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. 

Generation Transformation

By Laura Wise

Like many of my peers in the millennial generation, I want to change the world; and I have chosen to live this out through Generation Transformation, the young adult missionary programs of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

The Generation Transformation program is one that every young adult in the church should know about, especially young women. The mission field is a place where young women can grow personally and socially through faith and justice. It is a place where young women can explore their calling and vocation. Mission is a place where I and many other young women have been able to hone in on our gifts and talents.

As I quickly approach the end of my three-year commitment to missionary service, I find myself reflecting over all that I’ve learned.

Answering the call

I remember four years ago when I first felt my “call”–a call to something bigger than myself. Believe it or not, giving up my life of fashion and design in Los Angeles to move to the Philippines in mission wasn’t a particularly hard decision for me to make. I seem to have an insatiable appetite for wanting more out of life, so I trusted in God that there was a lesson for me to learn along the journey on which I was soon to embark.

Learning to serve in different environments

Spending 18 months in the Philippines working on peace and human rights taught me more than I could have ever imagined. I spent months at a time in rural communities, some with no electricity or running water. Growing up in a suburb of Dallas did not prepare me for these experiences. I learned to adapt to my surroundings, to different cultures and customs and to unfamiliar language.

The Philippines, eventful as it was, still couldn’t prepare me for my next and current phase of mission: 18 months in the concrete jungle of New York City. Yet again, I had to adapt to mission in a new setting. I’m no longer working with rural communities; rather now I’m working with highly populated urban communities.

I have a dual placement here in New York. I am a writer on the content team at Global Ministries/United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). I’m also working as the community engagement coordinator for a local emergency food pantry, Hope for our Neighbors in Need (HNN), a ministry of Church of the Village United Methodist Church, New York, N.Y.

At Global Ministries I’ve found true passion in my work. Every day I have the privilege and responsibility of sharing the stories of United Methodist missionaries serving all around the world. At HNN I work directly with the clients that come into our food pantry and community meal every Tuesday and Saturday. Living and working in such a diverse city has taught me how to be in community with others, not ignoring our differences, yet using them to build bridges of tolerance and understanding.

Committing to missions

There are three core values of the Global Mission Fellows program. The program encourages all fellows to engage, connect and grow wherever we serve. I’ve learned that to engage in community is something that I must do at all times, such as getting to know the individuals and establishments in my neighborhood. I connect the church in mission by exposing all those I come in contact with to the young adult missionary programs of the church. I have also grown in personal and social holiness; I’ve taken the Creator out of the box I had placed God into.

I’ve come to realize that after my time as a commissioned missionary has expired, I will still be involved in mission work. Although I’m not yet sure of my plans after the program, I am pursuing opportunities that will allow me to further God’s mission of justice and equality in the world. Being mission-minded is a lifetime commitment that I will continue to live out.

Encouraging others to get involved

If you or someone you know–specifically a young woman–wants to make a difference in the world, keep the Generation Transformation programs in mind. Changing the world takes much energy, so why not engage in a program that is sustained by something greater than us? Step out on faith and allow mission service to change your life.

Check out the Generation Transformation programs here: www.umcmission.org/gt and/or free to contact me directly with any questions you may have: lwise@umcmission.org

Laura WiseLaura Wise is young adult missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. You can read more about Laura at http://www.umcmission.org/Explore-Our-Work/Missionaries-in-Service/Missionary-Profiles/Wise-Laura

Women in My Faith Journey

By Bishop Patrick Streiff 

Women have been influential in my faith journey, as have been men. I grew up under very mixed influences. On my mother’s side, we were Methodists, on my father’s side, Roman Catholic. My mother was more extrovert and emotional, my father more introvert and rational. My mother went to church every Sunday; my father stopped going to church when he left home. My mother had a deep, loving relationship to her Saviour; my father had a lot of critical questions towards all the Catholic tradition he inherited. He was thoroughly a scientist. My brother and I grew up in this mixed environment. We heard the Bible stories and went to children’s Sunday school. Once or twice a year, we had a lot of fun in larger children camps organized by the local Methodist church in the Swiss Alps. But it was not evident at all to grow in faith in adolescent years. It was in the aftermath of ‘68.

In children’s Sunday school, we had women and men teaching in a good mix. But the pastors were all men at that time. In my teenage years, I remember the appointment change in my local church. The new pastor was much younger and had better pedagogical skills for teaching catechism. We had good, lively discussions on God and the world. I do not remember details, but he caught my attention to seriously think about my own faith. Most persons who were role-models in my teenage and youth years in preaching, in teaching and in discussing faith-issues were men like him. But there was one exception.

I guess it was around age 15 or 16. I was much interested in questions of faith and I struggled to find meaningful answers to my questions. Would my initial, child-like love of Jesus, my Saviour, stand the test of reason, and add value and meaning in modern life? If so, it certainly had to be a liberating force. In the midst of this quest, a friend gave me a book which talked about Jesus. But it did so in different ways from what I had heard in Methodist circles. It presented a political Jesus, a Jesus who liberated those in captivity, and who was willing to pay the prize of his beliefs. I was fascinated in reading the book. I fully recognized the same Jesus whom I knew from children’s Sunday School, but with a new, larger, more wholistic dimension of his ministry. It convinced me that Jesus has not only come into this world for saving our souls, but also to transform lives and shape society.

