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. 

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When I Changed My Mind…

By Linda Bales Todd

When I was a youth, I went to church every Sunday morning as well as to every Sunday night youth group. Ohmer Park United Methodist Church was my home church. I loved this church and all who worshiped there. Many of the members of Ohmer Park were like my second family. I, along with my two sisters, was baptized at Ohmer Park. Later in life, I, too, was married and had our two sons baptized in this special place in the heart of Belmont, a blue-collar neighborhood in Dayton, OH. I trusted the people at Ohmer Park and felt loved.

Like most Christians, reading the Bible was something I did.

If one were to ask whether I had a favorite scripture passage, I’d have to say I have two: Psalm 139 and Luke 18:1-8. Psalm 139 is magical, loving, and filled with assurances that God is with us from the very beginning and would be forever. A sense of awe and gratitude runs through my veins when I read that God “formed my inward parts and knitted us together in my mother’s womb.” One could not imagine a more intimate verse in the Bible – a verse that, indeed, causes me to “praise” God and know that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.” When reading this scripture, I feel special and loved, or, according to Henri Nouwen, “beloved.”

In Luke 18:1-8, standing up to those in power to challenge the injustices of the day is the call of the widow. Her boldness reminds me of an actor who takes on the “bad guys” and wins the day by some grand act of will and courage. The widow is bold as she makes her case for justice and keeps “coming” to the judge begging him to do what is right. She is a strong woman standing firm on a belief that she, indeed, is worthy and is loved and is “made in the image of God.” Jesus’ use of women in his stories was not unusual – women who, in that day, were seen as “less than,” marginalized and powerless. Jesus, the Son of God, loves women, too, by valuing and trusting them to lead others for righteousness sake.

During Sunday school as a youth, we studied about God and viewed different artists’ renditions of God. Typically, the renditions were always older, wiser-looking men with beards usually white and long. God was “Father.” God was a male image that permeated the Holy Bible and bestowed upon humanity both judgment and love. I dutifully prayed the Lord’s Prayer, which began as “Our Father.” I read scripture after scripture that referred to God as “Him” and believed every word of it. God and Jesus were one with the Holy Spirit, which, I suppose made all three of them “male.” I believed every word of that, too.

In 1972, after the birth of my first son, I joined United Methodist Women, an organization that changed my life. It was as if I found another home – one where I felt affirmed as a woman and trained and valued as a leader. My mind was stretched by educational initiatives on issues that mattered most to me at that time – theology, spirituality, world realities about women and how they struggle for wholeness, and how to bring balance to being a mom and working for justice at the same time. It’s amazing how one finds such life in a community – life that empowers one to seek answers, seek truth and ways to be a critical reader of everything including the Bible! And, it’s also amazing when an organization and a strong community of “believers” can cause one to shift one’s thinking.

Those scripture passages I loved so much, where women were truly valued, became woven into my heart affirming that certainly God had to be something other than “Father.” It no longer made sense to me. Changing my mind about the image of God didn’t come through some sudden act of transformation like a lightning bolt. Rather, it happened through my interactions with women and men theologians who viewed the Bible in the cultural context of the day, which was centered in patriarchy and power. Through this, I claimed a more expansive understanding of God. Believing that God had feminine qualities such as a “mother hen,” God “giving birth” made sense if I, a woman, was really created in God’s image!

The scales continued to fall off my eyes after reading, “Words that Heal, Words that Hurt,” a UMC publication telling the damage language can do when using male language for God, especially to women who are victims of domestic violence. How can she relate to a male God when a male has just levied emotional, psychological or physical damage to her body and soul?

Now I rarely use pronouns to describe God due to their limitations. I resist falling back into that pattern of restrictive language whether it is the spoken or printed word. I no longer pray the Lord’s Prayer as “Our Father,” but as “Our God”.

I changed. I moved from being a passive bystander and accepter of a historic theological dogma to one who more clearly grasped the vastness of God’s being and meaning in the world. This awakening was a catalyst for my professional journey as a social justice advocate for women around the globe. My strength, confidence and self-esteem were magnified through claiming a larger God. It is what I hope for all God’s people – women and men. This evolution of seeking the truth to life’s questions has created a new human being who has found greater love, sustenance and affirmation through a God who is, in reality, beyond description.

Linda Bales Todd is retired and a member of the West Ohio Annual Conference

Images of Liberation and Life

IMG_0345_2By Rev. Vicki Flippin

Last year a photo was taken of me leading a worship service. When I saw the photo, I was mortified. My first thought was her BARE FEET! While our church is pretty “come as you are,” few of our parishioners are brave enough to discard the shoes—until, in the frantic crazy of getting an infant out the door in time for worship, we celebrate if we manage the essentials for a summer day: onesie, pants, diaper. Had we known she would be photographed, we might have added shoes, but we do the best we can.

