastor in Russia.

As the Director for Russia and the C.I.S. at the General Board of Global Ministries, Lydia Istomina organized negotiations between the UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) and the Russian government. She was able to negotiate the largest military airplane AN-124 (Ruslan) to deliver humanitarian aid to Ekaterinburg, Russia during the most critical years. Lydia’s church in Russia became a distribution, teaching and publishing center.

Lydia Istomina is a Doctoral Candidate at St. Paul School of Theology. Her dissertation is on workplace and pastor bullying prevention. She was one of the key speakers at the Talking Taboo event at the Church of Resurrection last spring. Presently, Lydia serves on the Strength for Service Board of Directors and serves as a mentor at the Regnier Institute of the Bloch School of Management at UMKC.

Lydia Istomina is an author and holds the SOJOURNER OF TRUTH AWARD for courage and justice and the ARLON O. EBRIGHT AWARD for leadership.

 

Dominos and Equity

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

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

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

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

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

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

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

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

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


Leigh Goodrich is Sr. Dir. Of Leadership and Education, and the newest member of the GCSRW team.  She is a second-career clergyperson from the New England Annual Conference, and frequent blogger for GCSRW.  You can read more about her here or email her a lgoodrich@gcsrw.org.