Women Arise for Better Lives

by Rev. Neelley Hicks

Women throughout the world have never had an opportunity like the one we have today: a chance to amplify voices that help make justice, dignity and wellbeing reality – even in parts of the world most left behind by the digital divide and gender gap in IT. The Women Arise Network – an initiative of Harper Hill Global – was born from this opportunity which uses communication strategies and technologies to reduce human suffering and improve lives. We are grateful to have benefited from Tennessee COSROW who supported our 2018 leadership conference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Neelley Hicks 2

Neelley Hicks

The Women Arise Network is located currently in DR Congo, Uganda, and Nigeria, but the model we use could be effective most anywhere.

Influencing Behaviors

We don’t just report on the problems of the day. We craft messages to influence behaviors so we can prevent disease, grow peace within the individual and community, and increase dignity for those rejected by society. There are 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that give our work societal focus so that people of difference (faith traditions, tribes, ethnicities, socio-economic, etc.) can come together to address problems experienced by all.

Here’s an example. The East Congo Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church wanted to help women arise from the stigma they suffer as a consequence of sexual violence. Working together with Judith Osongo Yanga (Director of Communications), we developed a communications campaign beginning with world-renowned humanitarian Firdaus Kharas. Whether shown in conferences, over social media or television, “A Plea to My Father” has helped women like Judith’s protege Bibiche begin to understand that she is not alone, what happened was not her fault, and she can never be defined solely by that one event. This is just one example of communications that can produce a positive outcome.

Let's Be Good Men

The video is now translated in 11 different languages and has reached over 10 million viewers in the region by television alone, and many more through local viewings.  UMW President of the Northern Nigeria Annual Conference Doris Adamu uses the animation as a centerpiece and works with women of other faith traditions for this one united cause.

Using Technology for Social Change

Today’s technologies allow us to reach people who do not have access to radio, television, or the Internet. A simple text message can pass through these barriers. When a message carries vital information, is crafted in local languages and sent from trusted sources, it can even save lives.

Many of us receive text reminders for doctor appointments. We use that methodology, but for the Women Arise movement, turned messages into ones that assist pastors in preaching about respect and dignity for women. The messages were sent on behalf of Bishop Gabriel Unda, and when preached, reaches both oppressed and oppressor, building awareness of issues otherwise left unspoken.

Not everyone in the world can attend formal school, due to financial and geographic barriers, so we developed the “Virtual Classroom” for Network participants to carry education to the people. Fitting in two backpacks, the technologies and content can be shown outdoors or inside; to small groups or large; to young and old together.

Virtual-Classroom-510x382

Not everything we do is high tech. Fabric can tell stories and with the Women Arise icon, “Esther” we are doing that! Illustrated by Congolese artist Radjabu, Esther will be soon printed on fabric and crafted into items that tell the story of one woman arising, speaking truth to power and saving lives.

Esther

Power of the Human Network

Just having the right message means nothing without the trusted human network to pass messages and media through. The United Methodist Church’s organizational structure allows us to connect with socially-minded women around the world about common humanitarian issues. Wherever we are, we can ask other women to join us in channeling voices towards solutions that change lives right where we live.

We are getting ready for our next leadership training of the Women Arise Network. There are currently 10 members in the network from three different countries who use radio, television, social media and workshops to improve lives right where they live. If you would like to help us equip, train, and mobilize women for social good through communications, you can donate at harperhill.global/donate.


N. Neelley Hicks is committed to making the world a better place by using her gift of communications with her passion for empowering women.

She founded Harper Hill Global (a 501c3 not-for-profit) to train (primarily) women to use communications (storytelling, broadcast & technology) in addressing the most pressing social issues of our day. “Women Arise” is a result of this focus, which is a network of women who address stigma against victims of sexual violence within their own communities in Uganda, Northern Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Disease-prevention is another result by which women use their human networks to develop & send text messages, create & broadcast song, or version and broadcast animation – all with the goal of teaching prevention in communities where education may be lacking.

As a Deacon, Neelley provides leadership at Glencliff United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, who is currently building transitional housing (microhomes) for people who are homeless and recently discharged from Nashville hospitals.