Of course, other books were also influential, and input from other lay and clergy, pastors and bishops, Protestants and Catholics. They all helped me to discover and live myself into that reality which Paul describes that Christ has set us free for freedom, for a faith working through love (Galatians 5:1,6). Most other persons were men, but this one book was written by a woman theologian, Dorothee Sölle.

Streiff - PictureBishop Patrick Ph. Streiff was elected bishop of the United Methodist Church in Central and Southern Europe in 2005. Besides his service in this very diverse Episcopal Area, Patrick Ph. Streiff is chairperson of the “Geneva Consultation” for theological education and leadership development in French-speaking Methodism (especially in Africa) and of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. In addition he is a member of the Connectional Table, of the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church, of the Task Force of Theological Education and Leadership Formation and of the Task Force “God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action.”

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.

Mae Rachel Garwood Nelson

By Bishop Jane Allen Middleton

How do I choose just one woman who has been influential in my life? In fact, it has taken a village of women to make me who I am.

But if I must chose only one, it has to be Mae Rachel Garwood Nelson, my maternal grandmother. Born in 1898 to a Danish mother and an English/Pennsylvania Dutch father on a farm in Kansas, she was the oldest of four daughters. She was needed to help with her family and one of her great regrets was that she had to quit school at the end of eighth grade. But lack of education served to make her more determined to do something important with her life. She took a correspondence course from the University of Chicago (at least that is the family story, perhaps it was another institution in Chicago!) and received her certificate as a licensed practical nurse. She worked in her profession all of her life, for dentists, doctors and in private duty nursing.

She resolved that her two children, my mother and uncle, would have the opportunities she didn’t have. In spite of the reality that they reached college age in the depths of the depression, my mother received a degree from the University of Kansas and my uncle received a medical degree from that same school. At one point my grandparents moved to Lawrence, KS where they all lived together, my grandmother working as a nurse and my grandfather as a carpenter and all of them living together in order to save enough money to keep their children in school.

Anytime we had a family crisis she was there – my brother’s surgery, our mother’s illness, my father’s broken ankle, and the births of my siblings. She was never paid much, but each special occasion brought a loving card, a note, and a dollar from her. And she said although she knew she wasn’t paid much, the doctors she worked for were always generous in giving her time off.

My grandmother could talk to anyone at any time. Another of my favorite family stories was told by my uncle. My grandmother traveled to visit her family by train or by bus and she would always regale us with stories about the interesting and wonderful people she met on these trips. My uncle picked her up at the bus station one time and as usual she told him she had met a delightful woman on the trip. My uncle immediately asked, “And how is her mother?” My grandmother was well into an explanation about her traveling companion’s mother before she realized he had tricked her.

What my grandmother provided was a powerful foundation of determination, hope, love and faith. She was one who set goals and accomplished them. When my grandfather died suddenly at the age of 59, her life changed dramatically but she carried on. She had never driven in her life but with instructions from her friend, Jewel, she passed her driving test (she practiced in the cemetery and the only critique she received from the officer who tested her was that she turned corners too sharply!). After a lengthy recovery from a stroke, my grandmother had to leave her small home town at the age of 85 and move into elderly housing in Kansas City. She knew most of the other residents in no time.

My grandmother was everyone’s cheerleader, encouraging us, counseling us, and always helping us look for possibilities in the midst of trials. Her love was expressed by caring acts. Her faith was unshakable. One of my strongest memories was of her each morning sitting at her kitchen table reading her Bible with the Upper Room. She had a deep and real prayer life. And she was a faithful member of the Marion Evangelical United Brethren Church, which then became The United Methodist Church. I am grateful for the influence of Mae Nelson on my life.

Middleton - PictureBishop Jane Allen Middleton serves as Interim Resident Bishop of the New York Annual Conference. She was elected to the episcopacy in 2004 and assigned to the Harrisburg area where her focus as a bishop was on empowering churches for their ministry to make disciples of Jesus Christ; equipping clergy and laity for transformational leadership; and energizing the conference for mission near and far to bring hope and healing to the hungry, homeless, and marginalized.

Great-Grandma Williams

By Bishop Gary Mueller

Ada L. Williams was born in 1876 and, according to family lore, was related to Betsy Ross, Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island), and family members who owned land in “New Amsterdam” on which the World Trade Center was later built. She lived a long and healthy life, dying at age 97 in 1973.

I knew Ada L. Williams as Great-Grandma, although her more formal title certainly was Great-Grandmother. She was my mother’s grandmother and I loved her dearly, even though we spent only a couple of weeks together each year until her death when I was twenty. Indeed, my heart is still filled with fond memories of summer vacations with her at the shore in Jersey, the ducks on the pond in her backyard in Fair Bank, and the wonderful breakfasts she would fix every single day.

