Women Working Together to Be Heard

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

As a clergywoman in The United Methodist Church, I often found myself saying to my male colleagues, members of committees, and even to my own family, “I don’t feel like you are hearing me.” So when I read Juliet Eilperin’s article in The Washington Post this month, I resonated with the frustration these women feel. Even when some of the brightest women in our nation compose half of the President’s top aides, their voices are sometimes ignored, trampled or co-opted once they finally gain access to the Commander-in-Chief.

In order to counteract this tendency, the women staff adopted a strategy they called “amplification.” When a woman made an important point, other women would repeat it, crediting the original speaker. This had the duel impact of forcing the men (and some women!) in the room to recognize the speaker’s point, and preventing them from claiming the idea as their own.

An anonymous former female Obama aide shared this with Eilperin. The result of the amplification strategy? The President noticed and began calling more frequently on women and junior aides. Hooray!

However, this anecdote amplifies more than women’s ideas. It also emphasizes the reality that once a woman achieves a place in the room, a seat at the table, access to the President of the United States, or a position on the Council of Bishops, the struggle does not end. In fact, it may just be starting.

Women are being invited into more influential roles and places than ever before. However, a seat at the table does not guarantee a voice in the discussion. Women, whether they serve as the President’s top aides, board members of corporations and nonprofits, trustees for major colleges and universities, or leaders in churches, cabinets and boards of The United Methodist Church (or any other denomination), are sometimes drowned out of important discussions by hyper-aggressive colleagues. Worse yet, the ideas that they offer are sometimes co-opted by others in the organization.

The strategy of amplification is a valid and gracious method, not only for women, but for all participants, to honor a speaker’s voice. It is particularly useful in environments where emotions run high, expertise and egos are abundant, and time is at a premium. In fact, it is the most Christian manner of engaging in dialogue by honoring voices, even those at the margins, and assigning credit to the appropriate individuals. Remember the ancient commandment, “Thou shall not steal?” So, if you find yourself in situations where you feel your ideas are not heard, trampled over, or co-opted by others, adopting the amplification strategy might just work.

More importantly, this article reminds us that an invitation to the highest echelons of any organization does not necessarily guarantee someone, in many cases women, a voice. As we see more and more women gaining traction at the highest levels of our national and ecclesial organizations, it is wise to remind ourselves of the old African proverb, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Supporting one another with integrity and strength allows everyone the opportunity to be heard with equanimity and fairness. It may be the only way to support the many voices that have been invited to participate in the leadership of our nation and our church.

DCA 4: General Commission on the Status and Role of Women Monitoring Report (Saturday, May 14)

We want to begin today’s report with a shout-out to Pope Francis who announced the formation of a special Commission to study the possibility of women serving as Deacons in the Roman Catholic Church. As notable as the content of his announcement was, it is also important for us to note HOW he made it. The New York Times said it was “consistent with his style: a seemingly off-the-cuff remark that opened a broad horizon of possibilities.” Here at General Conference, a lot of our communications are formal therefore more easily monitored, but we too must pay attention to the “off the cuff” remarks. They too, can broaden our possibilities, or shut others down.

We’re delighted to report that the large majority of the committee and sub-committee chairs are doing an outstanding job of making sure everyone is included. Bill Allen of Upper New York, Chair of the Conferences Legislative Committee, slows down regularly and repeats himself as many times as it takes to make sure everyone understands exactly what is being voted on. He has also encouraged patience while the interpreters do their work to make sure everything is clear. At the same time, there are members of the committee who do not wait to be recognized, and often speak out of turn, while others wait patiently with their hands raised. It cannot fall only to the chairs; the delegates can also contribute to the full participation of all persons by being as or even MORE interested in hearing the voices of others than in voicing one’s own.

In Church and Society II, while discussing a petition, one delegate asked for a definition of the term, “gender identity.” Another delegate offered a definition, which was received well by some, but with a few snickers and eye-rolling by others. Sub-committee Chair, LaTrelle Easterling of New England, immediately spoke up and reminded everyone to react more carefully, especially in regard to issues that are sensitive for many. Again, a great chair, but the onus is on all of us to remember how much our verbal and non-verbal reactions can hurt feelings and shut down others.