Previously, Neelley was the Director of ICT4D Church Initiatives for United Methodist Communications and Vice President/Director of Interactive Media at Godwin Group Advertising.

Neelley has spoken at the United Nations in Geneva and New York through the InfoPoverty World Conference. She is a dynamic, engaging speaker who has spoken to groups in a variety of settings on multiple continents.

She has a Masters in Divinity from Vanderbilt University and a BS in Business from Belhaven University. She and her husband, Robby, have a combined family of three children, their spouses, and four grandchildren.

Visit harperhill.global for more information.

Sexual Misconduct on Stage: A Dramatic Vignette As A Poignette Approach to Ethics Training

by Walter Frazier

Once again, I was tasked with the requirement to develop a clergy ethics workshop for the Mississippi Annual Conference.  Even with two years to plan, I felt under the gun to develop a good training event that addressed clergy sexual misconduct before the June 2017 deadline.  I’ve organized training programs before, but I was feeling apprehensive this time.  I had no good ideas for how to make this happen.  How do you offer a training for an audience of 750 clergy?  Given the subject, how do you make a sexual misconduct training event remotely interesting without creating that, “Gotcha,” feeling?  Who wants to attend an ethics workshop that feels like the presenter is checking a box that proves you were forewarned?

walter fraizer headshot

Walter Frazier

I remember the first United Methodist Conference-sponsored ethics workshops I attended years ago.  These events routinely featured a lawyer-type person reviewing cases of sexual misconduct with warnings about what can happen to clergy that repeats these offenses.  While the workshops are typically billed as important and beneficial to the participant, the fact that these events are mandatory only magnifies the “We told you so!” theme that permeates the presentations.  Just recollecting these events gives me a junior high school flashback of Coach Johnson assuring me that the paddling he was giving me hurt him worse than it hurt me.  I’m sure it did, Coach!

Surely, we can create ethics trainings that are compelling and constructive, right?  I have made a commitment to myself that I would find ways to make learning about ethics more interesting and meaningful to the folks sitting in the seats.  Why can’t we create an ethics training event that helps the participants feel empowered and prepared?  Who said that ethics workshops must be frightening?  Have you noticed that if an ethics training is not scary enough, the opposite effect takes place?  Watching paint peel can seem more interesting than a dull ethics training.

My creative juices were sent into overdrive while attending the 2015 Do No Harm Conference sponsored by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.  I went to this conference in hopes of some ideas, resources, and contacts to create the next Mississippi Conference Clergy Ethics Training.  I attended the Chicago meeting with members of my committee and others from the Conference, and I asked everyone to watch for opportunities, particularly to find a person that may come lead our training.  While we saw some excellent presentations, nothing was developing for us.

Then came the Rutgers University Scream Team.  I had not anticipated that their presentation would apply to our search for training resources, so I had my guard down when they poked me with a shot of hot reality.  The Scream Team travels to college campuses across the nation presenting various theatrical vignettes that depict incidents of campus-related sexual assault.  They use these dramas to start conversations and poignantly highlight the real challenges of campus sexual violence to audiences of college students.  The team members are undergraduate athletes reflecting very real events such as date rape, alcohol misuse, and social conflict on college campuses all across our country.  After portraying a 20-minute snapshot of a graphic and raw chain of events that lead to a young woman falling to the manipulations of a sexual predator, the students fielded questions from the audience while maintaining their stage personas.  The audience got to confront the predator!  We heard from the girl’s friends that blamed her for her drinking.  We watched in horror as the young men expressed their conflicting roles in the assault.

I was beyond belief!  Actually, I was brought to tears.  Just re-reading this story causes my eyes to well up, now!  I was frightened to the quick.  In that same year, my family was celebrating my daughter’s senior year of high school.  We were anticipating her admission to Mississippi State University, and this story scared me to death.  Tess, my daughter, has been a dancer nearly her entire life.  We’ve taken the philosophy of keeping her busy to keep her on track.  She danced, played the piano, cheered, and danced some more.  I guess you can say as parents, my wife and I may have smothered her with activities.  I remember when she was a very small child, I prayed for the mercy of successfully getting her to adulthood without her having to manage any kind of traumatic crisis.  And as I watched this drama unfold, I realized how frightened I was to send her to college.

