|Clergywomen of color build unity to build influence|
United Methodist clergywomen sing and celebrate during an opening procession of drums to begin the church's Racial-Ethnic Clergywomen's Consultation. About 300 women from six racial-ethnic groups participated. UMNS photos by Marta W. Aldrich.
By Marta W. Aldrich*
Jan. 14, 2008 | LOS ANGELES (UMNS)
Sharing stories of serving God amid the vestiges of racism and gender bias in The United Methodist Church, clergywomen of color convened for the first time in 25 years to worship, network and organize to build their influence within the denomination.
"This day, we finally acknowledge that there will be no systemic changes unless we are united as women of color," said the Rev. HiRho Y. Park, a leader with the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, to open the United Methodist Racial-Ethnic Clergywomen’s Consultation.
Almost 300 women attended the Jan. 3-5 event, sponsored by the Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Registered participants included 125 African-American clergywomen, 54 Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, 30 Hispanics/Latinas, 18 Native Americans and 10 Caucasians.
The clergywomen affirmed each other’s call into ordained ministry, discussed ways to recruit and nurture young women of color to answer that same call and spoke out against institutional racism and gender bias in the denomination.
"… There will be no systemic changes unless we are united as women of color," says the Rev. HiRho Y. Park to open the event.
They reviewed a 2004 study that found that United Methodist clergywomen of color in the United States do not feel substantive support from the denomination, struggle with lack of opportunities for appointments and visible leadership roles, and receive salaries lower than their male and female counterparts.
Leaders of churchwide agencies reported to the consultation on their efforts to address such concerns.
The Commission on the Status and Role of Women will spearhead a wider survey with other agencies during the 2008-2012 budget period on the status, salaries and career tracks of United Methodist clergy, specifically to compare racial-ethnic clergywomen’s status to those of white women, white men and men of color.
The Board of Higher Education and Ministry offers scholarships for women of color and is working with United Methodist Communications to develop a "Women of Color Scholarship" Web site. The board provides annual funding for racial-ethnic clergywomen’s associations and is supporting the formation of the Racial-Ethnic Clergywomen Coalition as a result of the consultation. The Women’s Division of the Board of Global Ministries is developing seminars to address ethnic clergywomen and institutional racism.
A unique voice
Clergywomen expressed that part of their calling into ordained ministry is to speak to critical issues––ranging from poverty to immigration to discrimination to family life––with sensitivities based on personal experience as women of color.
Delivering the sermon at the opening worship service, Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Phoenix Area urged people in the United States to love immigrants as children of God.
"God has found a brand new way to speak to issues of the day, and it is through you and me, women of color," said Carcaño, the only female Hispanic person serving on the church’s Council of Bishops. "For some it is too radical a way and too radical a word, but it is God’s way and God’s word."
"God has found a brand new way to speak to issues of the day, and it is through … women of color," says Bishop Minerva Carcaño in her opening sermon.
The United Methodist Church has approximately 1,050 racial-ethnic clergywomen in the United States among its 45,000 U.S. clergy members, which includes more than 10,000 clergywomen.
Given those statistics, consultation participants said it is easy to feel isolated as a clergywoman of color in the denomination. Many receive cross-racial appointments as associate pastors in churches that are white or predominantly white.
They called for more frequent churchwide racial-ethic meetings and other initiatives to nurture women of color pursuing theological training. The last churchwide gathering was held in 1982.
The 2008 consultation gave birth to an association for Asian American and Pacific Islander clergywomen. The association approved by-laws and elected officers on Jan. 5 as Wisconsin Bishop Linda Lee blessed the group at the event’s closing worship service. Associations already exist for other racial-ethnic clergywomen in the denomination.
"I truly believe that God is starting a new thing, and starting the association is great news for Asian American-Pacific Islander clergywomen and the wider community," said the Rev. Motoe Yamada, a Japanese American who was elected vice chair of the group.
Positioning for leadership
Speakers urged the clergywomen to position themselves for appointment and election to denominational leadership roles in the future, from the regional conference level to the church’s boards and agencies to the Council of Bishops.
"We are seeing a trend toward excluding people of color from the tables where decisions are being made," said Erin Hawkins, chief executive of the church's Commission on Religion and Race.
Bishops Linda Lee and Beverly Shamana share a laugh prior to opening worship.
There is less diversity, she said, among U.S. delegations heading to the 2008 General Conference, the top United Methodist legislative body which meets this spring in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition, many bishops have no racial-ethnic representation on their cabinets, she said. And the Council of Bishops will lose two of its African-American bishops––Violet Fisher and Beverly Shamana––to retirement in 2008, leaving Carcaño and Lee as the only racial-ethnic women among active bishops.
"I challenge us as a collective group of women of color to work to elect both an Asian woman and a Native American woman to be our next bishops," said the Rev. Colleen Chun, a Korean American serving Trinity United Methodist Church in Pearl City, Hawaii. "I know that will not happen unless we are unified in spirit and in power."
In jurisdictional meetings, some participants explored building coalitions and supporting candidates to the episcopacy across racial-ethnic lines. The goal, they said, is finding leaders who can serve the whole church, including people who are oppressed and marginalized.
"The church needs these voices at the leadership table," said M. Garlinda Burton, chief executive of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women, in an interview with United Methodist News Service following the consultation. "It is a different council because we have women and people of color at the table. The sensitivities are different; the perspectives on evangelism are different. There is no way a white man can speak for and really understand all the struggles, complexities and cultures of people of color."
The Revs. Ingrid Wang (from left), Motoe Yamada, Nizzi Digan and SungJa Lee Moon are officers of the new United Methodist Asian-American/Pacific Islander Clergywomen association.
While the presence of racial-ethnic men on the Council of Bishops is critical, Burton said they do not speak to the total racial-ethnic experience. Women of color elevate the conversation, she said.
"It’s one thing to talk about Jesus walking with people on the margins and the oppressed. But someone who has actually lived on the margins can interpret that message and speak it in a way that’s very different. We have a unique perspective of the Gospel that is vital to our core understand of what Jesus Christ is all about."
*Aldrich is news editor of United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Status of United Methodist Racial-Ethnic Clergywomen Report
Racial/ethnic/gender statistics for The United Methodist Church
Board of Higher Education and Ministry
Commission on Religion and Race
Commission on the Status and Role of Women
United Methodist Clergywomen
Council of Bishops