My first reaction to the photo from that day was embarrassment about the bare feet. But, as the adrenaline of Sunday morning wore off, I began to feel some serious shame. The moment was a result of frantic desperation. My head pastor was away so I was leading the service on my own, along with teaching a pre-service class and attending a post-service meeting. Usually on those days I would leave the baby with a few bottles and I would take a milk-pumping break after the sermon to relieve my breasts of their painful and symbiotic longing for my baby’s hungry body. But this day there was no time for a break. And a hungry baby and full breasts in worship meant that this happened – I had to nurse her while leading worship!

As I stood in front of the congregation, we were all a little dazed by the unfamiliar moment. I stumbled over my words, distracted by the assumption that the church was reevaluating the ideal of putting women in charge.

My constant companion, Self-Doubt, had a lot of questions about my behavior that day. Why did you have to nurse in front of your parishioners? So what you are telling them is when the senior pastor is on vacation, they are left with you, someone who can’t get her act together? Why did you agree to lead worship if you can’t manage your time? A male pastor would have never been in this situation.

Life after baby has felt like an endless stream of impossible alternatives. Strip baby naked on subway platform or continue long journey home with poop all over baby’s clothing, skin, and stroller. Eat or sleep or shower. Interrupt baby’s meal (Screaming!) or lead worship while breastfeeding.

Life after baby has overwhelmed me. In fact, in the first few months, it felt less like life and more like death. I gave birth last year during the first week of Lent and made my first appearance at church with the new baby on Easter Sunday. The time in between was spent huddled in what felt like a dark, eternal tomb. My body was torn, bloodied, burning, cramping, and completely disoriented. My mind was in shock from the birth and in desperation from the sleep-deprivation. And each careful tip-toe out of my apartment with this creature, now so vulnerable on the outside of my body, was terrifying.

So I experienced Easter that year as a time of picking grave clothes off of my reanimating body and taking those first steps out of my postpartum tomb.

But even as I started to get more comfortable physically leaving my apartment, I was still terrified of being out when the baby’s hunger cry began. Breastfeeding was a choice I had made long before the birth, but I simply hadn’t thought through how I would really feel feeding my child in public.

My BFF, Self-Doubt, had her fair share of opinions. People are going to stare. Teenage boys are going to snicker. Old men are going to recoil. And “lactivists” are going to judge if you show any sign of weakness!

And then there was that liberating, progressive alternative for working mothers: the pump. I HATED this machine. I felt like my professional office was turned into a milking barn every few hours. And I always felt like more time was sucked in that milking barn than milk. (I have long had a fantasy of recreating with my pump the scene in Office Space in which a group of employees takes a printer out into a field and violently destroys it with a baseball bat.)

Needless to say, while I chose to do it, I have had a somewhat ambivalent relationship to breastfeeding and mothering generally. And it has all been inseparable from the realization I have been making since first trimester exhaustion that, no matter how much we talk about equality between men and women, there are in fact real physical differences in the experiences of men and women who produce biological children—differences that can affect their work and careers. Women who get pregnant and have children cannot avoid some of the biological impact on their career. While men have a choice in how much burden they will take on or how much time they will take off, women’s bodies are actually changed and broken and exhausted in the process of creating a baby. And that has often felt completely unfair and infuriating to me.

And then this photo was taken – Another humiliating reminder that women sometimes have to make more impossible decisions.

I shared the photo on my personal Facebook page, hoping to defeat Self-Doubt with some encouragement from a few other close friends. Some encouragement turned into an outpouring of strength and solidarity. One professor friend even asked to use it as an illustration for her sexual ethics class! For me, that image was a reminder of the shame, the isolation, the tomb of my postpartum experience. But, as affirming comments and emails poured in, I was able to see my public, breastfeeding self through the eyes of other women clamoring for images of leadership and religion that reflect the reality of the female experience. And, to my surprise, that image of embarrassment was transformed into a reminder of the rising sisterhood of mother-priests supported by empowering communities that are transforming our patriarchal shame into a celebration of the gifts of the feminine.

Transforming images of shame and isolation into images of liberation and life is the Easter work of God. The cross is one such transformed image. Today we string it around our necks, bedazzle it, accost it with stage lights, and hang it with dramatic mounting techniques. But, to understand the real meaning of the empty cross on Easter morning, we must understand that in Jesus’ time it was a symbol of oppression, fear, and shame. So the fact that the Christian community now reveres this instrument of God’s death, lifting it high, surveying its wonder, points to the true miracle—that God can always turn what is oppressive and shameful in our world into salvation.