I was motivated!  First, I was motivated to run home and tell Tess what I saw.  I wanted her to know what the Rutgers group was teaching students!  I trust that knowledge is power, and I wanted her to feel empowered by knowledge!

But I was motivated for our training plans, too.  I realized that I was just one reflection of the Rutgers message that unfolded at that conference.  The theatrical vignette shared graphic and compelling intricacies of the complex realities that occur within human relationships.  There’s no way a case study could duplicate what the actors portrayed on stage!  And every person in the convention hall caught different aspects of that story as it resonated with their own life circumstances.  If there were 500 people in the room, there were 500 compelling reflections of the students’ message!

I have to give my colleagues a special thank you for their openness to the ideas popping from me after that gathering.  I remember gathering them together and telling them, “That’s what we need to do!  We need a vignette, a short drama!”  I started rambling about some kind of interaction between a pastor and others, a sexually poignant scene, a graphic presentation of misconduct.  And they actually listened!  They said, “Walter, whatever you want to do!”

We returned to Mississippi and reported to our Board of Ordained Ministry our plans to present a theatrical vignette.  The following June, a year in advance, we shared with the whole clergy session plans to hold a poignant, compelling presentation for the ethics workshop to be held at the next conference.  We were on the hook; I promised big!  But I had no idea what the story was really going to be.  Our team had plans to meet in conjunction with the Board of Ordained Ministry at a September meeting, and by mid-August, I had nothing planned.  All I could say is that we would find a scriptwriter to compose, another person to direct, and some actors to portray a theatrical vignette.

As I often do, I worried about this in the back recesses of my mind but accomplished nothing toward actually securing any of the plans.  While some call this procrastination, I hope to think it is work-in-progress.  The noise of my anxiety grew until one night I could not go to sleep.  I tossed and turned as flashes of a storyline appeared in my head.  I heard myself spell-out the script.  I recalled real-life circumstances clients of mine had shared with me, raw stories that I had tucked away, even forgotten.  But those stories, the images of real-life events, my own surroundings drew together in a coherent timeline.  Somehow in the early hours of the morning, I finally found exhaustion and fell asleep.

Two weeks later, I began to feel panicked, again.  Our team meeting was looming, and I still had not pulled together a scriptwriter or anybody to serve as a director or actors.  We only had a plan.  I just had a vision, an unwritten script that was eating at me.  A few nights before our meeting, I sat on the back porch of my house with my computer on my lap.  I decided I needed to write some notes to explain what I envisioned.  For two hours, I typed the conversations and action that flashed through my head two weeks earlier.  I felt the story was rough, and it had no ending, but that was all I had from my sleepless night.

Our team gathered a few days later, and I passed copies of my rough script to each member for a read-through.  To my surprise, as we all listened to one another read through the lines and scenes of the story, it made sense, even without an ending.  We made a few tweaks to include social media and to inject a more genuine female perspective in some of the comments made by the women in the story.  It was complete.

At that same meeting, a lay member of the Board of Ordained Ministry arrived with her husband; he was just along for the ride.  Just by chance, her husband was a director of his community theater group!  He said, “Yes.”  Serendipity!?

Our director assembled a group of actors and prepared the vignette for our ethics workshop.  Again, our team pulled together the workshop including registration, a fabulous panel discussion, lunch for everyone, and break-out sessions that came together for a very productive and meaningful ethics training.  Our workshop was an incredible success!

The vignette featured a woman, Sally that was experiencing difficulty managing her boundaries with her estranged husband.  She sought support from her pastor who offered understanding and encouragement.  The vignette also depicted the pastor as a man managing too many other challenges, and with so much on his plate, his own boundaries become blurry.  With an ongoing commentary from others on his staff and the pastoral friend in the community, the crossing of boundaries slide into a complaint filed with the District Superintendent for sexual misconduct.  After the vignette, the actors, in character, responded to very pointed and impassioned questions and comments from the audience.  Then a panel of stakeholders discussed their roles in cases similar to this one.  A District Superintendent, the conference legal counsel, a representative from COSRW, the Conference Relations Chair from the Board of Ordained Ministry, and the Bishop all shared their insights into this situation.

