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 that “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,

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Bishop Tracy S. Malone                                             

President of the Board

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

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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

 

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“Stand Erect, Lift Your Head, Let Your Voice be Heard”

“Another world is not only possible,

 She’s on  the way.

And on a quiet day,

If you listen very carefully,

You can hear her breathe.”

-Arundhati Roy

by Erin Hawkins

As the General Secretary of an agency of the Church that stands for the embrace of cultural difference in all its forms, I am confronted daily with words, actions, and beliefs that serve as an affront to the way of Christ which is peace, love, and justice. In too many places the feelings of fear and hopelessness that arise due to division within the human family is palpable.  But these feelings of despair are not everywhere. Just as I am confronted with the grim realities of exclusion, discrimination, and oppression, I am simultaneously comforted by the beautiful truth that abundant love, joy, and hope are present all around.  I see it in the faces of heroes and heroines known and unknown that represent and defend the power of women to change the world.  I hear it in the cries of our young people advocating for change.  I feel it in the urgency of the times, the insistence that a better way of living together is possible and must be found.  I wholeheartedly believe that role of leadership especially that of women in the Church at this time is to proclaim in the face of anxiety and despair that God is… love is… hope is…  We are called to be bearers of hope.

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Erin Hawkins

My journey of leadership within The United Methodist Church began as a child whose discipleship and leadership formation started at a very early age. At Christmas and Easter, I was given a speech to memorize and recite in front of the congregation. Every day as my parents would drive me to preschool, then kindergarten, and then elementary school, the routine during these times of year would be the same, “Put on your seat-belt and let me hear your speech!”  When Easter or Christmas Sunday would come I knew to stand erect, lift my head, and project because there were numerous “coaches” in the church, mostly women, who “educated me” in the finer points of oratorical exposition. I laugh as I think back to those sessions that at the time felt like pure torture. One year, after reciting a particularly long and complicated speech, not typically given to one of such a young age, one of the elder church women came to my mother and said, “That girl is gonna’ be somebody!” The seeds of leadership were planted. This story may resemble the story of many people raised in the church but it is particularly representative of the Black Church experience. The Black Church, one of few havens for African Americans enduring slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, segregation, and the legacy of systemic discrimination and racism that continue even today, was and in some places still is the fertile soil where the seeds of gifting are nurtured and refined.  And while my childhood during the 1980’s seems far removed from those difficult historical realities, the culture and legacy of excellence in the Black Church was alive and instilled into me. Laywomen played a critical role in my development.

I moved from Christmas and Easter speeches, to serving as liturgist during worship, to participating in my local, district and conference MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). My senior year in high school, I was the speaker for the youth service at the California-Pacific Annual Conference.  My experiences would eventually lead me into the world of diversity where wonder and creativity as well as conflict, division, and disappointment were sure to find me.  Through it all, those early lessons – stand erect, lift your head, let your voice be heard would hold me in good stead.

After college and graduate school, I moved to Washington D.C. to work as a staffer for a member of the US Congress. My professional aspiration was to have a career in politics (an aspiration I now realize I have unwittingly succeeded in fulfilling as a General Secretary in The United Methodist Church!). While working as a Legislative Assistant, I was writing a grant application to the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) for my home church back in Los Angeles, CA.  I reached out to one of the Associate General Secretaries of GCORR at that time (Ms. Constance Nelson Barnes) for assistance with the application. Connie was a lay person when we first met via phone conversation.  At some point during our multiple exchanges she informed me that she would soon be leaving the staff and encouraged me to consider applying for the position she was vacating.   I applied and in nothing less than what I believe was a move of the Holy Spirit, I was given the job. I was a lay woman in her early twenties, with no prior General Church experience when I became an Associate General Secretary of a General Agency. I had no professional contemporaries at that time and those early years were tough as I learned “on the job”.  There were many people- male and female, clergy and lay- who mentored, encouraged, and assisted me as I grew as a church leader.  The number of laywomen, however, who nurtured the seeds of leadership within me by helping me as well as challenging me are too numerous to count or to name here. They gifted me with courage, confidence and a thick skin so that when the time for me to assume the role of General Secretary came, I would be ready.

