What Might Heraclitus Think? : Some Thoughts on Our New Female Episcopal Leaders

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic philosopher from Ephesus, famous for his insistence that change is an always present and fundamental quality of the universe. He is famous for two sayings. The first, “No man [sic] ever steps in the same river twice.” The second saying reflects the unity of opposites, “the path up and down are one and the same”.  It seems the results of the recent episcopal elections in The United Methodist Church in the United States would not come as a surprise to our friend Heraclitus.for leigh bishop blog

After two relatively static quadrennia, a change in the gender composition of the Council of Bishops might seem overdue. From 2008 to 2012, 28% of our episcopal leaders in the United States were women, and from 2012 to 2016 that percentage dropped four points to 24%. While this number roughly reflects the percentage of women serving in ordained ministry in the U.S., it does not come close to representing the nearly 58% of women who call themselves United Methodists in this country.

However, the recent episcopal elections promise to change the landscape of the United States’ representatives on the Council of Bishops. The addition of seven new female bishops to the nine female bishops remaining after retirements, brings the total number of women bishops to 16 for the next quadrennium. This means that the percentage of US women bishops on the Council of Bishops jumps from 24% to 35% for the next four years. This is a significant increase in female episcopal leadership both nationally, and in the five U.S. Colleges of Bishops.

The Western Jurisdiction continues to lead all jurisdictions in percentages of female bishops, moving from 40% to 60% with the election of one woman. The Northeast follows, electing two women, and jumping from 33% to 44% female bishops. The Southeast also elected two women, moving up from 23% to 38% women bishops.   The North Central Jurisdiction also elected two women, jumping from 22% to 33%. Only the South Central College experienced a decline in female episcopal leadership, moving from 22% to 10% with the retirement of Bishop Huie. In terms of raw numbers, the Southeastern Jurisdiction has the most female bishops with 5, followed by the Northeast with 4, North Central and Western with 3, and South Central with 1.

Perhaps the greatest change will be seen at the Annual Conference level. At the local level, a new female bishop can provide a model and foundation on which other talented women, both lay and clergy, might develop skills, find a mentor and discover their unique voice in their Annual Conference and beyond. All of our bishops, regardless of gender, have the potential to significantly impact the future of the Church, since their choices of District Superintendents and Directors of Connectional Ministries, as well as appointments to large churches, often prepare clergy for the episcopacy, while their suggestions and promotion of jurisdictional and general church board members create new opportunities for both lay and clergy. It will be interesting to see the influence of women clergy in this process. Will it vary significantly from their male counterparts? Will their influence change the overall demographics of United Methodist leadership?

photo of Leigh

Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Our philosopher friend Heraclitus would probably say yes. From the perspective of 2,500 years, he might tell us that the one thing about life that never changes is change. The river continues to flow, morphing into a new river with each passing second, complete with new life and new streams. So it is with our Church, which moves and changes into something new regularly, although it may seem barely discernible to some. Heraclitus would also remind us that the path up is the same as the path down. The future of The United Methodist Church rests on the willingness of our episcopal leaders to groom talented people in their Annual Conferences for leadership positions, just as they were groomed.

We will have to wait and see the impact of more women on the Council of Bishops and the Colleges of Bishops. However, it is our hope that these significant shifts will continue to guide us on the journey toward “the full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church, sharing fully in the power and policy-making at all levels of the Church’s life.” May it be so.

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

Why We Count Women

by Elaine Moy and Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Let’s take a moment to play a game.

Please think of a “power” committee in your local church. A committee that wields a good degree of influence, perhaps the Finance Committee or the Board of Trustees. Picture the people in the group. Look at the faces of each man and woman who sit on the committee. Remember this is not real, it’s a game. For every man on the committee, replace him with a woman. For every women on the committee, replace her with a man.

What does the committee look like now?

How do you feel about the committee?

In many instances, this committee might look more like the Children’s Ministries or Hospitality Committee. The newly revised Finance Committee is now populated with a majority of women. This is because, in most of our United Methodist churches, districts, annual conferences, jurisdictional conferences, and at General Conference, important decisions, many of which involve money, are made by men.

Why does gender matter?

Many times it isn’t that a man is nominated or elected because he is a man. It is because of the role he fills in society or in the church: a banker, a lawyer, a business owner usually translates to a good person to lead finance, trustees or SPRC. That leadership role moves the person to other forms of leadership in the Annual, Jurisdictional or General Conference. The intent is not to place a man in a position. The intent is to transfer skills assumed to exist in one role into another committee.