Another way off-handed, well-meaning remarks have been problematic is regarding people’s names. In one committee, during the nominations process, one delegate introduced himself as having a name that is “easy to say and easy to spell.” That, after a number of people had been introduced with non-English names. Unfortunately, the unintended implication of such a statement is that some belong because we “know” their names, while others are “foreign” and therefore challenging to include. In a more inclusive style, Bethany Amey of Greater New Jersey, chairing Church and Society I, went out of her way to carefully pronounce everyone’s name, and asked for grace and forgiveness as she made her way down the list of names, intentionally learning each one.

So, our three NAMED stars of inclusion today are Bill Allen, LaTrelle Easterling and Bethany Amey, but there is one more story of note, though the stars are nameless. In one of the sub-committees in the Faith and Order Legislative Committee, a number of delegates were overheard saying to each other that they need to self-monitor more and reminding each other to be better at making sure everyone is heard. THAT is the goal – 100% self-monitoring, which requires a tendency to want to hear others, even at the expense of occasionally silencing oneself.

Lest we think that is easy, we must also remember the complications that arise in our richly multicultural gathering. One of the challenges that has come to our attention is the dominant voices of white American delegates (male and/or female, depending on the committee) and African males. Because those groups are simply the most numerous, it may take a bit more intentional effort to make sure others are also heard. Added to that, we need to be sensitive to the fact that it might be less common in some cultures for some persons to speak. In particular, when a few African men speak for their delegations, and we don’t hear from others, especially the African women, some might be concerned. On the one hand, it could be a wise and strategic approach meant to put forth the most persuasive voice, or the person best able to speak English. There may also be cultural values that assume men will lead in public gatherings. We don’t want to insist that everyone speaks equally, or that everyone speaks at all, but we do want to be sure to hear from everyone, while also being sensitive to the political strategies and cultural practices that we all bring. In other words, we must monitor both our speaking AND our listening.

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

by Amanda Mountain and Rev. Leigh Goodrich

WOMEN BY THE NUMBERS- GC 16 PART 4

infographic made via Piktochart

Introduction:

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 and 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. Women by the Numbers takes a closer look at who will be at this decision-making table in May. This month, we provide a snapshot of women delegate representation by annual conferences within the United States.

As a review, 44% of the delegates from the United States are female, 56% are male. In addition, 36% of clergy delegates are clergywomen and 64% are clergymen, while 52% of lay delegates are women and 48% are men. The United Methodist Church in the US is divided into 5 regional areas called jurisdictions, and then into Annual Conferences within each jurisdiction.  The addendum included with this article shows the breakdown of delegates by annual conference.

Summary of Annual Conferences:

There are four annual conferences—New Mexico, Northwest Texas, Desert Southwest, and Yellowstone—that elected no female delegates to General Conference. Neither Alaska nor the Dakotas Annual Conferences elected any male delegates.  Notably, all of these delegations except Northwest Texas only elect two delegates each.  Red Bird Missionary Conference, South Georgia, Memphis, New Mexico, Northwest Texas, Wisconsin, and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary conference did not elect any female clergy delegates to General Conference, while Peninsula-Delaware annual conference elected no female lay delegates.

In addition to Alaska and the Dakotas with 100% female delegates, other annual conferences with high percentages of female delegates are Greater New Jersey (88% female delegation) and Minnesota (75% female). The annual conferences with the lowest percentage of female delegates are those cited above with no women in their delegation, followed by South Georgia at 12% female, Texas at 16% female, and West Ohio with a delegation that is 33% female.

Compared to overall membership:

Importantly, each annual conference elects an equal number of clergy and lay delegates.  The number of delegates varies every four years based on the number of lay and clergy members within that Annual Conference. The largest annual conferences in the United States according to membership are the North Georgia, Virginia, Western North Carolina, Texas and Florida Annual Conferences. [1]  These are important annual conferences to watch because they elect multiple delegates and have the greatest opportunity to exercise gender parity in those elections.  The percentage of female delegates in three of these annual conferences exceeds 50%. In contrast, North Georgia’s delegation is 27% female, and Texas elected a delegation that is 16% female. In summary, two of the largest annual conferences, North Georgia and Texas, with 22 and 18 total delegates, respectively, elected low percentages of female delegates to General Conference.

