37% Is Not Enough. 2% Is Not Enough…. Reflection on the WCC Busan Assembly #2

Women being underrepresented in the leadership of the contemporary Church is not exactly new. However, in my lifetime it does seem that women having leadership in the church has become more common. True, as any church pastor can tell you, women have always held power in the church for women, particularly older women, seem to do most of the organizing and grunt work that enables church fellowship–this is a type of power. But when I think of church leadership, I am thinking directly about the leadership of theological reflection, church messaging, and setting the priorities of church witness and social justice engagement and in these areas it has always been more of a struggle for women to be granted leadership roles.

One of the things that I learned during the World Council of Churches (WCC) General Assembly in Busan was that the contemporary global Christian church still struggles greatly to include the leadership of women, particularly theologically trained women. The work of the WCC is guided for the seven to eight years between assemblies by the Central Committee, which is comprised of delegates to the General Assembly. While the WCC strives for a 50%-50% quota of women and men on the Central Committee this has not been achieved. Why? Because, despite the aims of quotas, the Central Committee make up must reflect the make-up of delegates at the most recent General Assembly. Delegates to the General Assembly are nominated and sent as delegates by the member churches of the WCC. Women made up only 37% of the total delegates at the Busan Assembly, this means that only 37% of the Central Committee governing the WCC for the next seven years could be women. While the nominating committee did present a slate to be elected to the WCC Central Committee that was 37% women, the majority of those women seemed to be youths. While developing the leadership skills of young women is vitally important, it seems to me that counting youth in the overall all gender balance is one way to dismiss the theological leadership of women in the global church.

How can women become more represented in the global leadership of the churches? It is up to individual member churches/denominations of the WCC (there are 345) to design their own delegation to the WCC, the diversity of delegates will be reflected in the leadership elected to the central committee. Lay persons, youth, indigenous people, and persons with disability are also underrepresented in the church delegations to General Assembly, and thus on the Central Committee engaging in global church leadership. This means that the churches need to be more inclusive not only of women, but of lay persons, youths, indigenous persons, and persons with disability when selecting their delegations to the assemblies. The WCC asks churches to send delegations that reflect the diversity quotas of the WCC, but the quota seem to be just a suggestion.–I have to say that the delegation to the Busan Assembly from the United Church of Christ, in the USA, of which I was a member, did meet the diversity goals of the WCC. The UCC sent one ordained man, a lay member/female youth, and two ordained women one of who is also a woman with disability to Busan as delegates impacting the percentages which leadership coming out of the Assembly had to reflect.

The Assembly in Busan is now complete. The Central Committee which has to be carefully, and very politically, balanced as to church family, denomination, region, gender, ordained/lay, youth, indigenous, and persons with disability has been elected to serve until the next General Assembly. The numbers are not as balanced as desired, but General Assembly Delegates we were told that the slate was as balanced as possible. There was an effort to create the most balance, while still reflecting the demographics of the delegation of the assembly. I have to recognize that one of the Orthodox Bishops gave up his spot on the Central Committee so as to include a female youth representative; I wish others on the slate had followed suit to allow for more balance. The Church itself is a work in progress, still striving to show the world that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one on Christ” (Galatians 3:28). So let’s be honest, in creating a committee to guide the ecumenical body of the global church…38% female representation in the leadership of the church is not enough; less than 5% indigenous representation in church leadership is not enough; 2% persons with disability representatives in church leadership is not enough! We have work to do, yet, to meet even the New Testament’s expectation of the church!

Advertisements

Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund Reflects on the 10th General Assembly in Busan

Women are busy doing the work of the church and seeing to the ministry of Christ in the world.  We thought you might enjoy this video of Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund reflecting on the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea. Rev. Dr. Lund is the Associate Conference Minister for the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Exiles for Justice and Peace–WCC / EDAN #1

I am just returning from the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea! I was honored to serve as a North American representative to the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network (EDAN) Pre-Assembly Event and a Untied Church of Christ Delegate to the General Assembly. I hope to post a series of reflections on the events of the last two weeks as I process this unique experience.

I was asked to preach at the closing worship service for the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network’s Pre Assembly Event in Busan; below is the sermon I presented.

Dr. Arne Fritzon serves as liturgist at EDAN Pre-Assembly event

Dr. Arne Fritzon serves as liturgist at EDAN Pre-Assembly event

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7  1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (1)

“Exiles for Peace and Justice” sermon by Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas for theEcumenical Disability Advocacy Network (EDAN) Pre-Assembly, WCC 10th General Assembly, Busan, South Korea on October 28, 2013

Brothers and Sisters in Christ it is an honor to speak with you today. As we worship together now, let us consider God’s word for the context of our own lives.