So what is wrong with having those roles on the power committee? A woman can be in those roles too. I have heard, if she is in that role, she can be on the committee. It is not because we exclude women intentionally.

However, the question still plagues us: does a woman have the same opportunities to be in those roles too? Let’s think of an annual conference structure in which leadership includes people on the cabinet – DS, DCM, Finance, Bishop, Assistant to the Bishop. Does a woman have the same opportunity as a man to be placed in those roles? Will the answer to this question be different if a man or woman is answering it?

In reality, there are still systemic issues regarding women within the life of the Church (ie: people nominate others in their own social circles for the committees in which they are active, local churches request that they not be sent a woman pastor, female clergy who have no intention of having children are “mommy tracked,” and so on), we can safely say that men and women do not have the same opportunities for leadership roles.

Let’s play the game again…

What if we switched every man for a woman and every woman for a man on the cabinet in your annual conference? How does that change the gender composition of the cabinet? How does that affect the perception you have of the cabinet? How will others perceive the cabinet? What might people say?

Sometimes parishioners who learn that their ordained clergy staff includes more than one woman complain that this is not inclusive. They believe that, if the church staff includes a woman pastor, then the other ordained clergyperson should be male. However, for decades our churches have happily welcomed two male clergy on their staff. Why is having two women clergy unacceptable, but having two male clergy is acceptable? What is the difference between two male clergy and two female clergy?

Some men say that the leadership doesn’t look like them anymore? In terms of gender, our leadership does not reflect the over 50 percent of female parishioners who populate the pews. While 58% of our members are women, over 72% of ordained clergy are men. So, for the majority of our members, leadership frequently doesn’t look like her. And for men, leadership has looked like them for a very long time. This is a shift that has slowly worked its way into our denomination, and will continue to move us to a new place.

So why does it matter?

We can all agree that to make decisions, people need to have important information. This information comes from facts and some from experiences. We can also agree that there are many different types of facts and some are contrary to each other. Experience is a different matter…who we are contributes to our individual experiences. And different people (men and women, young and old, etc.) experience things differently.

In order to make the best decisions for a large organization, it is important to hear the most voices, with the most diverse experiences. So, we encourage committees to be as diverse as possible in order to embrace many viewpoints.

Which causes us to wonder about the Bishops’ “Way Forward” proposal. The architects of this proposal were eleven “conversation partners.” They were probably all picked because of their roles in The United Methodist Church. That is a good place to start. Four represented a more conservative theological position. Four were pastors of some of our largest churches who represent the “middle” theological space, and three were from the progressive arm of the Church. Ten were male, one was female. Ten were white, one was black. If the committee was only to include 11 seats, why 10 men and one woman? Why ten white people and one black person? Why 4 large membership church pastors, when the majority of our churches are much smaller. If the number of committee members were able to be larger, would we add the missing voices? One woman and one racial ethnic man do not speak for all. And, while we do not expect any of the nine white men at the table to yield their seat to a woman, and we hope the one woman and one African American will not yield their seats, we do hope someone might have asked for the circle to be drawn wider to include more women, other races and ethnicities, small and medium size church leaders, young people, and, well, the list goes on…

If this committee was composed of ten women and one man, what would the men say?

Wider representation and a broader perspective is unquestionably what our church needs in order to serve all of her constituencies. That is why the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women counts women. Our Women by the Numbers, published once or twice each month, provides insights into the ways women are represented at key decision-making tables throughout our denomination. We also look at the representation of different races and ethnicities, and ask questions about how these numbers influence the direction of our denomination.

General Conference GCSRW Legislation Update #5- General Conference Adopts Legislation to Amend ¶ 4, Article IV to Include Gender, Age, and Ability

by Jenn Meadows, Director of Communications

The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women’s (GCSRW) petition #60163, Inclusiveness of Gender & Age, was adopted by the General Conference by a majority vote of 68%. A 2/3 majority vote was needed in order for this petition to be adopted due to its amending the Constitution found in The Book of Discipline. The legislation adds ‘gender’, ‘age’, and ‘ability’ to the list of categories constitutionally protected for inclusion in the Church. To be fully adopted, this petition will now go before all Annual Conferences to be considered and voted upon in 2017.

Petition #60163 was amended in the General Administration Committee to add ‘ability’ along with GCSRW’s legislation of ‘gender’ and ‘age’. Adding these words to 4, Article IV of The Book of Discipline means a person could not be treated unfairly or denied opportunities due to age, ability, and on the basis of being a man or a woman. The word ‘gender’ in the language used throughout The Book of Discipline when addressing fairness. Adding it to this paragraph ensures consistency with the Discipline.