Lay membership compared to lay delegates

Three of the top 5 largest annual conferences hold a disproportionate amount of female delegates to female lay members. For example, women account for 57% of all lay members in the North Georgia Annual Conference but only 30% of their lay delegation. The Texas annual conference is similar with women accounting for 57% of lay members but only 22% of the lay delegation, and in Florida women account for 60% of all lay members but are less represented at only 56% of the lay delegation.

Women in two of the largest annual conferences are proportionately represented. Virginia’s lay membership is 57% female and their lay delegation is 64% women, and in Western North Carolina, women account for 56% of all annual conference lay members and 70% of their lay delegation.

Clergy membership compared to clergy delegates

Two of the top 5 largest annual conferences hold disproportionate amount of female delegates to female clergy members. In North Georgia, women account for 33% of all clergy, but only 25% of their clergy delegation. In Texas, 31% of all clergy are women, but only 22% of the clergy delegation.

Women in three of the largest annual conferences are proportionately represented, or better. Virginia’s clergy membership is 32% female and their clergy delegation is 36% female. So does Western North Carolina with its clergy delegation being 40% female while its annual conference clergy membership is only 35% female.  Florida is a standout, with 24% of its annual conference clergy members being women, while its clergy delegation is 56% female!

Summary

Female delegates from annual conferences in the United States tend to be more representative of lay and clergy membership with a few exceptions. When looking at the top 5 annual conferences by membership, and thus the largest US delegations, all of these delegations come from the South Central and Southeastern Jurisdictions in the United States, and the delegations from these annual conferences are not always proportionate to the annual conference female lay and/or clergy membership. We should ask ourselves if this is important. Do women want to be proportionately represented?  Do women want to challenge the church for a more equal representation at the table with a more even 50/50 split between the genders? Is proportional representation the best women can and should strive to do? What would our delegations look like in a world which promoted “a continuing commitment to the full and equal responsibility and participation of women 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.”[2]

 

Copy of Delegates by Jurisdiction and Annual Conference*

*In our recent Women by the Numbers, we misreported that there was only 1 delegate from Alaska and 3 from Pacific North West. This was based on information we received which was incorrect. Rather than make assumptions about the error, we reported the information as it was reported to us for the benefit of those reading the article. We apologize for any inconvenience or misrepresentation this caused. 

[1] See http://www.umc.org/gcfa/data-services-statistics for more information on annual conference membership

[2] ¶2102, Book of Discipline


For more Women by the Numbers, including the articles that examine Jurisdictions and Central Conferences, please visit our website

What It’s Like to be a Pastor’s Kid in a New Church Start

 

by Paige Lowery

I have an odd life.  My mom, dad, and my mom’s mom are all pastors.  My other grandma is an organist for a church.  At one point, I felt like all the adults that I knew, including my parents’ friends, worked at churches.  Nowadays I feel like I work in a church, too.  My parents started a new church in 2013 when I was 8.  It was hard to leave my friends in our old town, but I was excited to have an adventure in the big city of Portland.

paige lowery

Paige Lowery

Once we got settled in, life started to get into a natural rhythm.  We went to church on Sunday mornings and then church again on Thursday evenings.  On Sunday mornings we went to Capitol Hill United Methodist Church where my mom worked part-time.  On Thursday evenings we stayed home.  We had a dinner church at our house.  It eventually changed to Sunday nights.  I thought it was easier to have it all on one day, but sometimes it’s a long day.

At Capitol Hill UMC my responsibilities are to light the candles and to be the liturgist.  I’ve gotten a lot of experience talking to crowds.  I like the cozy feel at Capitol Hill and all the nice people.

At Sellwood Faith Community things are a lot different.  For one I have to help set up, which can be fun if we make it a game.  Most of the time it is not so fun when we are in a rush or my parents are in a grumpy mood.  I also have to keep my office very clean because that is where the kids’ program meets.  I help serve communion after dinner.  All of the kids help with this at Sellwood Faith Community, which is pretty cool.  Another cool thing is that dinner is a potluck.  One week we had mostly bread.  Another week we had mostly vegetables.  One time there were two platters of roasted broccoli.  If I haven’t mentioned it, I love roasted broccoli.  I did a taste test and couldn’t decide whose was better, so I just ate a lot of broccoli that night. My community had lots of awesome people.   One of the women makes the best desserts in all of Oregon.  Another woman and I came up with an extensive dance play that we like to perform sometimes after dinner if it’s not too late. We also do service projects and really cool meditation hikes.  We work at the Oregon Food Bank and Bethlehem House of Bread.  I like working with my community and doing the hikes to be in nature and see God there.