Looking back over my journey to this point, I am clear that as a young child reciting her Christmas and Easter speeches, not only was I being formed as a leader, I was a leader.  I was a leader because through the expression of my gifts I gave the people in my church family hope.  Hope that the struggles they endured for access and opportunity would not be in vain.  Hope that the next generation would indeed take the baton and carry it on the next leg of the race, striving for the liberation of all people.  Those early childhood experiences have done more to cultivate my leadership and to open doors for me than most of the formal leadership development experiences I have had.  I say this because for every opportunity that I have been given in this church, a door had to first be opened in my mind and heart which would allow me to step into the possibilities being presented to me.

In every church all over the world there are young girls and boys whose gifts of self-expression are yearning to the recognized and nurtured.  Girls in particular face daunting obstacles to charting their own course and fulfilling their God-ordained destiny.  In my opinion, one of the greatest things that The United Methodist Church can do to cultivate, affirm and engage lay women’s leadership is to be a global movement reminding girls and young women to stand erect, lift their heads, and let their voice be heard. We must encourage girls in every way we know how, to stand in the sure knowledge that they are worthy, valuable, honorable, and able. We must celebrate young women so that they know how to hold their heads high when others seek to diminish them in any way.  We must carve out time, space, opportunity, and protection for women to express themselves and their leadership in ways that are authentic for them rather than insisting that they do it in a way that is acceptable to the status quo.

There is no better time than now to take on the task of encouraging and lifting up the importance of the leadership of laywomen of all ages.  There is a cloud of fear and anxiety that is currently enveloping our church and I believe that laywomen are in a prime position to be bearers of hope in the midst of despair.  Laywomen who have historically been the engine behind the Methodist movement that established the schools, hospitals, missions, community centers that met the needs of people all over the world are a vital resource as the church seeks to find its way toward being a movement again.  No matter the fate of The United Methodist Church as we know it, a new reality and way of living together as the body of Christ and the human family, indeed another world, is on the way.   We are on edge but we are also on the edge, of something new and beautiful.  I believe women hold the key to the future and we will assist in the birthing of this new world when we stand erect, lift our heads, and make our voice heard and as we teach our children to do the same.


Ms. Erin M. Hawkins is General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR). Ms. Hawkins is dedicated to building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people by providing practical resources and support to leaders throughout the Church to help them engage and embrace the cultural diversity present in our congregations and communities. Ms. Hawkins works to share lessons in creating holy relationship with God by, “holding in tension our capacity for greatness that calls us, as Christians, to persevere in the struggle toward becoming our better selves, and to combat our worst tendencies, of racism, sexism, and classism.”

Ms. Hawkins earned her master’s degree in Organizational Development from American University in Washington, D.C., and her master’s degree in Public Policy from Indiana University. She credits these educational opportunities in providing her with an awareness of how system processes can perpetuate the sin of racism and carry from the local to the global arena.

“…the Church and I are stronger for it.”

by Judi Kenaston

I am on a plane on my way to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and chatting with my seatmate who asks why I’m going to Africa. I give her my brief answer, “I am a United Methodist and we have churches all over the world. I am going to work with other United Methodists to plan how we are in ministry with one another.” But the question makes me think, how did I, a laywoman from West Virginia, end up on this plane on my way to Africa?

