"The United Methodist Church, even in 1976, recognized the importance of women as Christian leaders and ventured to ordain women. Imagine that!" says Dawn Wiggins Hare, top executive of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women since January 2013.
She recalls her college years when she accepted an invitation to join the choir at First United Methodist Church, Brewton, Alabama.
"Across town and across the creek (literally), from my new home church, the Rev. Jean Spikes served at East Brewton United Methodist Church. As a young woman who was blessed to be born to loving parents who stressed the equality of their three daughters and their one son, to my young adult eyes, here was equality in action by the church."
Although she did not grow up United Methodist, Hare credits her adopted denomination with recognizing her gifts and mentoring her as a lawyer and a church member. "The church has been my community, my family and the nurturers of my sons," she adds. "The women and men of the church … have guided my family's faith journey."
Now at the helm of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, Hare challenges "The United Methodist Church … to a continuing commitment to the full and equal responsibility and participation of women in the total life and mission of the Church, sharing fully in the power and in the policy-making at all levels of the Church's life." (¶2103, 2012 Book of Discipline)
The commission, especially by working with annual conferences, supports local congregations through leadership development, advocacy and education. Although The United Methodist Church is making strides toward equal participation of women in all areas of church life, the commission recognizes that much work remains so that local churches throughout the connection are vital arenas for disciple making:
- Would the congregation accept the appointment of a woman pastor?
- Does the local church support and encourage women in leadership positions in all areas of the church's work (such as church treasurer or chair of the staff-parish relations committee)?
- Does the congregation have sexual ethics policies in its personnel handbook?
- Does each annual conference have a sexual misconduct response team and a procedure for handling allegations of abuse or misconduct? Would it provide healing support for the complainant and the congregation should abuse occur?
- Do church and conference leaders model inclusive behavior? Do they speak up for those who experience discrimination?
The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women believes that vital congregations are healthy congregations. In order for a congregation to be healthy, it must be free of sexual harassment and misconduct, as well as treat women and men equally and respectfully.
The commission's functions are within the leadership foci by developing principled Christian leaders who respect women and men equally and understand proper sexual ethics boundaries. Thanks to your congregation's World Service Fund support, the agency offers a wealth of resources. Here are a few examples:
- A free online Bible study for the local church educates and supports women in leadership. Entitled "Women Called to Ministry," it is available in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.
- "God of the Bible" is a five-week, small-group study to explore expansive language – names, images and ways that Scripture reveals God. The study challenges participants by removing barriers of human limitations from people's understanding of God. Faye Christensen, co-chair of the Minnesota Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women, calls it "a helpful resource … as we have been teaching several advanced laity courses throughout Minnesota on the topic of expanding language. It is an excellent resource for studying the many names of God and in raising awareness of the importance of our words as we speak from the pulpit and do lay servant ministry."
- The website umsexualethics.org provides resources for annual conference and churches handling sexual misconduct cases.
"My local church," Hare says, "is but one chord in this wonderful symphony of a connection of [United] Methodism that serves in places that we cannot go, teaches in languages that we cannot speak, serves those whom we will never meet and ministers in ways that we cannot even imagine. My mission and that of my commission is to work for the full inclusion of all women so that we will truly 'transform the world.'
"No woman and no man should be denied a leadership position at any level of church service because of her or his gender. The General Commission gives us lots of work to do and we need everyone working side by side."
For more information, please visit gcsrw.org.
General Commission on the Status and Role of Women and Barbara Dunlap-berg, general church content editor, UMCom
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the World Service Fund apportionment at 100 percent.