As I look back over the many years of service at Union UMC and the New England Conference, my first leadership role was as Church School teacher. I taught Church School because I had young children and I felt that I needed to help out. A few years later, I was asked to take on the role of the Superintendent of Sunday School. I served in that role for several years.
During my participation in conference-wide activities, I learned of a district-wide Lay Academy that was held for laity interested in becoming Lay Servants. I took the Basic course for Lay Servants and became a Local Lay Servant. I continued to take several advanced courses to become a Certified Lay Servant. In the meantime, I was asked by the pastor of our church to become the Lay Leader, which I accepted. During those times spent at the Academy, I was approached by the District Superintendent to become a Co-District Lay Leader. In this role, I not only helped to plan the Lay Academies and other trainings conference-wide, but I also taught the Basic course for many years.
In earlier years, Lay Servants were encouraged to preach. After attending the Lay Academy, I knew from the beginning that my calling was not preaching. My strengths were, and still are, organization and helping others realize their gifts and strengths. I encourage other laity to participate in their local churches by chairing ministries and in chairing, own the ministry that they are doing.
These gifts have been further put to use in the past year. I have been appointed to the position of Co-Lay Leader of the New England Conference. This allows me to work closely with the Conference Lay Leader and all of the other District Lay Leaders. We work to make laity strong and productive in all the churches in New England.
My leadership roles have been undergirded by my prayer life. My belief is that all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me. Whenever possible, I participate in Bible study. I am encouraged on a daily basis by my prayer partner and participating in a small group ministry.
It is crucial for there to be women in leadership at all levels of The United Methodist church. For many years, women were not seen as leaders or there were certain positions and roles that were not open to them. As we know, women are the backbone of most churches. Whether the role is large or small, the women can be counted on to carry out the vision and tasks of their churches.
In order to do a better job of engaging lay women across all lines of The United Methodist Church, it is necessary to increase awareness and communication with the clergy. If the clergy has a better understanding of the role of laywomen and the potential that they hold for churches, a larger number of women would be willing to step up and lead. Clergy also needs to be willing to support laywomen.
I would not have been able to lead and remain in a leadership role without the help and encouragement of the pastors of my local church.
Ruby L. Blake is the Co-Lay Leader of the New England Annual Conference. She attends Union United Methodist Church in Boston, Massachuttes.