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Judi Kenaston

My first realization of service beyond my local church came in college where I was involved with campus ministry. My campus pastor, the late Rev. Martha Loyd, was a pioneering supporter of women in ministry and the first leader of our Conference’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women. I didn’t know that then – I just knew that she was the first woman I’d ever known in ordained ministry. Martha nominated me to be on the Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry. Eight inches of snow meant my first scheduled meeting was changed to a conference call. I remember sitting on my bed listening to strangers I could not see conduct a wide-ranging conversation about full-time and part-time ministries, and hearing words for the first time like “apportionments” and “payout shortfalls.” The next meeting came at the end of the semester. It was several hours away, I didn’t know anyone going, and I was busy preparing for finals, so I considered sending my regrets. And then a laywoman on the Board called and told me she’d pick me up and take me to the meeting (I don’t recall her asking!) After that, Miriam always checked to make sure I had transportation and that she expected me to attend. I also recall eating a meal with the board in a restaurant and ordering the smallest dish I could afford. No one had told me that the cost of meals would be reimbursed. Even so, having cash available was a challenge for a college student!

Marriage and graduate school took me out of the conference for several years. When I came back, I was asked to chair the Division of Campus Ministry. So at age 29 and a mother with young children, I was responsible for the coordination of our conference’s five full-time campus ministries. Our conference didn’t provide childcare at the time (they do now!) so I had to be creative in order to make site visits and meetings. I learned a lot about leadership and accountability by being a young woman in a church still dominated by men.

I went to Annual Conference and began seeing where I could plug in. I wrote for the Conference newspaper; I was part of the Resolutions Committee; I assisted the Conference Secretary. I headed a task force to update the Parsonage Standards, turning the church on its head by recommending that our churches no longer provide furniture. I learned about negotiating through passionately opposing positions – a skill that would become useful many more times. When our conference chose a quadrennial Stewardship Emphasis, I was asked to recruit and chair that group. During this time, Bishop Ives nominated me to become the Conference Secretary, replacing Dewayne, a clergyman who had been conference secretary for 30 years. As he moved into retirement, he mentored me along the way and never hesitated to show his pride that I was the first layperson and the first woman to be conference secretary in our Annual Conference. Now I’m one of the longest-serving Conference Secretaries in the denomination (although not challenging Dewayne’s 30 years!)

In 2004, I was elected as a reserve delegate to General Conference and in 2008, I was elected for the first time as a delegate to General Conference and also an 8-year term on the Commission on General Conference, including four years as chair preparing for General Conference 2016 in Portland. My world suddenly got bigger. I met and worked with so many people while chairing the Commission. When I stood on the platform to welcome the delegates in Portland, I was overawed by the sea of faces. But I was also amazed by how many of the people I knew without the aid of name tags! And I held in my pocket notes of support from people that had been nurturing me along the way.

I have a great deal of respect for the people I have worked and served with – women, men and young people who came from backgrounds wildly different from mine but who love The UMC. We didn’t always agree, but when I sat at the table I began to see that my voice mattered: That a laywoman from a small conference has something to say. I have learned so much I didn’t know: about The UMC, about our faith, and about listening to God’s voice in the midst of the pressing matters before us.

It has been my joy to work with and encourage other women of all ages and from many places to speak up and be heard. Being a leader isn’t always easy. Sometimes the tasks we are given suit our natural inclinations and we are well received. Many times we are asked to do things that push us well beyond our comfort zones and there are certainly moments of discouragement. When I pray Wesley’s “Covenant Prayer,” I ask to be employed or laid aside in whatever way best serves God. Even so, I am sometimes surprised and amazed at what is put before me. The work I have done would not have been possible if I hadn’t been given an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and then be supported when the road wasn’t easy.

I’m so grateful for the many areas where I have been able to serve. I love campus ministry, but I am glad that it wasn’t assumed that was my only interest. If I had been asked to list all the areas I would like to serve when I was 20, I doubt I would have known what to include. I’m pretty sure that there are things I have done that I would NOT have included because I didn’t know that I was capable in those areas. I’m glad that no one put me in a box and made me stay there! Are we looking for women, lay and clergy, whom we can nurture and support for the future UMC? Are we taking care of impediments to their serving, such as childcare, transportation and helping them feel included? Do we offer travel reimbursement without making a young mother feel like she’s being selfish? Do we remember to tell the college students how to be reimbursed and make sure they can pay the money upfront? And, perhaps most importantly, are we giving her time to grow into her position and at the same time accepting that she already has something to offer, even without previous official experience?