People learned.  People were stirred.  People reflected a wide variety of experiences.  Even months later, I’ve had people offer insightful reactions and genuine appreciation for confronting such a difficult topic in a way that worked.  How do you measure whether or not people were changed by this training?  That may be hard to accomplish, but I can say they remembered this vignette much longer than most sexual ethics trainings I’ve attended in the past!

Frankly, this story I have shared is my story of admiration and surprise.  I was shocked that my colleagues were so willing, empowered, and motivated to construct our workshop.  From the moment we said go, all hands were on deck moving forward.  I was also awestruck by the experience of inspiration I had; I had a dream.  You know, like in the Bible.

But where did this all come from?  I think the short answer is divine inspiration.  I’m usually cautious about such pronouncements, but this time I have no other explanation.

But here’s the long answer.  At the time all this came together, I had been working as a licensed counselor for about 20 years.  I had also served on the Executive Committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry for almost 8 years.  Also, I’d been serving as a member of the state counselor licensing board for about four years.  I’ve listened to a lot of stories of people’s experiences, particularly experiences of power and oppression, conflict and pain, brokenness and growth, and abuse and recovery.  I like to think I’ve seen real-life stories like a lot of ministers, counselors, and teachers.  We’ve seen a lot of the good and a lot of the bad.

In our workshop, we wanted to emphasize the interaction between sexual misconduct and abuse of power.  The two go hand-in-hand.  And we wanted to underscore the fact that misconduct is not an act perpetrated by the person in the weaker position.  The responsibility lies in the hands of the person that is in the position of power, whether it is the minister, teacher, supervisor, coach, celebrity, politician, senior student, president, police officer, or older kid.  But this can be very complicated because we must consider the complexity of everyone’s experiences.  I think that our theatrical vignette portrayed that complexity more so than a written case study or lecture.

We wanted everyone to look into themselves and see this complexity.  I am not in a power position in every aspect of my life.  While I am white and male, a counselor, a minister, and a teacher, I am also a subordinate, a debtor, a patron, and a patient.  We must recognize that the intersection of power and oppression can be complicated.  But this also lends us an opportunity.  Every one of us can find within our experience identification with both the oppressor and the oppressed, the powerful and the powerless.  Today, we see a persistent wave of accusations of sexual misconduct among celebrities, politicians, and other powerful people.  I hope that our collective consciousness will raise the standard of expectation of how people should relate to one another, especially across lines between those with and without power.  Remember, sexual misconduct is not a psychological disorder of a few people, it is a product of misappropriated power.  I hoped our theatrical vignette punctuates this subtle reality.  It doesn’t happen only when bad people act badly.  It happens to good people who manage their own lives poorly, too.  Sexual misconduct is not something that only happens in heterosexual contexts.  It is also not something reserved for only male perpetrators.  The common denominator is that a power differential is involved.  One person utilizes power over another person to obtain a sexual benefit, to meet sexual needs or desires, or simply to control the will and choices of another through sexual means.

I do think that there are many ways to illuminate the complexities of sexual misconduct, but I believe the portrayal of a scenario such as our theatrical vignette multiplies the angles from which we shine the light on the phenomenon.


Walter is the Executive Director of the Grace Christian Counseling Center in Vicksburg, MS, and is a Core Faculty Member in the Ph.D. in the Counselor Education and Supervision Program at Walden University. He is a licensed professional counselor, a board qualified supervisor in Mississippi and a National Certified Counselor. He served as a member of the Mississippi State Board of Examiners for Licensed Professional Counselors where he was the Board Chair. Walter is an Ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church and serves as the Chair of the Order of Deacons in the Mississippi Annual Conference.  Walter obtained his M.Div from Emory University in 1993, and in 2009 he completed his Ph.D. in Counselor Education from Mississippi State University.  Walter is married to Terri Frazier, and they have four children and four grandchildren.

