By Rick Wolcott*
The goal of Black Clergy Women of The United Methodist Church (BCWUMC) is to “identify, develop, support, and enhance opportunities for the inclusion and empowerment of black clergy women at all levels of The United Methodist Church.”
This year’s 28th annual gathering of members was a celebration of the historic elections of four black clergy women to the episcopacy of The United Methodist Church.
Honored in Cincinnati, Ohio during the August 7-10 The Journey Continues …Don’t Stop Now! meeting were:
- Bishop Sharma Lewis, elected by delegates to the 2016 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference,
- Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, elected by delegates to the 2016 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference,
- Bishop Tracy S. Malone, elected by delegates to the North Central Jurisdictional Conference, and
- Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, elected by delegates to theNortheastern Jurisdictional Conference.
“When it was announced at the national meeting in Florida (in 2014) that there were no black clergy women elected to the episcopacy, the administration of national Black Clergy Women were very intentional and said, ‘we are going to put forth two representatives from each jurisdiction.’ It took intentionality to get the respect that we deserve as black clergy. We thank and praise God, that God was faithful to us as we were trying to be faithful to him,” said the Rev. Waverly Earley, of Wesley UMC in the West Ohio Conference, during the opening night reception.
“The elections mean that the glass ceiling is constantly being shaken, and even shattered, over and over again, and I think that is so very important because it says to younger people, younger women in ministry, ‘we can do this,’” said BCWUMC President the Rev. Telley Lynette Gadson.
“Our time under God is now to pay it forward and, indeed, to continue the journey,” said the Rev. Jocelyn Roper, superintendent of the Miami Valley District in the West Ohio Conference. “We also encourage those new sisters, and new brothers, who are trying to find their way to the way, to get on the way, and stay on the way, the way that is love, peace, joy, grace and mercy.”
In presenting Bishop Sharma Lewis of the Virginia Conference, BCWUMC Vice President the Rev. Yvette D. Massey explained that each bishop would receive “a time piece inscribed with the words ‘in thanksgiving for your historic election to the episcopacy of The United Methodist Church on (date), we celebrate you, your gifts, your graces, and your ministry. To God be the glory,’ and because you all are so valuable, a string of three-strand pearls.”
In accepting her gifts, Lewis said, “I am actually supposed to be on renewal leave but I knew, honestly, that I had to be here because if it wasn’t for the sisters, I wouldn’t have been elected. So the only thing I can say is ‘thank you,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘thank you.’”
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi of the Western Pennsylvania Conference was unable to be present for the gathering but in a video greeting thanked the members of the Black Clergy Women of The United Methodist Church for their recognition and encouraged them in their ministry.
“I consider it a privilege, and an honor, and a gift, and a sacred trust to serve as an episcopal leader in The United Methodist Church,” Bishop Tracy S. Malone of the East Ohio Conference told those gathered. “The Black Church, the BMCR, the Black Clergy Women, you have formed me since I was a young woman, and I continue to be formed by your love, by your hospitality, and by your generosity toward me. So thank you for your prayers, thank you for your support, and I solicit your ongoing support and prayers as I seek to be faithful to what God has called me, and is calling me, to do on his behalf and on all of our behalf as we continue to journey together.”
“You have no idea what it means to me to stand before you in this way,”said Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Conference. “Truly, truly, my only desire is to serve God, serve God’s people, and to further the kingdom of God, and I do it humbly, I do it humbly, only wanting for God to get the glory. Thank you for every prayer, thank you for every text, thank you for every phone call, and, as my sisters have said, continue to pray for us because this is a precarious, peculiar time to be a bishop in The United Methodist Church. It takes all of our courage to be able to lead at such a time as this. So please continue to pray for us as we serve you.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.