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Record number of clergywomen delegates to attend ‘04 assembly

By J. Richard Peck*
7/10/2003

News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

This report may be used with UMNS story #356.

The percentage of clergywomen at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church will continue to rise following the election of delegates to the 2004 assembly in Pittsburgh.

A record 34 percent of the 400 clergy delegates from the United States will be women. This figure compares with a recent report that 18.5 percent of all active United Methodist clergy are women.

United Methodist News Service analyzed data on the delegates to develop a profile of the church's top lawmaking assembly in terms of diversity, first-time participants and other characteristics. The research was based on reports filed by the U.S. annual conferences as well as additional information provided by conference communicators.

At the 2000 gathering, 27.8 percent of clergy delegates from the states were female. That compares with 22.5 percent in 1996; 18 percent in 1992; 15 percent in 1988; and 8.9 percent in 1984.

The percentage of laywomen delegates from the United States will remain at 51.1 percent, a figure that is identical to the 2000 report. In 1996, 52 percent of the lay delegates were women, and in 1996, the figure was 53.1 percent.

The percentage estimate for the 2004 meeting is based on reports of 787 of the 800 delegates to be seated at the quadrennial meeting set for April 27-May 7. Percentages from earlier General Conferences are based on surveys by the General Council on Ministries.

Eight hundred of the 994 voting and nonvoting delegates to the 2004 General Conference will be from the United States. A total of 184 delegates will be from other countries, and an additional 10 fraternal delegates - with voice but not vote - will attend from other Methodist denominations around the world. The number of non-U.S. delegates is up 32 from the 2000 General Conference because of an increased number of judicatories and church members while a number of United States annual conferences have merged and overall membership has declined.

Annual conferences from the North Central Jurisdiction will have 164 delegates, down 18; Northeastern Jurisdiction, 144 delegates, down 18; South Central, 170 delegates, up 10; Southeastern, 278, up eight; and Western, 44, down 12. The number of fraternal delegates will remain the same as last quadrennium: Methodist churches in Great Britain, four; the Caribbean and the Americas, two; Mexico, two; and Puerto Rico, two.

First-time delegates

Veteran delegates to the quadrennial assembly are well aware of how quickly they need to act in order to wade through more than 2,000 different proposals filed by some 12,000 groups and individuals. New delegates are tempted to linger over complex or controversial proposals and will frequently want to extend debate.

An estimated 42.6 percent of the U.S. delegates will be attending their first General Conference. That figure is based on a comparison of people elected to the 2000 meeting with the 787 delegates reported to date. It should be noted that some of these people may have attended previous General Conferences or served as alternates to the 2000 meeting. Certainly many of them have been delegates to jurisdictional conferences.

According to a GCOM survey, 38 percent of the delegates in 2000 were first-timers. That figure compares with 43.7 percent in 1996, 42.5 percent in 1992 and 33.8 percent in 1988.

Youth in attendance

The youngest delegate, based on responses received from conference communicators, appears to be Ryan Bostdorf, 14, of Central Pennsylvania.

At least two 15-year-olds will be seated in the Pittsburgh assembly: Allison Mitchell, a high school student in the Florida Annual Conference, and John F. Howard, a high school student in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference delegation. Howard will be joined in that delegation by Courtney L. Russ, 18, and Matthew T. Sink, 18, both recent high school graduates. Sink was a certified lay speaker at age 14.

The East Ohio Annual Conference will have two delegates under 19 years of age: Phillip Kerlin, 18, and Matthew Laferty, 17. They will be joined by Stephen Yoost, 22, in the 20-member delegation.

Other young delegates include; Kathy Connolly, 16, West Ohio Annual Conference; Jonathon Riss, 16, New York Conference; Morenike Irving, 18, Mississippi Conference; Ben Adams, 17, North Carolina Conference; Beth Randall, 17, South Georgia Conference; and Joel Pier-Fitzgerald, 17, West Michigan Conference.