At Capitol Hill we sing from the hymnals and the Faith We Sing.  At Sellwood we sing after dinner.  We do more modern songs, including some my dad has written.  Sometimes it feels like an extra thing to make my night longer, but most of the time it is really fun to sing with everybody in the community.

I have decided that even though I may feel like I work in a church now, I don’t think I’ll be continuing this career.   It is not my passion.  I have more of a feel for the political side of things and that is how I think I can best help people and work for God.


Paige Lowery is nearly 11 and she is in the 5th grade.  She hopes to one day be elected to General Conference so she can be a decider.  She has 2 cats, 2 guinea pigs and a collection of giant stuffed animals.  Paige is part of a band with her dad called the Functional Monkeys.  They have a CD that raises money for Imagine No Malaria that can be purchased at jeffloweymusic.com.  

Shapers of the Journey: Celebrating Women of Faith

by Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone

I have been blessed throughout my life and ministry to be surrounded by Christian women who have been my source of strength and support. Some of these women have been in my life since my childhood and others have come into my life during the different seasons of my life and ministry. No matter when I’ve met these women, they each have played a special role in my life.

TracyMalone

Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone

 

My mother, April Smith, is the first woman of faith that has played a very instrumental role in my life and ministry. When I first acknowledged my call to ministry at the tender age of 13, my mother was the first one to validate my call. I can remember her words so clearly, “I always knew that God had a special anointing on your life. There was just something different about you since you were a young girl.” My mother’s words gave me the hope and confidence I needed to begin my journey towards answering God’s call. Her ongoing support of my call inspired my decision to prepare for ministry by majoring in Religious Studies and Sociology in college.

I was blessed to have a mother that prayed with me and for me until she died in 1995. I was also blessed that my mother lived long enough to attend my Ordination services and to celebrate my first appointment. My mother was and continues to be with me (in Spirit) every step of my journey.

I was blessed to meet another woman of faith, the Reverend Dr. Barbara Isaacs, who was serving as the campus minister at the time I entered college in 1986. I knew I had decisions to make as I sought to answer my call to ministry and by God’s grace, Reverend Isaacs took me under her wing and began to mentor me. She took time to learn my faith story and about my call to ministry, even sharing her own story of faith and call with me.

As a result of Rev. Isaacs’s mentoring, I was given opportunities to participate in several International Mission trips she led. I traveled to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Africa. She assisted me in getting a Summer Mission Internship with the General Board of Global Ministries. Rev. Isaacs provided me leadership opportunities that opened the door for me to serve on the planning team for the college’s first Civil Rights Conference and to serve on the interviewing team for the hiring of the college’s first Multi-Cultural Affairs Director. She has been a rock in my life. She was very instrumental in helping me to develop my leadership and oratory skills, as well as further clarifying my calling into the Ordained Ministry. Rev. Isaacs was also helpful, as were my parents, with my decision to attend Seminary in preparation for a life in ministry.

I had a great Seminary experience! In the same year I graduated Seminary (1993), I married my college sweetheart and was appointed to a church where I served as an Associate Pastor. While I was both ready and excited to serve, I had a lot to learn. I can name several women, both lay and clergy, who supported me. They prayed for me and offered words of wisdom and encouragement. They all wanted me to be effective in my ministry and happy in my marriage. I knew that if there was anything I needed I had these women of faith to call upon. It truly does takes a village…!

In July of 1996, I was appointed to my second parish where I served as a solo pastor at the age of 27 years old. I had just buried both my mother and my father who died eight months apart from each other. This was a very difficult season in my life. While this was an exciting time in my life and ministry, I was grieving the loss of my parents and had inherited the responsibility of administering my parent’s estate and caring for my younger brothers and sisters. By the grace of God, I met a great woman of faith by the name of Florence Mitchell. Florence was a long-time, older member of my new church. Florence attended worship regularly and the Bible Study I led. Florence would come to the office to visit with me, to share her story of faith and took an interest in learning my story. Florence demonstrated that she had a profound respect for my ministry and was intrigued by my story of faith and courage.

