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General Conference

Women gather at General Conference

Central conference women meet for delegate briefing

by Tara Barnes

United Women in Faith with the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women hosted a gathering for women delegates from the central conferences in the leadup to the United Methodist General Conference.

On Saturday April 20, women from the conferences in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines came together for fellowship, discussion, and to share concerns. Women make up 58 percent of the membership of The United Methodist Church but represented only 36 percent of voting delegates at the last General Conference.

“Our mandate in the Book of Discipline is to challenge the United Methodist Church for the full inclusion of women at all levels of power, and policymaking within the church,” said Dawn Wiggins Hare, general secretary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, to open the session. “And through that witness, we will model what that looks like for the world.”

At tables women introduced one another and shared reflections on the day. Central Conference delegates spent the day at various orientations, and the women gathered in the evening. They also shared hopes and struggles, including the need to have information and access in order to be fully prepared as delegates. United Women in Faith’s Connectional Officer Sung-ok Lee also encouraged delegates to ask any questions they still had. Translation was provided by General Conference translators.

Questions included how women can have their voices heard in equal weight to men’s, if speed of conversation will be monitored in committee and plenary to allow for translation, and if men will be briefed on their behavior.

Our collective voice

Attendees also heard from women around the world who had previously served as General Conference delegates in a panel featuring Hortencia Bacala from Mozambique, Anne Detjen from Germany, Jenn Ferariza Meneses from the Philippines, and Eva Cosme from Angola.

They shared the importance of supporting one another, encouraging women to use their voices, and advocating for women’s leadership.

“The presence of our 20 Filipina delegates that we have here is a result of a longtime struggle for women’s leadership and inclusion,” said Meneses. “Our presence here, as women leaders of our church, is an expression of our collective struggle and our collective action.

“It was a rough and tough journey,” she continued. “Yet we kept our feet on the ground. We courageously spoke up and creatively amplified our collective voice to be heard.”

Equity in time and task

Hare shared that her commission monitors both the legislative committees and plenaries to report on who is elected to leadership, who is called on, what voices are respected, who speaks and how long and how fast they spoke. The General Commission on Religion and Race does the same.

She encouraged the delegates to introduce themselves to the monitors.

She also shared the process for which to report harassment and violations.

“I grew up in a family where my own grandmother thought that women cannot be pastors. And then one day, she heard me preach,” said Detjen. “Afterward she came up, and I could not read her expression. Then she said, ‘You did actually have a message!’ To me, that was most important feedback I ever gotten. It’s important that we as women encourage one another.”

The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church tasks United Women in Faith with expressing the concerns of women organized for mission. One way in which we do this is to bring legislation to General Conference that uplifts women, children, and youth. Representatives from United Women in Faith and the Commission on the Status and Role of Women shared the petitions before delegates the address the needs of women.

You can find the legislation on United Women in Faith’s website and on the commission’s website.

Together the women celebrated the election of Ruby-Nell M. Estrella, the Philippines’ first woman bishop, and the election of Tracy Smith Malone as the first Black woman president of the Council of Bishops. The time together closed with a video honoring all of the new women bishops elected in November 2022.

Meneses told the women delegates to embrace this General Conference as a Kairos moment for our beloved United Methodist Church.

“As we carry on treading the path toward a fullness of life for all, a life for God’s justice, peace, and unconditional love,” she said, “let us use our own voices and make our collective voice present during this conference as an act of courage, an act of love, an act of solidarity, an act of assertion, an act of worship, and an act of celebration.”

Tara Barnes is director of denominational relations for United Women in Faith.

Cover photo by Mike DuBose for United Methodist News.

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