Now the plane is landing in Abidjan where, as a member of the Connectional Table, I will meet with the Committee on Central Conferences Matters to talk about the proposed general Book of Discipline and how that impacts the US churches and their decision making. Although I’m prepared, for a moment I feel alone. But then I recognize that I am surrounded by those people who have nurtured, encouraged and trusted me: a campus pastor, a determined laywoman, a retiring conference secretary, a former chair of the Commission on General Conference, an entire Annual Conference, several bishops, my sisters and brothers around the world that I have come to know as friends. We all get off the plane together and the Church and I are stronger for it.


Judi Modlin Kenaston grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, one of four sisters in an active United Methodist home. She earned a B.A. in Counseling and Rehabilitation and an M.A. in Education. She has taught in a variety of settings. She has been active in the West Virginia Annual Conference for her entire adult life. Since 2002, she has been the Conference Secretary and Journal Editor for the Conference. Judi and her husband are also certified in Marriage Enrichment leadership.

Judi was elected a lay delegate to General and Jurisdictional Conferences in 2008, 2012 and 2016, and as a reserve to General Conference in 2004. She served as Head of the West Virginia Conference delegation in 2016 and in preparation for the Special Session in 2019. She was elected to the Commission on the General Conference in 2008 and served as the chair of the Commission from 2012-2016, planning the General Conference in Portland, OR. She currently serves as vice-chair of the World Wide Nature Working Group of the Connectional Table.  In the Northeastern Jurisdiction, she has served on the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee since 2012.

Judi met her husband, Joe, at a West Virginia United Methodist high school youth camp and they were married six years later, proving that occasionally church camp romances DO last! They have been married for 36 years and have three grown children. They have lived in Chicago; Manchester, England; and several places in the West Virginia Conference, where Joe now serves as a district superintendent. Judi is a member of United Methodist Temple in Beckley, West Virginia. She enjoys spending time at their camp on the Greenbrier River, walking the dog, backpacking and adding pins to the map showing places the Kenaston family has traveled.

A Laywoman’s Journey

by Ruby L. Blake

As I look back over the many years of service at Union UMC and the New England Conference, my first leadership role was as Church School teacher.  I taught Church School because I had young children and I felt that I needed to help out. A few years later, I was asked to take on the role of the Superintendent of Sunday School.  I served in that role for several years.

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Ruby L. Blake

During my participation in conference-wide activities, I learned of a district-wide Lay Academy that was held for laity interested in becoming Lay Servants.  I took the Basic course for Lay Servants and became a Local Lay Servant. I continued to take several advanced courses to become a Certified Lay Servant. In the meantime, I was asked by the pastor of our church to become the Lay Leader, which I accepted. During those times spent at the Academy, I was approached by the District Superintendent to become a Co-District Lay Leader.  In this role, I not only helped to plan the Lay Academies and other trainings conference-wide, but I also taught the Basic course for many years.

In earlier years, Lay Servants were encouraged to preach.  After attending the Lay Academy, I knew from the beginning that my calling was not preaching. My strengths were, and still are, organization and helping others realize their gifts and strengths. I encourage other laity to participate in their local churches by chairing ministries and in chairing, own the ministry that they are doing.

These gifts have been further put to use in the past year. I have been appointed to the position of Co-Lay Leader of the New England Conference.  This allows me to work closely with the Conference Lay Leader and all of the other District Lay Leaders. We work to make laity strong and productive in all the churches in New England.

My leadership roles have been undergirded by my prayer life.  My belief is that all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me. Whenever possible, I participate in Bible study.  I am encouraged on a daily basis by my prayer partner and participating in a small group ministry.

It is crucial for there to be women in leadership at all levels of The United Methodist church.  For many years, women were not seen as leaders or there were certain positions and roles that were not open to them.  As we know, women are the backbone of most churches.  Whether the role is large or small, the women can be counted on to carry out the vision and tasks of their churches.

