A Partial Win for Women in Tampa

By Liza Kittle

What an extraordinary time Renew had in Tampa with the Renewal and Reform Coalition at General Conference 2012! Renew took a team of four women (myself, Katy Kiser, Marget Sikes, and Nancy Johnson) to cover legislative committees, talk to delegates, pass out daily newsletters, and pray for our legislation that would give women of The United Methodist Church the option of other women’s ministry in addition to United Methodist Women.

For the first time in five General Conferences, the Local Church legislative committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of our petition by a vote of 47-14. The petition would have changed the language in the Book of Discipline in support of other women’s ministry options. We were thrilled at such a change from previous conferences in the tone of debate and the support from so many delegates. With a churchwide emphasis on building vital congregations, a variety of women’s ministry programs would contribute greatly to this goal.

Our team was thrilled with this victory and we looked forward to the legislation coming before the whole plenary for a vote. Well, that was not to be. A minority report was filed by several women on the committee in cooperation with executive officers of the Women’s Division, which included Deputy General Secretary Harriet Olson and Imelda Gonzalez, current President of United Methodist Women. A minority report is substitute legislation that is drafted to replace the majority report from the committee. Less than 2 percent of minority reports are ever passed in the plenary session.

The language of the minority report was quite telling. It read, “Local churches with local groups of United Methodist Women may also organize women’s ministry groups such as Mothers Day Out, Bible studies, and fellowship groups.” Even though the Women’s Division has always claimed they have never hindered women from having other women’s ministry, the language of this minority report reveals otherwise. Only those churches with existing UMW groups would be allowed to have other ministries if the minority report was passed.

Current statistics show that less than 13 percent of the female membership of the United States UM Church participates in UMW. Only 50 percent of local churches even have a UMW and the average size of each group is 12 total members. The minority legislation would have restricted women’s ministry even more, making it very difficult to start new ministries in those churches without a UMW group. While UMW is an important part of the legacy of the United Methodist Church, women of today desire a variety of options in all areas of life.

The legislation was put on the calendar to be discussed during the main plenary session of General Conference. Our team patiently waited all week for it to come to the floor, in the midst of numerous protests by pro-gay groups, heated debates on divestment in Israel, and prolonged sessions spent on the reorganization of the structure of the UM Church. Finally, on the last day of the conference, our calendar number was next in line for debate on the floor. After a short break, it looked like the time was here.

However, it was not to be. Upon returning from break, it was announced that the Judicial Council had ruled that the restructuring plan that had been accepted by the conference was unconstitutional. The entire conference came to a shocked standstill.

All other legislation was dropped from the calendar and the last hours of the conference were spent voting on necessary items to keep the church running under its current structure. Extreme disappointment ran through our hearts with the realization that so many important pieces of legislation would not get their due time at the conference.

Although it seems we had lost this particular battle, upon reflection I have come to different conclusions. Among the positives that have come out of this General Conference, it is clear that the church is ready to embrace other women’s ministry options for women. So many pastors and laity leaders expressed their support for our cause and the votes in the local church committee were definitely an encouragement.

We leave General Conference 2012 with a new hope and focus. Renew will be moving forward with helping churches form fruitful women’s ministry programs and spending little time reporting on the activities of the Women’s Division. The organization of United Methodist Women, although historic and once vibrant, is not fully reaching the majority of women in our pews. These women desire a close relationship with Jesus Christ through a variety of Bible studies, mentoring and healing ministries, and fellowship groups. If we fail to offer a multi-faceted women’s ministry, the UM Church will continue to lose members, as women have such an influence on family participation in church life.

We look forward to the future of women’s ministry in The United Methodist Church and the future of the Renew Network. If you would like to benefit from the resources we provide for women’s ministry, please be sure to check out our website. God bless all those who supported our efforts at General Conference through donations and prayer! We definitely felt your presence in Tampa.

Liza Kittle is the President of the Renew Women’s Network (www.renewnetwork.org) P.O. Box 16055 Augusta, GA 30919; telephone: 706-364-0166.