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. 


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.

Redefining family ministry to match the real world

By Kentina Washington

For many working mothers such as myself, the period between the end of summer camp and the beginning of the school year creates a childcare quandary.  Do you take the week off of work to stay home?  Do you work out an arrangement with your manager to telecommute for part or all of the week?  Or, do you find alternative childcare arrangements which may end up being unreliable or cost-prohibitive?  Whatever made the most sense for your family, there was no getting around it – arrangements had to be made!

As families of all types settle back into the routine of work, school, and extracurricular activities, the church must think of new and innovative ways to respond to ‘the new normal,’ ever-seeking to meet the diverse needs of members to be actively involved and engaged in thriving and nurturing faith communities.

It’s no surprise to most of us that the definition of ‘family’ has evolved over the years from the historical model of a mother, father and children living together under one roof.  So why the firestorm in both mainstream and social media earlier this summer when the Pew Research Center released an analysis of census data that indicated, among other things, that 40% of American households with children under 18 now have a woman as the sole or primary breadwinner, with 37% of those women married mothers with incomes higher than their husbands?

With divorces; never-married, cohabitating couples; single parents; adoptions and the like, the landscape of the American family is changing rapidly.  Stay-at-home dads are no longer an anomaly, and many couples no longer adhere to ‘traditional’ gender roles in the care and keeping of the household and offspring, instead deferring to a model of negotiation that finds both partners as equal participants in the division of labor at home.  Additionally, the racial/ethnic aesthetic of the American family continues to change via interracial marriages and transracial adoptions.

Whether you live in a large urban metropolis or a rural small town community, the reality of the numerous changing trends in family systems is impossible to ignore.  Because church pews are filled directly by the communities in which we reside and serve, it is imperative that the church pay attention to these trends and use the data to make congregational spaces more welcoming and inclusive of all.  This will not only help in retention of members, but will also open the doors to attract new members, particularly those family units that have historically felt ignored or unwelcome.


Redefining Family Ministry: questions to consider

Ministry to Families with Breadwinner Mothers

What does our theology say (or not say) about working mothers?

  • Is the image of father as ‘head of household’ lifted up?
  • What roles or volunteer opportunities are women asked to do by the church?
  • Are educational classes or other programs scheduled at times that are convenient for working women?
  • Is childcare provided for evening/weekend meetings at church?
  • Is your church helping single working moms find affordable childcare in your community?
  • How are these changing roles affecting men in the congregation?  How is the church responding to that?
  • How are children with working parents helped to be made to feel included?  How are their specific needs/challenges being attended to?
  • Are children’s programs during the day, when kids whose parents work are unable to attend?
  • Are there programs during school holidays to support families whose parents need to work?

Ministry to Families with Stay-at-Home Dads

  • What does our theology say (or not say) about stay-at-home fathers?
  • What roles or volunteer opportunities are offered for men who stay at home all day caring for their children? (i.e. are we using ‘Mommy and Me’ language and thereby excluding men or other caregivers?)
  • How are men treated when they are in ‘children’s settings’ (i.e. Sunday school, nursery), etc?
  • How are the unique ministry needs of stay-at-home dads being attended to?

Ministry to Interracial Families

  •  Is your church welcoming to people of different races or ethnicities?
  • If your church is a mono-cultural church, how will it be accepting of people of other cultures that may want to pursue membership?
  • Are there training or educational lessons for church leadership if the composition of the church is changing?
  • What impact does a changing composition of the church have on the church?

These lists are by no means exhaustive and are instead meant to act as a guide to begin (or continue) conversations within your local congregations around these issues.  The familial configurations listed are but a snippet of the many and myriad types of family units in our communities today.  Reach out to your congregations and your wider communities and ask them what they want and need from a faith community.  Let’s continue to do the work to ensure that all families are welcomed, included, and nurtured in our churches!

Kentina Washington, who earned a master of divinity degree in May from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, worked as a GCSRW office assistant until late August, when she began working a residency in hospital chaplaincy.