In order to do a better job of engaging lay women across all lines of The United Methodist Church, it is necessary to increase awareness and communication with the clergy.  If the clergy has a better understanding of the role of laywomen and the potential that they hold for churches, a larger number of women would be willing to step up and lead. Clergy also needs to be willing to support laywomen.

I would not have been able to lead and remain in a leadership role without the help and encouragement of the pastors of my local church.


Ruby L. Blake is the Co-Lay Leader of the New England Annual Conference. She attends Union United Methodist Church in Boston, Massachuttes. 

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?

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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. 

Women for Times Such As These

by Kathy Jacobs

When I was in high school, I attended the Lamon Avenue Methodist Church in the Austin area and then left the church for about 20 years.  When I returned to United Methodism it was at the Church of the Incarnation in Arlington Heights.

It was at that church when we got a new minister in 2006.  I attended his first Charge Conference as the Worship Committee Chair. In the Conference booklet, all the committees and chairs were listed. There was one committee—Committee on Status and Role of Women—where the chair position was blank. I inquired why there was no chair and was told no one would take the position.  I couldn’t believe it!  A committee about women and no one would chair it!

Kathy Jacobs, Lay Leader, Education Chair, and COSROW Chair at North Northfield UMC in Northbrook, IL

Kathy Jacobs, Lay Leader, Education Chair, and COSROW Chair at North Northfield UMC in Northbrook, IL

Everyone said, “You take it.”  I reminded them that I was already the Worship Chair, but by the end of the conference meeting I was the Committee on Status and Role of Women Chair.  I couldn’t stand the idea of the position remaining unfilled. At that moment, I didn’t even know what the committee was about.

All of the twists and turns that my life took and which I survived allowed me the confidence to step into the role of Committee on Status and Role of Women Chair without knowing anything about it.

Local Committees on Status and Role of Women fall under the direction of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, which is one of thirteen general agencies in the United Methodist Church. It is, I believe, unique to The United Methodist Church. I’ve done a little research and can’t find any similar organizations in any other denominations.

Looking to the General Commission of the Status and Role of Women for support, I pretty much designed the position in my local congregation as I went. I write a monthly newsletter article called “Women in the Church.” I cover international news, national news and my local church news highlighting achievements of women in the church and pointing out discrimination against women around the world. I also preach at my congregation every March, commemorating Women’s History Month.

In 2006, I attend the 50th anniversary of the granting of full clergy rights for women in The United Methodist Church. I got to see the women bishops march in singing “We Are Marching in the Light of God.”

I met and heard Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader preach. She preached about Esther. If you’ve never read the Book of Esther or it’s been a long time, read it tonight. Her story personally changed me.

To summarize: Esther was a young Jewish orphan living in ancient Persia. She was adopted and raised by her older cousin Mordecai. When King Ahasuerus announced his search for a new queen, he hosted a royal beauty pageant and Esther was chosen for the throne. Her cousin Mordecai became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa.

At this same time, the king’s highest official was a wicked man named Haman. He hated the Jews and he especially hated Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him.

So, Haman devised a scheme to have every Jew in Persia killed.  Mordecai learned of the plan and shared it with Esther and urged her to go to the King. However, any man or woman who approached the king in the inner court without being summoned was to be put to death unless the king spared their lives. At first she objected, but Mordecai said to her:

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14, NIV)

Then Esther said, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16, NIV)

Here is what her story means for all of us.  When you feel a call from God to get involved in a situation, but then hesitate because it may be too messy or too hard or too unpleasant, remember you may be the woman for just such a time as this.  We are all women for times such as these. Depending on the situation, you may take Esther’s declaration “If I perish, I perish,” literally or figuratively.

Keep in mind that God always has your back. As women of the church you must never be afraid. What we tend to do in the United States is to defer to those who have access to a microphone: athletes, politicians, actors, entertainers, journalists.  They have the right to their opinion, but they don’t have the right to have their opinion regarded as more important than yours. Your life is invaluable because you are a child of God.  Money, power, and fame don’t define you.