GCSRW Statement Regarding Proposed Constitutional Amendments One and Two

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

For twenty-eight years, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) has attempted to pass an amendment to The United Methodist Constitution protecting the rights of women to membership in the local church. Our legislation, which was modified by the General Conference, passed by the necessary two-thirds majority at General Conference 2016 and was forwarded to each individual annual conference across the connection for a vote. A two-thirds aggregate vote was needed for ratification of the decision of General Conference.

On Monday, May 7, 2018, the Council of Bishops released the results of the church-wide votes on the five Constitutional Amendments that passed General Conference. The two Amendments that sought to claim language that both women and men are created in the image of God, that committed our church to work for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls, and that sought to assure an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the local church for women did not receive the two-thirds necessary vote.

For the last several days, we have taken time to grieve.

Today, we give thanks.

We give thanks for the tireless efforts of our board members, colleagues, and allies across the church, including Annual Conference Commissions on the Status and Role of Women, United Methodist Women, the Division on Young Peoples’ Ministry, and DisAbility Ministries, who not only worked for the passage of this legislation, but who work every day in ministry to teach young girls that they are of sacred worth, who nominate and elect women into positions of leadership within and beyond the local church, who encourage women to use their gifts, and who welcome women pastors.

We give thanks for the Council of Bishops and its statement making an unequivocal commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church.

We give thanks for the women bishops of the church who issued a pastoral statement (and for the men bishops who unanimously affirmed their statement) committing themselves “to researching why these amendments failed and what actions we can take to create a world where all people are able to live in safety, justice, and love.”

We give thanks for the transparency that the Council of Bishops shared in releasing the breakdown of the annual conference votes on the amendments.

We ask that you not point fingers, but reflect and examine what the data of the votes shows for each annual conference by making the following inquiries:

  • What is my annual conference doing to encourage the full inclusion of women in leadership?
  • What is my local church doing to teach girls and boys, women and men, that they are all created in the image of God and are of sacred worth and have a right to an equal place in the full life of the local church?

As mandated by The United Methodist Book of Discipline, we, The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women challenge The United Methodist Church to do more than “talk the talk.” We challenge the church to “walk the walk.”

We, at The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, commit ourselves to continue to advocate for women individually and collectively within The United Methodist Church, to work to be a catalyst to redress inequities of the past and to prevent future inequities against women in The United Methodist Church, and to monitor to ensure inclusiveness in the programmatic and administrative functioning of the church by providing resources and support.

As mandated by Christ, let us live fully into the gospel promise that “there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Therefore, we call on the people of The United Methodist Church to develop and fund programs, resources, and ministries within each annual conference to help us be who Christ has called us to be.

Take time to grieve. Take time to give thanks. Take time to act!

 

Blessings,

malone sig

Bishop Tracy S. Malone                                             

President of the Board

General Commission on the Status and Role of Women of The United Methodist Church                         

hare sig

Dawn Wiggins Hare

General Secretary

General Commission on the Status and Role of Women of The United Methodist Church


Find a PDF of this statement here: GCSRW statement

 

Finding Our Voices—A Path for Women

by Barbara Boigegrain

Serving as a lay leader of a United Methodist Church general agency informs the essence of who I am as a woman, business professional, and person of faith. From my earliest memories, I was a “preacher’s kid” (PK) blessed with a large extended family of caring parishioners. The Church shaped my lifelong values of connectionalism, community, inclusivity, and service to others. Years later, my role as general secretary of Wespath Benefits and Investments (Wespath) brings my journey as a PK full circle, as now I am a steward for the financial security and well-being of others who serve this Church.

My journey has taught me that while the path for each woman is unique, women share in common the important roles of advocate and leader.

B.Boigegrain portrait-reduced size.jpeg

Barbara Boigegrain

 

From Corporate to Church—A Curved Road
My personal journey to becoming a lay leader within the Church followed an unplanned path that brought me back to my UMC roots. I was a working mother of young children, juggling the commitments of a household while navigating the corporate world.

Then I heard the calling for the unique opportunity to lead the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (renamed Wespath Benefits and Investments in 2016). I was challenged by the opportunity to be an agent of change for the Church.

