The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women is talking with women and men across The United Methodist Church to gauge the progress of its work for “full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church.”
It’s clear – even this early in the process – that much remains to be done before women are “sharing fully in the power and in the policy-making of all levels of the Church’s life,” as called for in the Book of Discipline (¶2102).
The GCSRW board, meeting Sept. 19-21 in Chicago, heard reports from listening sessions at conferences of the Black Clergy Women of the UMC and the National Association of Latina UM Clergy Women (ALCAMEN), and at a training session for district superintendents and directors of connectional ministries.
An important component of the BCW event was celebrating trailblazers such as the late Leontine T.C. Kelly (see video), the UMC’s first African-American woman bishop, said GCSRW board member Rev. Cathy D. Mitchell, pastor of Wesley UMC in Johns Island, S.C.
Mitchell said black clergywomen asked GCRW’s help in training pastors to address questions about their leadership and authority, particularly when the pastor is the first woman in the role. They also suggested a Bible study curriculum to foster better understanding and acceptance of women in pastoral leadership, she said.
The women attending the ACLAMEN conference also enjoyed sharing their stories, said Liz Lopez, a retired elder and former GCSRW board member who reported to the board on that conference.
It’s difficult to get a handle on the number of Latina clergy, however. Church records indicate UMC has 82 active Latina elders and deacons in the United States, two of whom serve as district superintendents.
Lopez said Latinas are more likely to pursue ministry as licensed local pastors, often for economic reasons, but the church does not have statistics on how many there are. And annual conferences do not have the budgets to provide many training opportunities for them, she said.
GCSRW General Secretary Dawn Wiggins Hare said the agency is looking for opportunities to hear from other groups. Listening sessions are scheduled with Native American and Korean clergywomen, she said, and the agency is working with the Board of Women’s Work in the Philippines on some leadership training sessions next year. Hare also encouraged board members to work with their annual conferences’ Committees on the Status and Role of Women to host listening sessions in their areas so more laywomen’s voices can be heard.
The board also heard some early results of a rhetorical survey on the language United Methodists use in talking about God. After the survey closes and other research is completed, the staff will be developing curriculum or other resources on language.
Since 1972, GCSRW has been charged with monitoring, research, education and advocacy to eradicate sexism in the United Methodist Church. Its 19-member board includes two bishops, three men and representatives from four conferences outside the United States.
The board will meet again next March in Baton Rouge, La.