“The approval of this constitutional amendment is important as we continue to live into what it means to be a global church,” Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, President of GCSRW, stated. “The amended Article IV ensures the full participation of women in all parts of the world.”

At the conclusion of General Conference, seven of the eight petitions GCSRW submitted were adopted.

DCA 9: Monitoring Report (Friday, May 20th)

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of women’s ordination and the 40th anniversary of the creation of this commission, we recognize that we have not yet arrived at the promised land where men and women have no obstacles to the leadership tables. The need to, and the ways in which we hear the diversity of voices within the church still remains a conundrum. The question remains, are certain constituencies being passed over, are they hesitant to speak, or do they not seek to speak. Based on yesterday’s statistics of who spoke during General Conference plenary sessions, it is apparent women have not been heard. Moving forward, there are things upon which we can give our attention:

Language Matters!

  • For God…..There are so many different biblical names that can help us to celebrate and honor more fully the nature of God. He/She, Mother/Father, Creator, Rock, or simply God are all ways that express our incomplete understanding of who God is, recognizing that God need not always be addressed as male.
  • For clergy…..Clergy have traditionally been referred to as “he,” but we celebrate 60 years of the ordination of women in our United Methodist Church, and so we should acknowledged that all clergy are not all men.
  • For people….Instead of “he” or “guys” as the generic term let’s find ways in which we recognize the fullness of humanity. Let’s not leave anyone out through the words we use. “Y’All” is fully acceptable.
  • Much of the world does not speak English as their primary language, and there are many delegates at our General Conference for which this is true as well. Let’s offer the respect that every child of God deserves by using the technology provided us to hear all voices, no matter the language.

More Women Voices!

Women make up over 50% of the membership of the UMC throughout our connection. And still, women make up a much lower percentage of the delegates at General Conference. In order for our denomination to move forward, we need to hear from women’s perspectives all across our connection.

Homework before General Conference

General Conference is just two weeks. We make many important decisions during these two week, AND in between the sessions of General Conference we can, and should, be gathering information and talking with others, especially those who represent constituencies other than our own. Each delegate receives his or her legislative committee assignment prior to arriving at General Conference in order to assure time to prepare for the work. In order to work efficiently, preparation is critical.

Many delegates have talked about the importance of opportunities to speak with those different than themselves. This has informed and even moved them. This is something we can strive to do in between sessions of the General Conference. If we are to truly honor and respect one another, we must get to know one another. Recognizing that our time at General Conference is limited, social media may be one way to enable this to happen before we arrive at General Conference.

Create a statement of Ethical Behavior for Delegates

We have observed, and some behaviors have been named during plenary sessions, that were disturbing. There needs to be an understanding of appropriate ethical behavior for all delegates. This should include such things as voting only with one’s own voting device, addressing one another with respect. In addition, there should be clear instructions for the reporting of inappropriate behavior with clear consequences delineated for any behaviors that are deemed unethical.

We ask The Commission on General Conference prepare such a code of ethical behavior for all delegates attending sessions of General Conference for each delegate to sign.


Should we are use similar technology in the future, it is important that we project “the queue” for ALL to see. Why? Delegates would be able to see each other in order to enable self-monitoring for diversity in its many forms, to be transparent in who is asked to speak, to be able to see who wants to speak, and to know when the queue is cleared for the next action.

The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women thanks the General Conference for all their work and effort to ensure that all delegates throughout the connection have the opportunity to voice their opinions. We appreciate the opportunity to share our monitoring report with the General Conference each day.

For those who would like to see the General Commission on Status and Role of Women video on the 60th anniversary of women’s ordination presented during the Thursday morning plenary can find it currently at vimeo.com/162618320 or Facebook (GCSRW).

General Conference GCSRW Legislation Update #4- GCSRW Petition Not Considered by General Conference and Celebrates the 60th Anniversary of Women’s Ordination

by Jenn Meadows, Director of Communications

The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women’s (GCSRW) petition #60167, Prevention of the Use of Porn, was not considered by committee due to time constraints. The Church and Society 2 (CS2) Committee had many petitions to deliberate during their time together as a legislative committee and was not able to discuss this petition. Although this petition passed sub-committee, it was not brought before the full committee. This petition would have readopted Resolution #2082 – Prevention of the Use of Pornography in the Church – in The Book of Resolutions with no changes.