Today when I look at that photo of me breastfeeding in front of the congregation, I do not see the shameful and oppressive burden of breastfeeding and mothering that I once felt. Instead, because of communities that have supported me and cheered me on, God has transformed that image into a reminder of the great privilege I and many other women have of nourishing our children in such intimate, healthy, and even public ways. If more communities were vocally supportive of working mothers, how many other images of women could be transformed from visual symbols of our struggle to signs of liberation and strength?

As we adorn our crosses, once a symbol of oppression, with Easter lilies and pastels this week, I find myself wondering what other struggles, injustices or shame in our lives and in our movements are about to be turned into signs of salvation and victory for ourselves and our sisters, daughters, and granddaughters!

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! (And so shall we rise!)

unnamedRev. Vicki Flippin serves as Pastor of Social Justice, Intergenerational, and Exploring Faith Ministries at The United Methodist Church of the Village in New York City. She is passionate about LGBTQI equality, racial justice, and the future of the progressive church. Along with many years of work with Methodists in New Directions and her conference Commission on Religion and Race, Rev. Flippin was named this year Co-President of the Board of the Methodist Federation for Social Action.

Week 5: Sermon Resources for Women’s History Month

For Women’s History Month 2015, GCSRW is pleased to offer a series of sermon preparation notes and resources written by Rev. Hyemin Na and following the lectionary texts for March. PDFs of the sermon notes are also available here.


WEEK 5: March 29, 2015

Lectionary Texts

Liturgy of the Passion: Isaiah 50:4-9a | Psalm 31:9-16 (UMH 764) | Philippians 2:5-11 | Mark 15:1- 39 (40-47)

The Passion of Christ Sunday

The cross was used by the Roman Empire to suppress any form of resistance against its rule, against its values, against its ways. Whatever and whoever would speak or act out against its grip would be violently silenced. They were silenced publicly, in a dehumanizing and humiliating fashion, as an example for any who dare harbor seeds of dissent. The tortured, beaten and stripped bodies were displayed on crosses lining the main roads leading into cities. These bodies were left out for the wild animals and birds to tear, rip and peck at, adding to the shame on these individuals and their respective communities. It was a fierce political weapon used by the powerful, by the ones who benefited most from the status quo. The cross represents what humans do to one another, individually, societally, and systematically, in complex webs of fear, hatred, abuse and violence.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.20.52 PMRight and wrong, innocence and guilt were determined by human authorities who had conflicting and self-serving standards of ethics. Jesus, who lived by a different compass point, manifested in his words and actions the blindingly brilliant realm of God and was, therefore, condemned for punishment. His teachings and ministry were too radical, upsetting and threatening to both religious and political authorities.

The passion narrative is a rich and disturbing tapestry of the human condition and the corruption of human relationships. The passion narrative is one of jealousy and deep insecurities (15:10), ignorance (15:14), cowardice, indifference, and neglect (15:15). Contempt and callousness are themes found throughout as well. We wince and grieve at such sadistic violence dealt out to any living being.

The Passion Narrative Plays out in 2015

The instruments of shame and death may have changed, but the gruesome reality of the “cross” persists. Our black and allied communities in the U.S. are still outraged by the double standards of “justice” we witnessed in Ferguson, where certain lives were deemed dispensable because of the color of their skin. The Boko Haram has massacred thousands of innocents. Their marauding armies are fronted by dispensable child soldiers who are trained to kill other children, women, and men indiscriminately. Over 200 female students from Chibok, who were abducted by this terrorist group, remain missing more than a year after their kidnapping. Many influential leaders in the Japanese government adhere to a revisionist approach to history which denies a history of “comfort women.” In so doing, they minimalize the Imperial Japanese Army’s role in kidnapping 200,000 to 300,000 girls and women from occupied countries and forcing them into sexual slavery. According to the World Health Organization, one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse during their lifetime, and gender-based violence against women continues to be one of the most common forms of human rights violations.

Crosses are strewn across towns, villages, cities and nations today. Bodies, beloved, exquisitely created, bearing the sacred image of God, are brutalized in many forms. In the busyness of daily living, many in our congregations are not present for Holy Week services. What is Easter if one skips directly from the triumphalism of Palm Sunday into resurrection? We must be reminded of the extent and horror of human sin that manifest in our midst. It is important for our congregations to name evil for what it is and to recognize its existence and prevalence.