My role as general secretary blends my roots and faith as an ardent United Methodist with my business experience in consulting, insurance, and benefits. My daily work allows me to serve and make a difference in other people’s futures and in the future of this Church.

I am honored to serve as the first female general secretary of this agency. We have reshaped Wespath into a financial services institution that is a recognized leader in corporate advocacy for responsible, sustainable investment and among the top 100 pension funds in the U.S.—yet firmly grounded in values of The United Methodist Church. We are honored to secure the long-term sustainability of the pension plans and retirement savings for more than 100,000 clergy and lay employees of the UMC, and for our UMC-affiliated institutional investors.

I’m also pleased that Wespath recognizes women as valued leaders. Women comprise more than 40% of our agency’s senior leadership and management roles.

Women as Leaders in the Church
Women make up the greater share of UMC local church membership: outnumbering men 4:3[i] according to 2016 data from GCFA. By sheer numbers, laywomen have a voice in the UMC. We’re the ones who get the family to church on Sundays; who welcome families into a new church community; and yes, who cook for the infamous church potlucks.

But more noteworthy: women lead committees, community service outreach and missional initiatives in churches large and small across the country. We cultivate grace and justice. Like Susanna Wesley three centuries ago, women of the UMC bring strength and structure to today’s Church and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.

Women in History
When I think of women using their voices and positions to promote justice and positive change, I call upon history to inform the present. These strong women come quickly to mind:

  • Susanna Wesley—the mother of Methodism, who inspired sons John and Charles to become spiritual leaders and launched the concept of calling on lay people to lead prayer when no minister was available. Susanna Wesley’s Bible study sessions were well-attended and well-respected.
  • Georgia Harkness—ordained decades before female ordination was accepted in the Church and the first woman to teach theology in a U.S. seminary, she used her voice to condemn racism.
  • Lydia Patterson—who championed the education of immigrant children who otherwise were hidden in the shadows.
  • Lucy Rider Meyer—a female physician (when most medical schools banned women) and a Methodist deaconess, Meyer’s commitment to eradicating injustice through faithful connections led her to establish an orphanage, which evolved into multi-tiered advocacy for children through today’s ChildServ organization.
  • Coretta Scott King—while not a Methodist, she was nonetheless a pastor’s wife. In partnership with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and after his death, she was a powerful voice for social change, human dignity, nonviolence, and protecting the needs of the poor and disenfranchised around the world.

I say to women of any age: use your voice wherever you feel called: at your church, in your local community, at your children’s school, on the political field, in the business realm, or wherever your passions lead you. My adult daughters use blogs and other social media avenues to drive change. Other women may feel more comfortable sharing their voices in small-group discussions—or in huge multi-city marches—or somewhere in between.

However you express it, you can use your voice to advocate for whatever you believe to be right and righteous. Your voice will be heard, and your actions can make a valued impact on someone else’s life.


[i] 2016 Membership by Ethnicity and Gender, UMC General Council on Finance and Administration, gcfa.org.  [women: 4,007,523; men: 2,917,949]


Barbara Boigegrain has served as the chief executive of Wespath Benefits and Investments (formerly known as The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits), a general agency of The United Methodist Church since August 1994. Under her leadership, a strategic approach for the organization has been established to secure the long-term viability of pension plans, retirement savings programs, and health and welfare benefit plans for more than 100,000 clergy and lay employees of the worldwide Church. In addition, the agency added an institutional investments arm in 2011, increasing assets by $3 billion.
As general secretary, Barbara oversees all fiduciary services and administrative operations of Wespath, which has over $24 billion in assets under management.
Barbara is active with a number of professional associations including the Church Benefits Association, she is the Chair of the Church Alliance, and serves as a board member and Compensation Committee Chair with First Midwest Bancorp, Inc.
Prior to joining Wespath, Barbara spent 11 years with Towers Perrin. Earlier in her career, Barbara held positions with Dart Industries in the group insurance benefits function and with KPMG Peat Marwick tax practice. Barbara received her B.A. from Trinity University and completed graduate coursework at the University of Chicago and UCLA.

#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.