With detailed reports on 540 delegates, there are 17 people under age 18 (3.1 percent) and a total of 37 delegates under age 30 (6.6 percent). Last quadrennium, 3.09 percent of the delegates were under age 30 (6.5 percent of laity and 0 percent of clergy).

Longtime delegates

At least four delegates will be attending their eighth General Conference. They are Joetta Rinehart, a development director based at Lake Junaluska, N.C., with the Western North Carolina Conference; the Rev. F. Belton Joyner, a retired clergyman with the North Carolina Annual Conference - the first retired clergyman to be elected from that conference; the Rev. Minerva Carcano from Oregon-Idaho, who represented the Rio Grande Conference at earlier assemblies; and J. Taylor Philips, a Georgia state judge, who will join the South Georgia delegation.

Rhoda Peters, a Kentucky Conference clergywoman, and James Logan, a Virginia Annual Conference clergy delegate and professor at Wesley Seminary, will be attending their seventh session.

The New York Conference will send an experienced delegation as five members of that 14-member group will be attending their sixth national gathering: the Rev. Randy Nugent, the Rev. Jane Middleton, Ernest Swiggett, Shirley Parris and Beth Capen.

Other delegates planning to attend their sixth General Conference include: the Rev. David Wilson (Arkansas); the Rev. Marcus Matthews (Baltimore-Washington); the Rev. Philip Brooks (West Ohio Annual Conference); and Phillip Connolly (West Ohio).

Deacons and ethnic minorities

With detailed reports on 540 delegates, there are nine deacons and five diaconal ministers.

Eighty-seven delegates are African American (16.6 percent); 20 are Asian American (3.7 percent); 21 are Hispanic American (3.9 percent); and seven are Native American (1.4 percent). Two are Haitian Americans, and one is an East Indian American. In 2000, 12.4 percent of the delegates were African American; 3 percent were Asian American; 2.2 percent, Hispanic American; and 0.93, Native American.

Historic elections

Memphis Annual Conference made history when it elected its first Hispanic clergywoman as a member of the delegation. That conference also nominated the Rev. Liana Perez-Felix for the episcopacy.

Iowa reported that it elected its first African-American clergywoman in its 160-year history. The Rev. Celestyne DeVance will occupy that position.

Arkansas elected Dr. Bill Scurlock, a surgeon who has participated in several mission trips and once conducted surgery by the headlights of a truck.

Many delegations elected a high percentage of cabinet members or annual conference staff members. Western North Carolina, for example, elected seven clergy and one layperson who are superintendents or members of the conference staff. Fifteen of the 24 are women.

North Carolina reports that 10 of the 11 lay delegates were elected on the first ballot, a new record. That conference also reports that for the first time a clergywoman was elected on the first ballot. The Rev. Hope Morgan Ward holds that distinction. It took 17 ballots to complete the clergy delegation to General and jurisdictional conferences.

Carcano will be Oregon-Idaho's first Hispanic delegate.

It's unusual for clergy to elect an entirely new slate of delegates, but Nebraska will be sending four clergy delegates who were not members of the 2000 delegation. Three of the four lay delegates served in the 2000 delegation.

Alaska Missionary Annual Conference has only two delegates, but it reports that it elected its first clergywoman and its first male lay delegate.

North Central New York Annual Conference elected a woman who has only been a United Methodist since 1992. Sharon Bassett, wife of a United Methodist pastor and the conference lay leader since 2000, was elected on the first ballot.

All in the family

Nearly every General Conference provides the opportunity for a couple of family members to spend 10 days at the site of General Conference.

This quadrennium, the Rev. Timothy Riss will join his 16-year-old son, Jonathon, as members of the New York Annual Conference delegation.

Missouri will send another father-son team. The Rev. Brent Mustoe will be accompanied by his son, Adam.

Two brothers from Mississippi will sit at the same table in Pittsburgh. The Rev. Bill McAlilly, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Tupelo, will be joined by his brother, Steve McAlilly, a member of the same church.