God created male and female.  He did not create male and secretary or male and waitress.  Jesus gave you beautiful things to think about and beautiful ways to behave.  He has filled you with love, compassion, and the spirit of forgiveness as you walk your spiritual path.

When you ask yourself, women of the church, “What have I contributed? What am I worth?” look in the mirror and smile and say with certainty, “I am priceless.”

This blog post is edited and condensed from a speech Kathy delivered to the Chicago Northwest District of the UMW on September 26, 2015.

Holiness in High Heels

by The Reverand Kelsey Grissom, Associate Pastor at Asbury UMC

On ordination night at North Alabama Annual Conference, you can find us together. We wear bright red shoes under our black robes and red stoles, and we call ourselves, “Holiness in High Heels.” There are eight of us; we are all ordained women, relatively new to ministry. But we have been in ministry long enough to realize that women pastors face unique challenges and frustrations. We meet together monthly to strengthen our skills as female leaders in ministry. Along the way, we have found support and encouragement for our journey as women in ministry.

North Alabama Annual Conference clergy women come together for covenant group they call Holiness in High Heels.

North Alabama Annual Conference clergy women come together for covenant group they call Holiness in High Heels.

My colleagues and I formed Holiness in High Heels in 2012, when our Annual Conference began offering grants for cohorts of new clergy to study practical aspects of ministry. We planned our group intending to study issues related to female leadership in the church. We believed this would benefit our own ministries by increasing our skill sets, but also benefit our Annual Conference by potentially impacting the retention rates of women ministers. After much discussion about our own ministries, the obstacles we had encountered, and our dreams as pastors, we decided our goal was “to identify key issues for women clergy growing in roles of senior leadership, and learn how to be seen as essential and successful in ministry beyond the stained glass ceiling.”

We designed a course consisting of six “modules” of study. Each module would require advanced reading of several books, group discussion, practice in our own ministry contexts and, finally, a meeting to discuss the results. Our grant from the Annual Conference would cover the cost of our books and consultations with experts in the topics we studied. Since we are appointed to churches in various districts throughout the conference, we agreed to take turns meeting in each district so that we could share the travel expense burden as well as see and experience each other’s ministry contexts.

For our first module we studied voice, presence and audio. Observing that women pastors often receive criticism that they can’t be heard well in worship, or that they need to “find their voice,” we decided to explore what it looks like to preach and lead meetings as women. We read books on body language to hone our visual leadership skills and spent a day learning how sound systems work (and experimenting with several) to learn how to best amplify our voices. Although most pastors do not go into ministry thinking they will become techies, we learned that a little knowledge of proper speaker placement and the church sound system can go a long way. After practicing our new skills and knowledge in our local contexts, we have all seen improvements in our ability to hold the attention of a room—whether a sanctuary or a board room—and be heard clearly.

Another module covered finances. Although several of us felt comfortable in the financial realm, we realized that this is an area in which women pastors (and women in general) are often perceived to be less knowledgeable. We met with mortgage brokers to learn about church debt, a financial planner to learn about our personal finances (and figure out how to read our UMPIP statements) and an experienced church administrator to learn best practices for money collection. Finally, we spent time with a successful executive pastor to glean his knowledge about successful capital campaigns and stewardship drives and what it looks like to think about money from the perspective of holiness.

Processed with Rookie

The remainder of our modules focus on conflict resolution, resiliency in ministry, organizing for leadership and exploring what Servant Leadership looks like for women. All of these modules feature relevant reading material and guidance from experts, but we have realized that the most important component to our time together has been the companionship of other women in ministry and the wisdom and experience we can share with each other. Women pastors often find themselves having to prove their competency again and again, so continuing education and fully-developed skill sets are a necessity. But in order to succeed in ministry we need more than just skills and knowledge; we need each other. I have been honored to be a part of Holiness in High Heels, and it is my hope and prayer that other women clergy will have access the opportunity to form similar groups, not only for their own well-being and success, but for the success of our mission in The United Methodist Church as well.