Thursdays in Black Devotion- May 7, 2020

“This campaign is simple but profound.  Wear Black on Thursdays.  Wear a pin to declare you are a part of this global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence.  Show your respect for women who are resilient in the face of injustice and violence.  Encourage others to join you.  We note, oftentimes, black has been used with negative racial connotations.  In this campaign, Black is used as a color of resistance and resilience.” —The World Council of Churches 

SoniaGechtoff_RedIcon

Sonia Gechtoff, Red Icon, 1962, Oil on Canvas

A Prayer for Thursdays in Black*

Creating God, Mother of us all, we are your beloved, formed in your image and nurtured in the depth of your dark womb.  You breathed life into our flesh and sent us to do your work in the world, to care for each other and for all of creation as we would care for you:  our life and our breath. 

Wherever we are in your world there are survivors, victims, bystanders, and perpetrators of gender-based violence.

This violence is destroying your sacred creation, and as long as violence exists among your people, anywhere, we will not be whole.  Until your creation is healed, we will wear black in solidarity with people around the world to honor the courage and resilience of the victims and survivors of gender-based violence, while committing to work toward an end to such violence.

May the color black remind us of the unimaginable deep love you have for us and the cavernous well of tears shed by communities broken by violence.

And may the color black remind us of the hope for transformation that you have planted within the dark belly of the earth.  A hope that grows stronger every time a cycle of violence is broken and nurtured by each action against violence and rape. 

Creating God, as long as we have breath, may we work with perseverance toward restoring peace and dignity to your creation.  Amen.              

 

*Adapted from Thursdays in Black, World Council of Churches

A Maundy Thursday Reflection

“In a real sense, all life is inter-related. All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As we reflect on the quote of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are aware of our connection as United Methodists. Indeed, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

During this time of pandemic many of us are feeling a sense of loss; family, friends, mobility, even our jobs.  In a sense, we are experiencing universal suffering.  What makes it more challenging is that we are suffering universally in our isolated spaces.  And we understand isolation can threaten our sense of safety and contribute to much in life feeling unpredictable.

The trauma associated with COVID is like other trauma….it invites us to look back on trauma we have experienced individually or collectively.  By doing so, we are reminded of how we have made it through challenging times before. Remembering those times when we felt paralyzed by fear, afraid to speak of the harm endured, and feeling ashamed for what we have experienced at the hands of another.  Perhaps the fear was exacerbated by asking ourselves, “Will we be able to get through this?”  We remember the real grief we have experienced in our lives. Our stories give meaning to our lives and it is important to have space to share them.  The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women continues to develop resources and provide safe space for persons to share their stories around oppression as women in the Church and/or as survivors of sexual misconduct.

In Matthew 26:39 (CEB), we hear these words:

Then he went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”

The events in the last week of Jesus’ life were colored with challenges, pain of betrayal, the abuse of power by leaders who continued to insist they were guilt-free and not responsible. The misplaced priorities of those in leadership who were more concerned with their political stability and their thirst for absolute power.  The harm of lost lives seemed like a mere casualty in their search for authoritarian rule.  And Jesus was facing this suffering as he prayed that the suffering be taken away.

Why do we, year after year, keep prioritizing our remembrance of these events through our Holy Week rituals? Is it about remembering the reality of human suffering and understanding God is with us through it all? That nothing separates us from God’s love?

Holy Week 2020 may be experienced and remembered quite differently than previously.

How is God speaking to you during this time in your life?  How is She present or feeling absent to you? What are you doing to honor and give voice to your story?

Perhaps, when this is all over, we can realize how much we need one another and how everyone is precious, even in our brokenness. On the eve of his death, Jesus gave his disciples this, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). A very specific image of love saturated in “just as I have loved you.” How are you loving yourself with compassion?  How are you loving others with the compassion shown by Jesus?

As we near resurrection Sunday, let us pray for a resurrection of healing, a resurrection of love and a resurrection of unity.

If you have specific questions during this time and/or a personal story you would like to share, we would welcome the opportunity to receive it.  Please email us at info@gcsrw.org.

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