Florence and I developed a special bond. She covenanted to pray for me and to be a confidant for me as deemed appropriate. Upon being reappointed to a different church in 2001, Florence offered to keep her covenant. Since meeting Florence in 1996, I have given birth to two daughters, completed a Doctorate of Ministry degree, served in three different appointments in different contexts, given leadership to two General Church Agencies, become an endorsed candidate for the Episcopacy and more. Through it all, Florence has been a source of strength and support. Florence is now 79 years old and has moved to Atlanta. She continues to pray for me. She prays for my marriage and family. She prays for my ministry. She affirms my leadership. She reminds me to keep balance and to take care of myself.  She calls me and visits with me. Florence is an embodiment of God’s love and provision.

What a journey! I praise God for the great women of faith who have been instrumental in helping to shape and form me into the woman of God I am today. There are others who are not named here but are named in my heart. During every season of my life and ministry, God continues to surround me with a community of love and support. To God be the glory!


Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. She has pastored several churches during her 23yrs years in ordained ministry She is currently the District Superintendent of the Chicago Southern District and Dean of the Cabinet in the Northern Illinois Conference. She is a delegate to the 2016 General and Jurisdictional Conferences and an Endorsed Candidate for the Episcopacy. 

Rest. Reflect. Renew.

by Rev. Hilda R. Davis

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5a

Breathe.

The Christmas pageants are over. All the faithful have come, brought joy to the silent nights, and departed in peace. We have celebrated the humble birth of Jesus—God with us—with family and friends, congregations and communities. Then, we prayed out 2015 as we welcomed the New Year. HildaDavisHeadshot

We begin 2016 with anticipation, gratitude, and something else—exhaustion. As women, we have spent time preparing for, caring for, creating comfort for others; now it is time to think about our own self-care.

I invite you to join me as we look together at ways to make your self-care as much a priority as you make the care of others. Whether you are ministering across the world, in a local congregation or in your own home; you may be a caregiver or learning to care for your own changing needs; or you may be juggling all of the above with your capable hands—this is an opportunity to do a “new thing.” Regardless of your level of health and wellness, in 2016, begin this year by examining your lifestyle and asking if you can add more spaces for “Rest, Reflection, and Renewal.”

At the end of this post, you will find a link to download instructions to create your own “self-care plan” for body, mind, and spirit wellness.  However, just in case you have to rush to the next thing after reading this, thank-you for joining us and you will not leave empty-handed. I have included brief, quick self-care tips that give instant benefits. Really! Rather than creating a list of New Year’s Resolutions (that sometimes don’t make it past January), I suggest using these wellness tips to incorporate small changes into your day, which create a wellness lifestyle and you never have to make another New Year’s Resolution!!

Rest

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he [Jesus] said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31

Jesus noticed the disciples were tired and encouraged them to rest. God rested on the seventh day after creating the world in six days. The prophet, Elijah, was instructed by God to eat and refresh himself for the journey ahead of him—he also took the time to sleep. (1 Kings 19)

It is often challenging for women to find time to eat and sleep. Our work is 24/7. Children need to eat every day (often all day). Congregations need care; crisis calls come during dinner and even when we are trying to sleep. Friends and family have emergencies and sleep has to be delayed and resting is only a memory. Women continue to be present for others and become sleep deprived, in spite of the research that emphasizes how necessary sleep is to our well-being. “If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.”

However, you can improve your sleep and make some small changes to provide spaces to rest. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) gives some suggestions for improving sleep:

  • Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Turn off the television before going to sleep.
  • Make your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark at bedtime.
  • Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bedtime.

TIP: Breathe in to the count of three: 1-2-3; Breathe out to the count of six: 1-2-3-4-5-6. This is one of the quickest, cheapest, and immediately beneficial practices you can begin to relieve stress and boost your energy. Deep breathing is an easy way to take care of yourself. Practice often.

Reflection

        “Be still, and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10a

Jesus spent time in prayer and solitary reflection. (Matthew 14:23) When we spend time in quiet reflection, we are able to hear and respond to God’s call on our lives.

