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General Conference

Women’s briefing empowers delegates

Women delegates gather at General Conference

by Audrey Stanton-Smith

Delegates met with representatives from United Women in Faith and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women Monday April 22 to review legislation important to women and children and to ensuring full and equal participation of women in the total life and mission of The United Methodist Church.

But first they celebrated the recent election of East Ohio Conference Bishop Tracy S. Malone to serve as the next president of the Council of Bishops. Malone is the council’s first Black woman president.

“Did you hear glass breaking on Saturday night?” Dawn Wiggins Hare, general secretary of GCSRW, asked those gathered in a meeting room at the Charlottle Conference Center Monday afternoon. “It was some stained glass that crumbled on Saturday night when the gavel was handed over. Let me just say, ‘that girl is on fire!’”

Hare referred to the song delegates heard as the meeting began, part of the commission’s “Celebrating Women” playlist made especially for General Conference.

Sally Vonner, general secretary and CEO of United Women in Faith, reminded participants that United Women in Faith is the official women’s organization of the United Methodist Church.

“United Methodist Women, doing business as United Women in Faith, is a 155-year-old powerful force for God’s kin-dom, connecting spiritual women to act boldly for justice and transform communities around the world,” Vonner said. “We equip women to be leaders, and we have a legacy of a presence here at General Conference as bold leaders, bringing about the change that is needed to make sure that women and girls are lifted up and that legislation is mindful of inclusiveness and women in particular.”

For example, United Women in Faith brought the Charter for Racial Justice to General Conference and worked for nearly 20 years to ensure its passage, Vonner reminded the audience.

“We’re here, and we’re not leaving,” Vonner said. “You are here because you said, ‘Yes, Lord, I will go, and I’ll serve, and I will bring my voice, and I’ll come with some good trouble.’”

“As a General Conference delegate, you can and you will make an impact here,” Vonner continued. “Let your voices be heard and your leadership be bold.”

Vonner encouraged delegates to take on leadership roles in their respective committees to help guide the legislation “with an awareness of its impact on women and girls and an awareness of the diversity of representation and intentions to ensure all God’s children are welcome to experience freedom as whole persons in Jesus Christ.”

Quoting from Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead, Deaconess Clara Ester called on those in attendance to use their voices stand out of their beliefs.

“If you say something to me, or in front of me, that I find racist, or sexist, or homophobic, even if other people are laughing, I’m not going to laugh,” Ester said. “I’m going to ask you not to say that stuff around me. I don’t do this out of self-righteousness or being better-than—trust me, there are times I’d rather shoot you a dirty look and walk away. I say something because courage is one of my key values, and for me to feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually okay, courage insists that I honor it by choosing my voice over comfort.”

Participants were encouraged to share testimonials thanking those who empowered them along the way. Delegates and observers also joined in a liturgical dance and reading.

“We want you to own your voice and encourage others to speak out and support other women while at General Conference,” said Sung-Ok Lee, connectional officer for United Women in Faith.

The Rev. Katrena King, co-chair of GCSRW’s legislative task force presented and explained GCSRW’s legislation. It includes adding the word “gender” to paragraph 4, article IV of the Constitution, allowing all people to attend worship and be a part of the UMC. Legislation also includes updating an existing resolution to eradicate sexism in the Church, noting that female clergy make less money, experience more cases of being sexually harassed, and have disproportionate representation to men in leadership.

GCSRW is also proposing new legislation, “Every Barrier Down: Toward Full Embrace of All Women in Church and Society,” which challenges the Church to affirm the dignity, value, and contributions of women in Church and society.

GCSRW is also seeking an apology from General Conference to the victims and survivors of sexual misconduct in The UMC; the eradication of sexual harassment in The UMC and society; and the prevention of the use and effects of pornography within the church. GCSRW is also working to strengthen the Just Resolution process to ensure fair and equitable treatment of complainants and respondents.

Tara Barnes, director of denominational relations for United Women in Faith, discussed United Women in Faith’s legislation. New resolutions from United Women in Faith include Children’s Sabbath, The Girl Child, The Status of Women, and Voting Rights Protection in the United States. The organization also seeks the readoption of 11 resolutions pertaining to environmental and racial justice and Biblical language.

United Women in Faith also seeks to allow retired deaconesses and home missioners to vote at annual conference and work remotely.

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

All were encouraged to wear black on Thursday to show support for victims of rape and violence around the world, part of the World Council of Church’s Thursdays in Black.

Denise Smartt Sears, director of leadership and accountability for GCSRW, lead the group in a devotional reading based on Psalm 139:13-14.

“The psalm is an affirmation of God’s love and determination to ensure that God’s got us,” Sears said. “Don’t hold back. Fully occupy your space. Tell your story so that in the future there will be no female leaders; there will just be leaders. It’s not about finding your voice; it’s about giving yourself permission to use your voice to support one another, for you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Audrey Stanton-Smith is editor of response.

Cover photo by Mike DuBose for United Methodist News.

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