We cannot begin to comprehend Easter joy and resurrection hope until we, as a Church, weep with those who weep and shake in anger at the injustices that bind and silence lives. In the hearing of the Passion narrative, we mourn; we repent of any complicity in the workings of oppression, and confess to our willful ignorance. For those in the Church who have been victimized in any way, the Passion narrative is an affirmation of the victim’s side of the story. Jesus knows, and understands. And when the Passion narrative is retold, the Church is galvanized to uncover the truth hidden in the victor’s embellishments, the perpetrator’s active erasing, the oppressor’s version of history. The Passion narrative pushes the Church beyond the privilege of remaining oblivious.

Creative Sermon Ideas

It will be difficult to preach from this Sunday’s text, as it is too long. For several years I have had dynamic readings of the Passion narrative in its entirety. Consider letting the drama of the story lead the congregation through worship and providing a brief theological framing for the congregation. You may also want to follow up such an intense worship with concrete recommendations for individuals, small groups, and/or the congregation to pursue as part of their response. It may be powerful to show carefully and thoughtfully selected images that coincide with the Passion reading as well. No matter what form of worship is created by the people of your congregation, instruct all to depart with the full understanding that God is on the side of the oppressed, and shares in their pain, even unto death.

May all know that God does not condone violence but would subvert the cross to expose the frailty of human systems of “justice.” This will set the tone for what is to come—Easter vindication of life.

Sources Consulted

Bartlett, David Lyon and Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Vol. 2. Louisville: WJK Press, 2008.

Beavis, Mary Ann. Mark, Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011.

Kim, Seong Hee. Mark, Women and Empire: A Korean Postcolonial Perspective, The Bible in the Modern World. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010.

Kinukawa, Hisako. “Women Disciples of Jesus (15:40-41; 15.47; 16.1).” In A Feminist Companion to Mark, edited by Amy-Jill and Marianne Blickenstaff. Levine, 171-190. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2001.

Visual Resource

The “Gallery” section of The Peoples’ Companion to the Bible includes an insightful collection of images related to the cross. The commentary provides a helpful lens in assessing the ideological assumptions behind religious images that we or our congregations may take for granted.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.16.07 PM

DeYoung, Curtiss Paul, Wilda C. Gafney, Leticia A. Guardiola-Sáenz, George “Tink” Tinker, and Frank M. Yamada. The Peoples’ Companion to the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.


Hyemin Na, a cradle Methodist, is an ordained Elder in the Northern-Illinois Conference and is currently a Ph.D. student in Homiletics at Emory University. She is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (M.Div) and Harvard (A.B.). She is interested in exploring how preaching is done faithfully and well in our postmodern society, with an ear on the ground for the voices of religious “nones,” and an eye out for visual culture. She makes her home in a suburb of Atlanta with a couple of old time prophets: Daniel, a fellow UMC Elder and spouse, and Elijah, of her womb.

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.”

Week 4: Sermon Resources for Women’s History Month

For Women’s History Month 2015, GCSRW is pleased to offer a series of sermon preparation notes and resources for the month of March. Written by Rev. Hyemin Na and following the lectionary texts for March, the sermon preparation notes and resources for the fifth Sunday of March will be posted to our blog on March 22nd. PDFs of the sermon notes are also available here.


WEEK 4: March 22, 2015

Lectionary Texts

The Path of Jesus

As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, and the signs and wonders revealing his identity stack up one by one, the inevitable collision between the ways of God and the ways of “the world” draws near. The raising of Lazarus was the final draw for the religious authorities, who were concerned that the more popular Jesus became, the more their already vulnerable communities would become targets of the ire of a powerful Roman Empire (John 11:48, 53). The more pronounced God’s reign becomes in the life and ministry of Jesus, the more Jesus and his followers draw the attention from those who profit from the status quo. In this narrative context in John, “the world” (kosmos) symbolizes not God’s good creation but instead represents the systems of human institutions that thrive on cycles of fear and violence. It is “the world” that would prefer the darkness and shun the light (3:20). The “hour” has come for the “Human One” (CEB) to be glorified.

This glorification is a rich process. It will involve the judgment of the world that judges falsely (12:31). The world—again, the manifestation of human sin, in the form of Empire, corrupt institutions, etc.—will “lift” Jesus up as an example of what happens to those who dare uncover its hypocrisies, its oppression and injustice. Jesus will be lifted on the cross—the penal instrument of choice for the Roman Empire. And yet it is in this very moment of judgment that humanity’s attempt at “justice” will in turn be judged. God will expose the cross for what it is—an injustice, and will exercise power to subvert the intentions behind the cross and bring about resurrection. Jesus will be lifted, ultimately, through the resurrection. The resurrection will be the final word, the final judgment on the current “ruler of the world”—evil and death (12:31).