The Daily Room offers daily reflections online that give you a prayer, a meditation, a scripture, and more to guide your thoughts.  You can subscribe and receive the daily reflections by email. Use their reflections or your favorite meditations to bring calm, comfort, and peace to your day.

TIP: You don’t have to spend a long time sitting in a meditation pose or repeat a mantra to benefit from the sense of calm and serenity that arises from time spent in quiet reflection. Sit in a comfortable position. Bring to mind a scripture, an affirmation (suggestion: “Today I have peace because I trust God for the outcome.”), or a positive word said to you by someone. Allow yourself to experience the joy and peace from your thoughts. Continue to reflect on how God is present in your situation. Sit and relax for 5-10 minutes. Go in peace.

Renewal

“but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:31

This is a favorite scripture of many, including me. What attracts me to this verse, aside from the poetry of it, is that it reminds me that when we wait for and trust in God we are able to take action. We have renewed strength, which allows us to soar or run or walk. Whatever our capability, God gives us the strength to do all we are able to do because our strength comes from God.

Creating a plan for your continued health and wellness begins with “rest, reflection, and renewal.” Once you are renewed, the next step is action. The Self-Care Plan can be downloaded. It gives you a model for how to bring body, mind, and spirit health to your day. It asks you to consider “What action will you take?” “When will you start?,” “Who will help you?” Once you write your answers you have a plan. It’s that simple!

TIP: Let your action begin with taking simple stretches every morning before you jump out of bed and rush into your day. Lie flat on your back. Begin by taking a deep breath. Release slowly. Place your arms next to your body and stretch them as if you are trying to stretch them to your feet. Relax. Next stretch your legs—extend them, point your toes—as if you are trying to touch the end of your bed. Relax. Finally, gently move your head from side to side; then up and down. Repeat, if you have time. Give your body a good shake and sit up refreshed.

Begin new wellness practices. Start now. May you live in renewed health and wellness in 2016 as you Breathe, Reflect, and Act.

HDavis_SELF-CARE Action Plan1.2016


Hilda Davis is an ordained Deacon in the Tennessee Conference and has had the privilege of serving as a local pastor, an Editor with the United Methodist Publishing House and first Project Manager for United Methodist Communications’ Global Health Initiative. 

Currently, she is the founder of Hilda R Davis Consulting and has the honor of working with clients long distance through technology, but remains committed to delivering person-centered counseling. Her primary focus is the healing and wholeness of individuals, families, congregations, and communities. She has written articles for religious books, clinical publications, and a weekly health and spirituality column in a regional newspaper.

Her work in local congregations led to the publication of her book for women, Live Healthy & Be Well: Create an Action Plan, which offers Bible stories, meditation, and activities that are designed to encourage holistic wellness. For more information about her book and for other wellness tools you can download, visit her website: www.hildardavis.com.

Another vocational opportunity was to serve as founding Director of the Faith Based Initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Health where she reported to the Commissioner of Health. As Director, she cultivated public health and faith collaborations across the State, designed and led trainings in congregations to promote healthy behaviors, and developed a multimedia curriculum for building a health ministry, Power in the Pews: Having a Heart for Health.

She has taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School and Tennessee State University. Her collaboration on research projects at Meharry Medical College and the Cancer Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center focused on the disparities in breast cancer mortality rates for African American women, cancer and spirituality, and faith and chronic illness. She also worked as Chaplain at Vanderbilt Cancer Clinic where she offered spiritual direction to people living with cancer.

Davis received her doctorate in Religion and Psychology from Vanderbilt University. She has both undergraduate and master’s work in Psychology and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Tennessee. She has a daughter, Erin A. Grimes, who makes her proud. Erin was a member of the first class to graduate from Dillard University after Hurricane Katrina and continues to flourish.

Advent Through the Eyes of Women: Making Way for Another’s Voice with the Help of Elizabeth

by Beth Ludlum

The events surrounding Jesus’s birth are filled with proclamations, exclamations, and predictions. But what I find more interesting to the story is whose voices are heard and how they are heard.

beth-ludlum_headshot

Beth Ludlum

As Luke tells it, the story of Jesus begins, in part, with two very different women. Our introduction to Elizabeth includes just a few details:  she’s from one of the oldest and most respected families in Judaism, she’s married to a priest, she’s righteous, she’s getting kind of old…and she’s barren. This last fact is clearly the black mark on an otherwise spotless biography, but it tells us a lot about Elizabeth. After all, infertility was understood to be the woman’s problem and was often seen as a curse from God. In spite of her prayers, Elizabeth has had to find meaning in life and learn to remain faithful to God even though her primary longing, her understood purpose, and her hope for the future has been left unfulfilled. How many derisive stares or side comments have been directed her way? How many times has she watched other women’s children play and laugh, wondering why God denied her this basic gift?

