I have spent my entire life having my call to ministry cultivated. Even before I felt my calling, my pastors and church leaders noticed gifts within me. They urged me to listen to God. They had conversations with me about my call. They helped me form and grow what it meant to be called. Even in the tough times, I had people all around me supporting me and telling me to stay on the path because they knew I was called into ministry.
For the most part, my call was never questioned, and in most situations, I am treated with the respect deserving of the role of pastor and reverend.
…I am a male pastor…
However, something recently really made me aware of just how privileged I am as a MALE pastor. For Annual Conference this year, all pastors received name badges that were meant to be permanent badges we could use to verify that we are pastors. It was billed as something that could help us outside of identification at the Annual Conference but could be used at hospitals, nursing homes, and similar places to show we are a pastor visiting parishioners.
I cannot lie, my first thought was, “Well I don’t have problems getting into those places. I usually just say I am a pastor, get the info I need, and walk right in.”
Well, I had to check my privilege at that moment, because as a white male, I do receive privilege and often don’t get questioned when I say I am a pastor and have someone I am visiting. However, a female colleague said she has had several occasions where clergy identification would have been helpful to move the process of getting in along when visiting parishioners.
This example along with harassment, abuse, and even questionable comments made are reasons that I grieve for how female pastors are often treated by the world. Even answering a call to ministry is difficult when you have bodies like the Southern Baptist Convention excluding churches from allowing women to be pastors.
Why do we treat women like this? Why do we exclude them?
You don’t need an article about a man explaining women in ministry, but I think it is important to magnify the voices of women as they serve in ministry. In our Annual Conference a committee known as The Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW), gives a report talking about leaving spaces for diverse voices to be offered during our session times, and advocating for a more inclusive church when it comes to respecting the variety of different perspectives present in the Conference.
An awesome pastor, whom I have the opportunity to call a friend, Lauren Wright (Pastor: Messiah UMC, Chesapeake, Va), had a message for our Annual Conference as she delivered a part of this report, and it was worth sharing to call us all out on our privilege. I want to post both her manuscript and her video.
In this first report (delivered on Thursday morning of our Conference), you will find Lauren’s introductory remarks as we began our time of holy conferencing together.
One of the great hopes we have is that our Virginia Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women group might not let our work stop with monitoring, and instead, use that data to create real change in our conference. We specifically are an advocacy group for clergy and lay women in the conference, and can’t speak for our other advocacy groups, but look forward to engaging in this work alongside our other conference advocacy groups who don’t give these monitoring reports, such as our Commission on Ethnic Minorities and Commission on Disabilities.
But to do this work, to create systemic change in our conference, to embody the church that is spoken of in Galatians 3, telling us that because of Christ, because of God-made-flesh “ There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you, are one in Christ Jesus,” we need your help.
We need your help, to make room for this to be our reality. We need your help, here, at Annual Conference, and when you return to your local churches. We need you to do more than monitor – we need you to commit to making space for others. One way that we can do this is through the intentional use of language.
Maybe you hear us mention inclusive language, and you’re already tuning me out, rolling your eyes, ready to move on to the “more important” pieces of our agenda together. But the truth of the matter is, our words carry weight. Our words reflect what we value. Our words show the way we care for God and one another. Even if you don’t feel excluded when your gender identity isn’t included in the language used, others do.
When you prepare to speak at Annual Conference or in your local church, I want to invite you to think of the young kids in your life. I’ve got two nieces and a nephew, all two and under – Cora, Lainey, and Julian. I’ve got young people from my church and preschool, who I see often. Allow those faces to run through your mind, whoever your loved ones are – and speak in such a way they are a part of the narrative.
Speak in that way, because they are listening, and the words that we use carry weight. We have the opportunity and responsibility to explicitly state that all people are embraced by God and the church – and if our words don’t reflect that, we’ve missed the calling from God and the scriptures.
Here today, as COSROW, we invite you to take the first step into the use of inclusive language – if you’re speaking, from the floor or platform, we implore you to use pronouns and images for God that reflect the vastness of God’s presence. Use words for humanity that reflect the diversity present in this body, so that no child will have to wonder if they too are made in God’s image and fully embraced by the United Methodist Church where they worship. Let’s engage in this practice of holy conferencing faithfully together.
This second section is the one that hit home for many folks as we were closing our time in Roanoke. This section includes remarks made by both Lauren and her Co-Chair Jenny Day (Pastor: Dayton UMC, Dayton, Va)
Bishop Sue and Virginia Annual Conference, thank you for granting us another opportunity to come to speak before you as representatives from the Commission on the status and role of women. Over the years we have made progress. More women are represented in leadership at our annual conference, including our amazing Bishop Sue! More women are being ordained and more are serving as lead pastors. We have churches growing in ethnic diversity. As wonderful as these things are, there is still much work to be done. Consider these points,
-How well are pastors of another ethnicity accepted in a cross-cultural appointment?