The delegation from West Michigan Annual Conference will include a mother-son team. The Rev. Lynn Pier-Fitzgerald, a district superintendent in the conference, will be sitting near her 17-year-old son, Joel, a high school junior. Last quadrennium, Lynn was accompanied by her daughter Erin, also a student.

From the Detroit Conference, the Rev. Terry Euper, assistant to the bishop, will be joined by his wife, Jackie, a lay delegate.

Iowa will send the Rev. Barrie Tritle, a district superintendent, and his wife, Kae, a diaconal minister. Sitting with the same delegation will be Inez Dawes, mother of fellow delegate Jessica Ireland.

Arthur Jones will join his father, the Rev. Scott Jones, in the North Texas delegation. Arthur, a member of the churchwide Board of Discipleship, was elected on his 19th birthday. His father occupies the McCreless Chair of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. In the same delegation, Mary Brook Casad, a laywoman attending her fifth General Conference, is the sister of the Rev. Clayton Oliphint, pastor of First Church in Richardson, Texas, a delegate to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference.

The Rev. Albert Shuler, Elizabeth City district superintendent, is a delegate from the North Carolina Conference; his wife, Dr. Jimmie Shuler, a physician, is a member of the lay jurisdictional delegation.

West Ohio will send a father and daughter and a husband and wife to Pittsburgh. Phillip Connolly, a contractor, will be joined by his daughter, Kathy Connolly, and Kathy's brother, Michael Connolly, is the first lay reserve for that conference. The Rev. Philip Brooks and the Rev. Gloria Brooks, a clergy couple, will join the Connollys.

Another clergy couple, the Rev. Thomas A. and the Rev. Sally O. Langford, will represent the Western North Carolina Annual Conference. Josefa Bethea, daughter of the late Bishop Joseph Bethea, will serve as a lay delegate from that conference.

A brother-sister team of Haitian-Americans will sit with the Florida delegation. The Rev. Jacques E. Pierre will be joined by his sister, Judith Pierre-Okerson.

Well-known delegates

One of the lay delegates from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference will be well known to most of the delegates from the United States. Mike McCurry, former press secretary for President William Clinton, will be part of the lay delegation from that conference. He said he didn't know how difficult politics could be until he became the Sunday school superintendent for St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Kensington, Md.

The Rev. Rebekah L. Miles, a clergy delegate from the Arkansas Conference and assistant professor of ethics at Perkins School of Theology, is the daughter of former clergy delegate the Rev. John P. Miles, who will be remembered for offering colorful ways to end debate at many General Conferences. "It's time to call the cattle home," he'd say. Or: "This kettle of fish is cooked." Each time, he would find a more colorful way to get the assembly to vote instead of continuing an endless discussion.

Other well-known delegates include Bill Scott, chair of the Bio-Ethics Committee of the churchwide Board of Church and Society (Mississippi Conference); David Beckley, president of Rust College (Mississippi); Gloria Holt, president of the United Methodist Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders and person named to deliver the Laity Address (North Alabama); Heather Elkins, professor at Drew University (West Virginia); Peggy Johnson, national leader in deaf ministry (Baltimore-Washington); the Rev. Frank Trotter, pastor of "the nation's church" Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Washington; the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, president of Asbury Seminary; the Rev. Myron McCoy, senior pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Chicago at the time of his election, and now president of Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo. (Northern Illinois).

Five top executives of United Methodist general agencies were elected to serve as delegates: the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, (Central Texas), Board of Discipleship; the Rev. Joseph L. Harris (Oklahoma), Commission on United Methodist Men; the Rev. Chester R. Jones (Arkansas), Commission on Religion and Race; the Rev. Charles Yrigoyen Jr. (Eastern Pennsylvania), Commission on Archives and History; and the Rev. Randy Day (New York), Board of Global Ministries.

The Rev. Randy Nugent, former top staff executive of the Board of Global Ministries (New York), and the Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett, former general secretary for the Board of Church and Society (North Central New York), were also elected.

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* A retired clergy member of the New York Annual Conference, Peck is a four-time editor of the Daily Christian Advocate for General Conference and editor of the 2000 United Methodist Book of Resolutions.