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Women’s commission addresses range of vital work for church

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Garlinda Burton

Sept. 20, 2005

By Linda Bloom

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (UMNS) — Through meetings with faculty and students at Boston University School of Theology, reports on clergywomen of color and on sexual harassment, and discussions on monitoring responsibilities, it was evident to directors of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women that their role remains vital to the church.

Or, as COSROW’s chief executive, M. Garlinda Burton, said during her address at the Sept. 15-17 annual meeting in Cambridge: “If the intersection of sexism and racism – and their negative impact on the vitality of Christ’s holy church – isn’t yet on your radar, let’s talk about a clergy candidate in the Western Jurisdiction who was told earlier this year that if she can’t ‘think and act like a white man, there is no room for her in this denomination.’”

Among the agency’s more recent accomplishments, according to Burton, are the first churchwide survey on sexual harassment in the church since 1990 (see UMNS #521); the rejuvenation of an interagency task force on sexual ethics; training events on the conference and national church levels; the upcoming launch of a laity-friendly, laity-focused Web site with information on sexual misconduct issues; monitoring of four general church agencies; and the counseling of five bishops, five district superintendents and eight women on issues of sexual harassment or misconduct in ministerial relationships.

President of the commission is Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor of Columbia, S.C.

During a visit to Boston University School of Theology, COSROW directors were hosted by the Rev. Hee An Choi, director of the Anna Howard Shaw Center there. In 1878, Shaw was the second woman to graduate from the theology school but was refused ordination by the New England Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Two years later, she was ordained by the New York Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church.

Shaw Center projects include the Clergywoman Retention Study, Women’s Oral History Project and a current project on “Women in the Immigrant Churches.” In April, it sponsored a multicultural forum, “Women in the World 2005,” that included a Korean woman from a mixed Christian-shamanist family, a Buddhist nun and an Iranian-born Muslim woman.

The theology school has 117 new students this fall — the largest incoming class in 30 years. Of those, Choi said, 64 are women. The total number of students, 267, includes 103 women

The school has its first female dean — the Rev. Imani-Sheila Newsome, assistant dean for student affairs, as well as an assistant professor of theology. She and a number of women faculty introduced themselves to the COSROW directors. Directors also met with the Rev. Ray Hart, the interim dean for the school of theology, and John Berthrong, associate dean for academic and administrative affairs.

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Bishop Mary Taylor

These days, according to Kathy Pfisterer Darr — a 23-year veteran who teaches Hebrew Bible and is chairwoman of the Shaw Center Board of Directors — more women are on the faculty, more women receive tenure, and some teach in nontraditional fields.

When she started, however, “no women in the school of theology were tenured at that time.”

The atmosphere also is more open to active participation by women. “I feel free in faculty meetings to raise issues that are of concern to me and that I think are of concern to women students,” Darr added.

The women acknowledged the need for more ethnic diversity on the staff. “We as a primarily white group of people need to pay attention to the culture that we create and whether it is a welcoming culture for people of color,” said Carole Bohn, a longtime faculty member.

COSROW members also met with a group of current and former women students, who discussed topics ranging from student diversity to chapel services to second-career students.

In other action, COSROW directors:

  • Heard plans for a July 26-29, 2006, training event in Nashville, Tenn., on sexual ethics for annual conference response teams and safe sanctuary groups
  • Learned that relocation of the agency office from Evanston, Ill., to Chicago Temple United Methodist Church in downtown Chicago was expected in early December. Offices of the denomination’s Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference also are at Chicago Temple.
  • Formed a task force to give input to the denomination’s Council of Bishops on actions related to the bishops’ missional priority “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
  • Heard that its Advocacy for Women Endowment Fund has accumulated a total of $16,000, with a fund-raising goal of $50,000 by 2008.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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Resources

Backgrounder: Clergy sexual misconduct

COSROW

Boston University School of Theology