So exactly why did my Great-Grandma Williams make such a difference in my life? Quite simply, she was present in exactly the way I needed as I made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, took my first baby steps of living as a person of faith and wrestled with a call to ministry that, much to my chagrin, would not leave me alone.

All of this may sound rather routine and exactly the sort of thing you might expect to happen. Not so with me. For all intents and purposes, I grew up in an unchurched family. We would attend church sporadically, especially when we moved to a new community, which happened frequently. My parents, although very loving and supportive of my own faith quest, did little to nurture me into faith.

That’s exactly the breach into which my great-grandmother stepped.

This ordinary woman played an extraordinary role in my life during the formative first two-and-a-half years of my Christian journey. Not because she was physically present, but because she kept up a steady stream of correspondence that literally guided me, metaphorically walked alongside me, and sometimes dragged me as I started down the path of a journey I continue still today.

Sadly, I have been unable to locate those letters, of which there were probably 25 in all. So while I cannot remember the specifics, the letters from Great-Grandma remain with me, like many a dream I have had. I may not remember details or fully understand the dream when I awaken, but it is so real that I literally can feel it as it burrows deeply into my soul and lives there, often for years.

What I remember vividly about that correspondence—even if I can’t remember anything specific—is that letter after letter was filled with grace, encouragement, and profound wisdom about God. Ironically, if not surprisingly, I also remember that her letters were utterly transparent about her own struggles, questions, and shortcomings as she struggled to live her Christian faith. Perhaps it was her honesty that made her faith all the more powerful to me. When all is said and done, however, what continues to shape me is that my Great-Grandma loved me enough to invest in me by sharing God’s love, her love, and her heart.

I believe that angels are God’s messengers. And while my great-grandmother was a mentor, guide, and friend, she was more than that. She was an angel God sent to me for exactly the season I needed in exactly the ways I needed. And, when all is said and done, that is exactly what I will cherish—now, and for all eternity.

Bishop Gary Mueller

 

Bishop Gary E. Mueller was elected an episcopal leader of the United Methodist Church on July 19, 2012, and is assigned to lead the Arkansas Area. Bishop Mueller’s passion is leading spiritual revival that results in vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who then make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.

Does Your Husband…?

By Bev Marshall-Goodell

It always starts out innocent enough. “Our last pastor’s wife was the (unpaid) church secretary. Does your husband know how to use a computer?”

“No,” is my patient reply, “he doesn’t even have email.”

“Our last pastor’s wife played the piano for worship every Sunday. Does your husband play the piano?”

“No,” I continue, “but he does like to beat drum sticks on an oatmeal box.”

How many times have I been through this in new congregation? “No, my husband cannot direct the choir or teach Bible study or head up the church bazaar. No, he won’t be staffing the church nursery or taking charge of the youth group. No, he won’t be redecorating the bulletin boards or keeping the kitchen stocked with coffee for Sunday morning fellowship.”

Maybe single pastors never get this, but for some reason, many churches expect the pastor’s spouse to serve the church as part of the pastor’s salary. Perhaps there was a time when every pastor’s wife had the time and energy and inclination (though I seriously doubt it) to be unpaid servants of the church, but if there ever was such a time, that time has most certainly come and gone.

When the bishop appoints me to a church, my husband will go with me, but no church should expect him to an unpaid assistant who picks up all the responsibilities I am not able to take on. He will be a faithful church member who attends worship and study groups and an occasional church bazaar, but he does not wish to be in charge of anything at the church.

Women have been ordained as pastors in the Methodist tradition for more than fifty years, yet for some reason, churches do no know what to do with a pastor’s husband. It is bad enough when the problem occurs in a small rural church. It is even worse when it occurs in a large suburban church (experienced with clergy couples) that could not understand how their female pastor could be married to anyone except another pastor.

Unfortunately, our worst experience with came at a gathering for clergy spouses hosted by the bishop’s wife during annual conference. The event was announced well in advance, and clergy spouses were required to preregister in order to attend. The invitation announced that the event would include a meal, entertainment and special gifts for all the spouses.

When my husband arrived for the event, he was surprised to receive a gift bag filled with women’s cosmetics! He was not the only man in attendance, and after some quick scrambling, the host did manage to put together some more gender appropriate gift bags, but the damage had already been done. Now my husband jokingly introduces himself as “the pastor’s wife.”

I am not sure what kind of paradigm shift it will take for the United Methodist Church to live into the reality that women are pastors and men can be clergy spouses. Until that time comes, my husband will be skipping the clergy spouse gatherings and simply trying to be accepted as another member of a local congregation.

marshall-goodellBev Marshall-Goodell worked at The University of Iowa for 19 years conducting research, teaching and directing the Women in Science and Engineering Program before accepting a call to ordained ministry in 1998. She received her M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 2001, and served at Aroma Park UMC in Aroma Park, Ill,  and Ankeny First UMC in Ankeny, Iowa, before being appointed to Grace UMC in Tiffin, Iowa, in 2004.