“Thankfully, the language that was in Resolution #2082 (petition 60167) was also in the new Social Principle adopted by this General Conference defining pornography and the harm pornography causes,” Becky Posey Williams, Senior Director of Education and Leader. “Therefore, even though we are disappointed it wasn’t voted on in CS2, we are grateful that the wording is in The Book of Discipline under the Social Principle.”

Today, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of full clergy rights to women and the 40th anniversary of the first clergywomen delegates elected to General Conference. We are incredibly grateful for the collaboration on this project with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) and the General Commission on Archives and History (GCAH). We thank Rev. Dr. HiRho Park, Bishop Debbie Wallace-Padgett and Bishop Minerva Carcano for being part of our on-stage presentation. We want to also extend our gratitude to Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher and Rev. Grace Imathiu for being interviewed and featured in this video celebration. We want to especially thank Daniel Scott of DScott Media for his work on this beautiful video production. Please celebrate with us by watching, downloading and sharing this video!

You can find a transcript of our full presentation here..

DCA 8: Monitoring Report (Thursday, May 19)

As we continue in plenary, we have been led carefully by members of the Council of Bishops. They have presided graciously as they have led us through our day’s business.

One particular star of inclusion is Bishop Riggle Huie who was very careful to be sure that everyone knew “where we are” in the process. In addition she called for the body to vote again on one particular piece of legislation when it was pointed out that it should have been announced that a previous vote required affirmation by 2/3rds of the body. Inviting the delegates to put on their headphones to be about the work while others sang outside the bar, she acknowledged that we work within an institution that is not all of one mind or voice.

A second star of inclusion is Bishop Patrick Streiff who presided in French (not his first language). He gave us the opportunity to experience the work of conference from the perspective of those who must depend on the translators and the use of headphones to do this work. Perhaps that experience will help us to better work together. In addition, Bishop Streiff’s patience with the technologies we use made it possible for people to have their voices heard. Please wait while we clear the queue…Please wait while we give people a chance to enter the queue. Thank you so much.

That said, we still have ways in which we can do better as the body of Christ. In our sessions those speaking have been primarily from the United States (approximately 77%) with less said by delegates from the Central Conferences (approximately 23%). And within both the voices of women were far fewer (approximately 27%) than those of the men (73%). It is very hard, with the current system, to see whether women want to speak. Please remember it is important that we hear as many voices as possible before decision making.

And finally, a quick word about letting people speak for themselves. We have observed and had reported to us, that there have been incidents of “mansplaining.” Simply put, it is to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing. Doing this discounts the voice of the speaker. In our conversations with one another, let’s allow people to speak for themselves and when more clarity is needed let that person speak for him or herself.

General Conference GCSRW Legislation Update #3- General Conference Adopts GCSRW Petition Regarding Membership

by Jenn Meadows, Director of Communications

Delegates to the 2016 General Conference adopted the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women’s (GCSRW) petition #60162 Membership from the Consent Calendar Saturday morning, May 14th.

GCSRW apologizes for the delay in reporting this information, it was an oversight. This Consent Calendar was presented before breaking into legislative committees on Saturday morning.

Petition #60162, Membership, was adopted 43 for, 1 against, 0 abstaining in the Independent Commissions Committee. It was placed on the Consent Calendar of Friday, May 13th ‘s edition of the Daily Christian Advocate (DCA) and adopted on the floor Saturday, May 14th morning. The adoption of this petition will amend 2104.1 b, c, h of The Book of Discipline, which defines the membership of the GCSRW board. This legislation modifies United Methodist Women’s representation on GCSRW’s board from being a voting board member to being a non-voting liaison who sits on GCSRW’s board. This not only maintains the historic working relationship between the two organizations, it also ensures that GCSRW’s board, with only 19 members, is able to commit specifically to GCSRW’s work. This amendment also avoids potential conflicts of interest and conforms to 710.5 and the Code of Ethics for general agencies.

“We are so happy to continue to clarify and reinforce the historic partnership we have established with United Methodist Women,” Senior Director of Education and Leadership Rev. Leigh Goodrich stated. “It is our great joy to work hand-in-hand with them for the empowerment of women.”

GCSRW would also like to lift up that today is Nan Self’s 86th birthday. Self was one of the first co-secretariats of The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women when it was established in 1972. Due to health reasons, this is Self’s first General Conference she’s missed since becoming secretariat. We want to extend birthday greetings to her on this special day.