So when the story tells us that she finally becomes pregnant, in spite of the natural laws of human aging and reproductive ability, we can only imagine her ecstasy. If I were Elizabeth, I would be quite tempted to stock up on bumper stickers with sayings like, “Your kid may be on the honor role, but mine got an angelic prophecy.”

The other woman introduced early in Luke’s narrative is Mary, a relative of Elizabeth but different in almost every way. Mary is young rather than old, immature rather than wise, recently engaged rather than long attached, from a backwater town rather than of noble heritage. And although both are pregnant, the circumstances could hardly be more different. Mary’s pregnancy appears scandalous rather than miraculous, terrifying rather than an answer to prayer.

So when Elizabeth hears a knock on her door, about six months into her own pregnancy, and finds young Mary standing there, so many different responses are possible. She might lecture this young pregnant girl, having heard all the family gossip. She might try to impart wisdom from her own life, or remind her to be grateful because some women had to wait decades to have a child. She might be so overwhelmed with jealousy and disgust that she closes the door on Mary and tells her to find her own way. But Elizabeth does none of these things. Instead, she opens her home and her heart to Mary.

In the following verses in Luke, we glimpse a precious relationship between these two women. Elizabeth provides a space for Mary when Mary is terrified and excited and undergoing social scrutiny, and Mary accompanies Elizabeth through her last 3 months of pregnancy, when she is isolated and uncomfortable. But perhaps the most beautiful thing to me is that even in the midst of her own joy, fears, wisdom, and experience, Elizabeth makes a way for Mary to find her own voice. It is Elizabeth’s openness to what the Spirit is doing in Mary, her willingness to see this pregnant teen as even greater than herself, and her courage in speaking the truth about Mary that she knows, that opens the way for Mary to claim and name the belief that God is at work in her and through the baby she carries. Elizabeth’s welcome and encouragement makes way for one of the most beautiful, poetic proclamations in the Bible, what now has become known as the Magnificat. Elizabeth is the midwife to Mary’s confidence, her ability to name and claim God’s promises, and, I suspect, the peace that steadies her throughout Jesus’s birth and life.

Throughout my life, I have been blessed by women who have helped me claim my own voice. In the last few years, a woman named Sarah has been my rock. Strong and powerful, two decades ahead of me in her career, Sarah has nonetheless welcomed me as a friend. She has recognized and named talents in me that I never knew existed; she has shared her own fears and mistakes so that I can uncover and learn from my own; she has given me access to opportunities that I had neither the experience nor the courage to claim on my own. More than anything else, she is always watching for what God is doing in my life and is ready to walk alongside me. Through good times and challenging ones, Sarah has used her wisdom, her strength, and her faith to make space for me to grow into my own voice.

Women like Elizabeth and Sarah remind me of my own privilege and responsibilities. Especially as women, we who have the benefit of age, experience, education, status, or authority of any kind have a responsibility to make a way for the voices of the women who too often go unheard. Every step we take, every gift we are given is an opportunity to journey with and create a way for others.

Who are the women in your life whom you can accompany? Where are the college students, the single mothers, the young clergy, or the isolated executives who need a listening ear and an accompanying friend? How can you make way for others to not only follow but to surpass you? How can you listen so carefully that another finds her own voice?

When John the Baptist, Elizabeth’s son, came on the scene, his preaching drew crowds. But he never lost sight that his purpose was to make way for another’s voice. He carried on his mother’s legacy. During this Advent season, will we?


 

Beth is a Kansas farm girl who has made her way to Washington, DC twice via China and Nashville. An avid runner and cyclist, she loves to travel and meet new people and to be at home with her housemates and 4 year old godson. Beth is a commissioned elder in the Baltimore-Washington Conference and is appointed to ministry as Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at Wesley Theological Seminary.