-Do you know that not all of our Virginia United Methodist Churches will accept a woman as their pastor?
How many women are invited to be trustee chairs, finance chairs, and ushers in our local churches?
How much feedback do we get when we suggest a prayer or a hymn with expansive language for God?
If I’m being honest, COSROW co-chair was never a job I aspired towards, which is a thread throughout much of my call to ministry. But let me say, it’s been a gift to have had so many holy conversations with women in the last few days, as people of all ages have come to me to share stories of ways that they have been celebrated in the church, and painfully excluded.
You see, here in the United Methodist Church, we often celebrate our position on women in ministry – especially when news comes out as it did this week, in the Southern Baptist Convention. For any who haven’t heard, earlier this week, the SBC met and voted to remove two churches from the convention that had ordained women to serve in their churches.
But sometimes, in the wake of this news, our celebrations sound like the words from Luke 18, starting in verse 10, where Jesus tells this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other, for all who exalt themselves, will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Or, maybe the New Revised Lauren Version, praise God that we United Methodists are not like the Southern Baptists. For we ordain women, we celebrate their gifts in ministry, we have a commission on the status and role of women, here in the Virginia Conference, we have the leadership of both a female bishop and lay leader, and we have appointed women to two of our three largest churches!
As I’ve heard these stories this weekend, I’ve heard some that have left my heart aching – I’ve been permitted to share part of one, of a clergywoman’s experiences here at this annual conference setting. One of our clergywomen volunteered to drive golf carts in the parking lot, offering people rides. When she approached one gentleman, offering a ride, she was told, “Maybe, since you’re so cute.”
My friends, I don’t share this to put any one person on blast. The person is not the problem – but the behavior is. We are responsible for the words we use, and the harm that they cause. I’d like to invite any of the women of the annual conference, who have also experienced similar sexism, who have had inappropriate comments made about their appearance or anything else gender-related, great or small, to stand for a moment: [pause]
Look around, friends. We too have work to do. Let us commit to being better – here, at the annual conference, and in the local church.
Part of the reason we monitor during annual conferences is to raise awareness. Through data collection, we hold up a mirror for the church and ourselves to see where women, minorities, and people with disabilities are included or where they are still marginalized. Monitoring can help hold us accountable for who has power and a voice in our Conference, in our churches, and who does not. Thank you to everyone who has been monitoring throughout the past few days. Thank you to our siblings at CEMCA [Commission on Ethnic Minority Concerns and Advocacy] who have taken the lead on data collection this year. Lauren and I encourage all of you to look for reports from the data collected and learn from them. We hope that you will be intentional in your churches and in your ministries to make sure a multitude of voices are heard. That a mosaic of faces is represented in leadership. That people of all abilities, backgrounds, races, and genders, that all people, truly have a place in our Virginia United Methodist Churches.
While I missed the proceedings when this report was given, I followed up with Lauren on how many women stood up when she asked about women experiencing sexism and gender-biased comments. She said that she thought most of the women in the room stood up (including our Bishop). Not that we need to delineate severity based on how much power a woman holds. Still, it is baffling that it continues to be the experience of women in ministry to have their nature as human beings called by God in pastoral ministry demeaned by what some think are “off-handed” comments.
We think ourselves better than the Southern Baptist Convention because we allow women to be ordained, but how do we create healthy environments beyond that?
In a conversation I had with a parishioner recently about LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church and the ordination and appointment of LGBTQ+ pastors, it was remarked that they didn’t want a “gay pastor.” They asked what their options were, and I said if the language is changed the SPRC would work with the District Superintendent similar to what they do now when a pastor is appointed.
I recalled to them that to this day, churches can still decline a female pastor (with over 60 years of ordaining women under our belts). It depresses me to have to say that even this long down the road we still try to define God’s call in the lives of other people or demean people because of their gender, sexuality, race, or any other number of factors.
I share this to lift a voice and get you all thinking about how we can be better as a church, because if we can’t then we aren’t living into the true nature of God’s Kin-dom.
Lauren Wright is the co-chair of the Virginia Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women. She is currently the pastor of Messiah United Methodist Church in Chesapeake, Va
Jenny Day is the co-chair of the Virginia Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women. She is currently serving as pastor of Dayton United Methodist Church in Dayton, Va