General Commission on the Status and Role of Women Board Examine Social Principles in Worldwide Contexts and Expansive Language

Chicago— The board of directors of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) met in Chicago from September 20-23, 2017 at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple.

The board spent time discussing and learning more about the worldwide nature of The United Methodist Church, dedicating meeting time to host a panel of board directors from different United States Jurisdictions and Central Conferences to examine The United Methodist Social Principles in various contexts across the denomination. The panel addressed questions, ranging from the utilization of The Book of Discipline in each represented annual conference  and the ways in which these varying communities value the equal worth of men and women. Panelists represented the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ), Western Jurisdiction, West Africa Central Conference, Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference, Africa Central Conference, and the Philippines Central Conference. 

“The ministry and mission of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women is essential to the Church living into Christ’s message which forms the foundation of our Social Principles declaring that women and men are equal in the eyes of God,” General Secretary Dawn Wiggins Hare stated. “By taking the time to listen and learn from one another, we are able to have our eyes opened as to how our own attitudes, language, and programs can best focus on specific challenges and opportunities for our work.”

Berit Westad, panelist representing the Norway Annual Conference, reported concerns shared at a listening session held for the women in Norway by GCSRW this past May. Westad stated that young clergy women in her annual conference are feeling frustrated. “There’s a need for female clergy and lay leaders to talk together to how to support one another,” Westad expressed.  “There’s a need to share stories with one another.”

Rev. Hortencia Langa Bacela, district superintendent in the South Mozambique Annual Conference, expressed the need for the most current editions of The Book of Discipline to be translated in the official languages of The United Methodist Church. “Once The Book of Discipline is translated into different languages,” she said, “many people will understand the contents and be involved with it.” 

Rev. Mark Norman, district superintendent in the Arkansas Annual Conference, shared the SCJ currently only has one woman bishop, and that no women were elected to the episcopacy during the 2016 Jurisdictional Episcopal Elections. “In the history of the SCJ, we have never elected an African American women,” Norman stated. “The time is coming that caucuses and advocacy groups [need to] come together to strategize and plan together to move beyond just having to elect a woman or an ethnic person, but instead elect those who are qualified and reflect the diversity of the Church.”

“Our conversations exposed the common themes across the church and around the world of women continuing to be considered ‘less than’ and of scripture being used as a sword to continue that differential as a norm,” Hare said. “Ideas began to emerge as to how to channel our energy and resources to learn from one another and to help one another in our ministry.”

Bishop Tracy Smith Malone, president of GCSRW’s board, stated, “In order to be faithful to the mission and mandate of our work, it was important that the board of directors learn more about the worldwide nature of the church and understand how the work of GCSRW plays a vital role in helping the church fulfill our mission of, ‘Making Disciples of Christ for the Transformation of the World.’” 

The board also spent time engaging with an expansive language teaching session led by Dr. Nancy Bedford, Georgia Harkness Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. 

“I never realized how the image of God to me was always a male figure,” board member Anthony Sy stated. “The expansive language session opened my eyes to the reality that I now see God as not just male or female but as Spirit, moving and teaching me through others.”

Bishop Sally Dyck of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference preached during opening worship, encouraging the board to keep “a world in your eye” as they viewed their work as a Commission. She touched on the importance of using expansive language in order to uplift the diversity of our worldwide denomination. Rev. Dr. Tércio Junker, dean of the chapel and director of course of study and Escola do Curso de Estudo programs at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, led music for opening worship. Bishop Tracy Smith Malone of the East Ohio Episcopal Area and Bishop Samuel Quire Jr. of the Liberia Episcopal Area presided over communion. 

Joining the board during opening worship to bring greetings included retired Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader, president of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Dr. Lallene Rector, senior pastor at the Chicago Temple Rev. Myron McCoy, and associate pastor at the Chicago Temple Rev. Wendy Witt.  

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The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women advocates for full participation of women in the total life of The United Methodist Church. GCSRW helps the church recognize every person – clergy and lay, women and men, adults and children – as full and equal parts of God’s human family. They believe that a fully engaged and empowered membership is vital to The United Methodist Church’s mission "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.