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. 

Cultivating the Roots of Best Practices

By Becky Posey Williams, GCSRW Senior Director of Advocacy and Sexual Ethics

WISDOM

ODonohue PhotoA tree is a perfect presence. It is somehow able to engage and integrate its own dissolution. The tree is wise in knowing how to foster its own loss. It does not become haunted by the loss nor addicted to it. The tree shelters and minds the loss. Out of this comes the quiet dignity and poise of a tree’s presence. Trees stand beautifully on the clay. They stand with dignity. A life that wishes to honor its own possibility has to learn too how to integrate the suffering of dark and bleak times into a dignity of presence. Letting go of old forms of life, a tree practices hospitality towards new forms of life. It balances the perennial energies of winter and spring within its own living bark. The tree is wise in the art of belonging. The tree teaches us how to journey. Too frequently our inner journeys have no depth. We move forward feverishly into new situations and experiences which neither nourish nor challenge us, because we have left our deeper selves behind. It is no wonder that the addiction to superficial novelty leaves us invariably empty and weary. Much of our experience is literally superficial; it slips deftly from surface to surface. It lacks rootage. The tree can reach towards the light, endure wind, rain, and storm, precisely because it is rooted. Each of its branches is ultimately anchored in a reliable depth of clay. The wisdom of the tree balances the path inwards with the pathway outwards.

–John O’Donohue (Eternal Echoes)

Rwth Anne Fuquay, a UMC elder in the Florida Conference recently shared the above writing of John O’Donohue. It is not unusual that I would resonate with most, if not all, of what he has to say. This piece was no different. I love it. As I read it, I was keenly aware of my work at The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women who, alongside the UMC Interagency Sexual Ethics Task Force, are preparing for the next UMC sexual ethics summit, “Do No Harm: Best Practices for Health, Wholeness, and Accountability.”

This event gives each participant the opportunity to go deeper as individuals and collectively as the church, committing to look the problem and prevention of sexual misconduct within church settings/ministry in the eye. Through plenary sessions and workshops which range from addressing accountability and healing, transparency in communication, to exploration of our family of origins and the impact of setting healthy boundaries, may we truly honor the limitless possibilities to integrate the dark times and the bleakness that is the landscape of this problem.

May we choose to develop best practices that are rooted in Methodism and reflect a path of “do no harm, do all the good you can.”

May we never forget who we are and our call to live from a place of integrity and respect.

I hope you will join us October 15-17, 2015 at the Crown Plaza, O’Hare location in Chicago. To see the full agenda and workshop descriptions and presenters and to register go to www.gcsrw.org/DoNoHarm2015.

Wendy Davis and the importance of community support

By Audrey J. Krumbach, GCSRW Director of Gender Justice and Education

It’s pretty hard to process all of the news from the last few days, so I’m only going to focus on one woman and her 13-hour filibuster in the Texas Senate. Regardless of what you think of Wendy Davis’s position on the abortion bill, her amazing perseverance is something to be admired.

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Wendy Davis

Heroes who take bold stands never do so in a vacuum:  Davis is the first to acknowledge the people who supported her and encouraged her to succeed.   At 19, she was a single mother when a coworker encouraged her to pursue a paralegal degree at a local community college.   This small act of encouragement was the catalyst that set her on the path to graduating with honors from Harvard Law School. Davis also cites quality public education, scholarships and college loans and vital supplements to her own hard work on the path to becoming a Texas senator and successful Fort Worth lawyer.

Before beginning her filibuster marathon, designed to delay a vote on some tough abortions restrictions until the legislature’s special session had ended, Davis knew she would need support. Texas’ rules on filibusters, stronger than those of the federal government, required her to stand up (no leaning) and to speak without a break and without straying from the topic.  So she wore running shoes and had a colleague prepared to hand her a back brace if she needed it (she did, after eight hours). Political advisors had lined up supporters and spread news of her efforts through an amazing social media network.  Twelve minutes before midnight Davis was ruled out of order and had to give up the floor.  Without missing a beat, Senator Leticia Van De Putte and gallery observers picked up the baton and completed the last few steps to the finish line (with a question followed by fifteen minutes of chaos and shouting which prevented the continuation of business).

Wendy Davis has an amazing story, and I think it challenges us to notice the mentors, friends, scholarships, schools and community who made it possible for her to become a politician with the courage to stand up and speak against a bill for 13 hours.   When we acknowledge the myriad of people, groups, and cultural foundations for Davis’s greatness, we take responsibility for encouraging the next strong woman leader who will stand up for all she believes in.  Davis could not have accomplished her feat without the colleague who helped her with the back brace, Van De Putte’s followup question, the shouting crowds, her campaign committee, the quality public education, community college, and scholarships.  The list continues on and on.

Where do you fit into that story? Perhaps you know a young woman who seems to be that unmarried teenage mom needing help.  Maybe your property taxes have gone up to support the local school system and you need to be involved in the school board or other local politics.   It is not that you have to care about everything and fix everything, but where are you doing your part to encourage and support young leaders – men AND women?