Jesus will Press on the Path of Light, of Love, of Life

Jesus will press on the path of light, of love, of life, even when this existence causes a threatened world to lash out in violence, anger, and fear. Unless a seed falls and dies, buried and silent in the soil, there will be no further growth. The seed will remain, abide, alone. Yet when it dies to its isolated existence, life will abound and multiply. When a follower “dies”—chooses to relinquish—to a way of being that is dictated by the values of “the world,” she or he embarks on living the true life, abundant and flourishing (10:10). Who knows what God brings about from such a life!

This past Christmas Eve, my grandfather, a pastor in the Korean Methodist Church, passed away peacefully in his sleep. While celebrating his life of integrity and faithfulness, our family’s reflections turned to his mother, Deaconess Jung-Sook Lee. She was the spiritual seed of my dad’s side of the family. Her courage to live as a disciple of Jesus changed the spiritual trajectory of her husband, her children, her children’s children—and by God’s grace, the fruits of her discipleship continue to ripen in my generation.

Spiritual Seeds

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.00.44 PMBorn in 1907, my great grandmother grew up in a small, rural village in the midst of a brutal Japanese colonial rule. At a revival gathering held in the village, she committed her life to Christ. Despite her husband’s opposition (at times involving violence) great grandma Lee would take her children by the hand and continue attending church. In 1947, she and two other women began a prayer meeting in a small room provided by a local school principal. When this school principal moved away, on a frigid February in 1948, great grandma Lee started a church in her own house, and called it Oh-Ga Church. This Methodist church continues to thrive as a community of believers today. Over the course of its history, this little country church produced a bishop, and many other leaders in the Korean Methodist Church.

Great grandma Lee’s six children all began their faith journeys under her guidance. Of the six, in particular, a son and a daughter(!) graduated from the Methodist Seminary. The son—my grandfather, would eventually serve as bishop. Even great grandfather Na, who initially sought to keep his wife away from church, repented of his ways and received Christ into his life. Great grandmother died young at the age of 49, after painfully struggling with cancer for many years, shortly after the end of the Korean War. In her living, however, and despite her death at such a young age, my great-grandmother became a seed of faith. It is flabbergasting to consider this soft-spoken woman’s grit and courage: women were not supposed to do what she did, back then, and with so few resources. God had a higher calling for her, and in response, great-grandma Lee died to the life her society, time, and place demanded of her. She chose to live unto God instead.

Jesus told his disciples that when he was lifted up from the earth, he would draw all people to himself (12:32). He sure did. The Jews, and the Greeks (Gentiles). Great grandma Lee was among those drawn unto him, and she, the first seed, brought a cluster of us along with her. Thanks be to God.

I don’t have a picture of great grandma Lee. She is said to have been a kind woman, who was known among her neighbors to be generous and caring. Older family members remark that I got my eyes from her. I’m happy to be a little sprout off her seed.

Who is your spiritual seed? Who are the women in your life who model discipleship for you and for others?

Sources Consulted

Bartlett, David Lyon and Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Vol. 2, Louisville: WJK Press, 2008.

Culpepper, R. Alan, and Gail R. O’Day. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Volume IX : The Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John.

Visual Source

What is women’s work? This notecard/poster by Mary Lynn Sheetz is an inspiring visual play on who is considered a “disciple” of Jesus. Many sermon illustrations will be found in the examples of these women. In different ways, the women featured here lived their lives to God and became as good as dead to systems of oppression, hypocritical status quos, and cycles of violence. Here is a collection of fruitful seeds: (from left to right) Dorothy Day, Mary Luke Tobin, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mary of Nazareth, Thea Bowman, Ita Ford, Priscilla (of the New Testament), Ruth Fitzpatrick, Catherine of Siena, Edith Stein, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Teresa of Avila.

Used with the gracious permission of artist, Mary Lynn Sheetz, 2015. http://www.alterni-tee.com

 


Hyemin Na, a cradle Methodist, is an ordained Elder in the Northern-Illinois Conference and is currently a Ph.D. student in Homiletics at Emory University. She is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (M.Div) and Harvard (A.B.). She is interested in exploring how preaching is done faithfully and well in our postmodern society, with an ear on the ground for the voices of religious “nones,” and an eye out for visual culture. She makes her home in a suburb of Atlanta with a couple of old time prophets: Daniel, a fellow UMC Elder and spouse, and Elijah, of her womb.

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.