A Time to Listen, A Time to Speak

By Elaine Moy

General Commission on the Status and Role of Women will be around for the next 4 years.  It was because of a judicial decision that the “Plan UMC” structure was unconstitutional, not because it was the will of the body, the 1,000 delegates in plenary.

The designers of “Plan UMC” said that the new structure was about accountability.  I also agree with accountability.  And I support gender and racial justice.  And there can be both at the same time, it isn’t one or the other.  When a group of people design a structure without including various parts of the denomination to the table, then there will be viewpoints missing.  That was why we want the table bigger to include the different voices.

By using Roberts Rules for conducting the plenary sessions, it was hard to determine what the hindering issues were for GCSRW and GCORR to be independent agencies.  Was it that these issues were not relevant for the delegates?  Was it because of money – which was the same amount with the structure change or not?

When looking at the demographics of US delegates who was in the plenary – it was easy to see what was missing from the US.  The delegates were mostly white, mostly older adults, mostly male and at least half had a household income of $100,000.  Do they represent the majority of UMC?  Can they vote to help the majority of the UMC or to move the UMC into a different place?

There were racism, sexism and classism running throughout the sessions.  Unfortunately there wasn’t time to unpack some of the episodes so all people can see how one situation can be interpreted many different ways.  And it is unfortunate that we as a global church only meet once every four years because normally in our daily lives, most people do not live in such a diverse community of people.  Therefore we do not know or understand each other lives and experiences.

Some delegates spoke about how they were saddened or upset by how the delegates were voting on important issues.  But some were silent, not wanting to speak out.  For a democratic process to work, all who can vote have a duty to speak up.  It isn’t about relying on others to speak for them, but for each person to voice their own opinion.

Some people felt that most of the votes were against women, people of color in the US, young people, homosexuals – people on the margins.  People who are not normally part of the “power” within the church.  The history of these persons are important because we didn’t all start at the same place – none of these groups had power, they all had to fight to get whatever power they currently have.  To think we are all equal and can be treated without any thought to where each group came from is to forget the realities in life for many people.  The only group of people that didn’t have to fight for their power was white men.

There was an Asian American young woman who was actively participating in her group.  After the vote was taken, an older white man told her that she was not a team player; she needed to go along with the group.  So do we want her to make the “year book picture” more colorful or did we want her because of her experiences and perspectives?  Would this encounter hinder her participation with future UMC related activities?

It was clear that the UMC wants to bring in more young people as clergy and in membership.  Do we think we will have more people within our churches by not listening to their experiences and their desires?  Do we believe people will join our churches to follow those before them without having any voice of their own?  We have been losing membership for the last 40 years, when the older adults were in leadership.  If we are to bring in more people, different people, we may need to start listening to them.

The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women has been and will continue to listen to women – young women, older women, white women, women of color in the US, women in Africa, Philippines, Asian, poor women, wealthy women, lay women, clergy women, working women, etc.  And help the UMC to be more inclusive of all women in the life of the church.

“I’m Not a Y’all; I’m a We”

By Garlinda Burton

In a conversation about possible restructure with a white, male U.S. delegate, I raised a concern about the fact that the agencies concerned with advocacy for inclusion of women and people of color (GCSRW and GCORR) were the only ones being recommended for merger and dimunition.

When I suggested the injustice of this issue, and the fact that the women’s advocacy agency budget is less than $1 million a year (only 1 percent of the World Service Fund that supports all agencies), my brother in Christ pointed at me and said passionately, “Y’all (plural for “you” in the U.S. South) need to put your interests aside and do what is best for the church!”

I was stunned for just a second, but I rallied. I replied, “I’m not a y’all; I’m a we.”

My response took him by surprise, so I explained, “You just referred to me as ‘y’all,’ like I’m outside the church. I’m reminding you that we—I drew a circle in the air to include him and me—“we all need to do what’s best for the church.”

In that exchange, I was reminded that, though I am a fifth-generation United Methodist, African-American women and leader in my congregation and denomination, I’m still viewed by the majority of my church—particularly in the Unites States—as “the other.” In the eyes of a United Methodist layman who shares my faith, I was reduced to a “y’all.”

The clear implication was (and is) that sisters and brothers from Central Conferences, U.S. people of color, members of the GLBTIQQ community, and women who assert equity and justice too vehemently are assumed to be self-serving and meddling outsiders.

But the God who created us, the Christ who redeems us, and the Spirit who guides us–this Holy Trinity—declares in one voice that all shall become one. Not that we all agree, not that we are all the same, and not that we all don’t have great gifts AND significant foibles.

Until and unless we embrace justice, equity and full participation of all, and until those in the majority or dominant culture, class, race-ethnicity, gender, economic status and language realize that “we” includes all people, Christians will continue to be viewed with suspicion, derision and mistrust. Unless our walk about inclusiveness begins to match our pious talk, the United Methodist Church will dissolve into an irrelevant, dead sect, as founder John Wesley warned us against.

So far, the General Conference has:
a) added another layer of bureaucracy to our general agency structure, which includes little attention to ensuring a place, particularly for young people and women of color;
b) eliminated guaranteed appointments for elders without instituting protections against gender/racial/age and other discrimination in the appointment process; and
c) collapsed the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women and the General Commission on Religion and Race into a single entity with no executive and less power to challenge and address bias.

People from beyond the United States, women, young people, and U.S. people of color were poorly represented among the major architects of proposals to restructure church agencies and chart the course for disciple-making and mission in the name of our God. White U.S. men, who are a minority in the world, are still clearly in charge.

Y’all, we need to speak up, lest our church become an exclusive, closed country club.

Being a Global Church is Hard Work

By Tyler Schwaller

After finally adopting rules of order to govern the proceedings of General Conference (as they were proposed by the rules committee), committee work began yesterday afternoon. I will be serving as a resource person from the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women for the Independent Commissions committee. This committee deals with petitions and resolutions related to the UMC’s commissions (GCSRW, Religion and Race, Archives and History, Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Communications, and UM Men), as well as ecumenical concerns.

Yesterday’s business involved electing officers. Once it got underway, the process went relatively smoothly. However, it was abundantly evident at the start that how we function as a global church is still a growing edge.

It’s hard enough to keep up with parliamentary procedures for English speakers. It must be extraordinarily difficult for those who follow translations transmitted through headsets, especially when people speak quickly and move swiftly from one action to another.

And how do one ask “Does everyone who needs translation have translation?” when the only language one knows is English, which is the language the people who needs translation doesn’t speak? It also took time to recognize that some delegates could not complete their first ballot because they didn’t know how to spell in English the name of the person for whom they wanted to vote; the names had been written on a sheet of paper in the front of the room, too small to see from the back.

I describe these scenes because we in the United States must be reminded that the United Methodist Church is a worldwide connection. We are used to conducting business in English among English speakers. But when we gather together with our sisters and brothers from around the world, patience and sensitivity must be exercised to the extreme.

I also share because I was moved by the efforts of a woman who is a board member of GCSRW and Women’s Division, along with a few volunteers from the Common Witness Coalition, who called attention to the needs of the African delegates. My fellow GCSRW board member said to me, “I know we’re not supposed to say anything from the gallery, but somebody has to make sure these delegates can participate!” By getting the attention of the pages and other voting delegates, eventually the issues were raised and the proceedings paused until the challenges could be addressed and all votes counted.

As the elections proceeded, it occurred to me what a beautiful thing it was that no one who spoke up for fair process hesitated to think about how those delegates might vote, to think about whether or not they’re “on our side.” The only issue that mattered was that all people be brought fully into the conversation and all voices be heard. Making room at the table was the first and only priority!

As Methodists, we are part of a tradition rooted in the idea that the right methods practiced over and over again, perfected through mutual accountability, will cultivate right attitudes and relationships. Being a global church is incredibly hard work! Therefore, may we practice inclusion again and again until our table is properly set and inviting for all.