Our text for this evening comes to us from the Book of Jeremiah.While I admire Jeremiah faithfulness I have always felt that much was asked of him. The prophet Jeremiah’s unenviable task was to convince the people that going into exile was the only way for their community to reestablish right relationship with God. We understand that his message that people needed exile likely did not make sense to those around him, but Jeremiah also gave hope. Indeed our text comes from the portion of Jeremiah in which the prophet is seeking to give hope to the exiles, hope that peace and justice would still come to the world.

Like the people that Jeremiah sought to console—we too have traveled far from our homes too seek justice and peace. However we are different than those Jeremiah spoke to. Not only are we far from home but we are people with disabilities, and we are allies who have had that conversion moment in which through the depth of friendship and solidarity there is understanding that people with disabilities experience the world and society differently than persons without disabilities.

The experience of disability is as varied as the people in this room. Disability is a social location experienced by living in the world in an individually unique way, and yet that experience of being uniquely different from everyone else is an experience that is shared by all people with disability. This solitary nature of living with disability intrigues me, for we may be individuals but collectively PWD are the largest minority in the world.

The North American theologian, Thomas Reynolds has written that disability “entails involuntary impairment and real suffering, much of which is the consequence of social alienation and exile”(2). As a person born with mild cerebral palsy which manifests as a speech impediment and as one who has acquired chronic pain, the suggestion of disability as exile speaks to me. Most of us have had, at some time, an experience in which our day to day life is so different from our friends and colleagues without disability, that as people with disabilities we may easily relate to the experience of exile in our text today. Perhaps from our social location of disability it is clear to us that we are currently living in a world that is not just towards persons with disability. A world in which all God’s children are not living in peace.

In my American context we have a perplexity. The ADA made many public spaces accessible but churches were exempt. As a result in America faithful persons with disability still find themselves exiles of faith communities, either because local churches lack accessibility or social stigma and social inaccessibility leads to a lack of opportunities for PWD to fully participate either as lay members or employed as clergy with disability—it is a lack of justice and of peace.

So what are people with disabilities around the world to do when the Body of Christ is not accessible to them or excludes them? Brothers and sisters, I want to suggest today that we are to take encouragement from the words that Jeremiah spoke to the exiles. We are to build the foundations of a new inclusive church, within the current church—we are to plant our hopes, and teach these ideals to the children. We are to seek the welfare, of the community in which we find ourselves.

As persons with disability we seek the justice not only of physically accessible churches but inclusion in the ministry of the church and opportunities to serve the church. We seek the peace of full social inclusion in the church so no person is made to feel less than the fearlessly and wonderfully made child of God that they are.

The words of Jeremiah call all of us to speak out about who we are, to be willing to be exiles for peace and for justice when we are called to do so. This is not easy work, particularly when the work of inclusion is ever widening the circle of God’s community. Indeed this work asks much of us, calling us to do new things to bring God’s justice and peace to the world.

For the past few years the disabilities ministries and mental health ministries in my denomination have been working together. It has not always been easy for the two exiled groups to act as one, but it is effective. We continue to teach the church, and we continue to learn from each other. One of the things I have learned from our partnership, is that as far from justice as the disability community is there are still others who need the disability community to welcome them into the church , into the pews, and into ministry together. We are a sprout of justice.

As we go forward into this week, discussing all manners of the ministry and work of the Church universal, I ask this group—the advocates and associates of the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network, to be attentive to how we may be called to use our perspective—to call the assembled body of Christ to new ministries of inclusion, even if in doing so the way to the future is, yet, unknown.

May God Be with Us and Meet Us as we work for justice and peace!

(1) “Jeremiah 29” (NRSV), Devotion.net, [on-line] accessed August 28, 2013 available at http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Jeremiah+29
(2) Thomas Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, (BrazosPress: Grands Rapids, MI, 2008) 21.

T-6 Days

Hello Friends!

Well its hard to believe that in less than a week I will be flying off to the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea. The theme of this Assembly is Justice and Peace. I still have things to do before I go. I am preaching while I am there. I will also be serving as a delegate to the General Assembly from the United Church of Christ and of the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network! Please keep me and all the delegates in your prayers as we prepare for this Assembly, as we travel, and as we deliberate and engage in intra-faith dialogue. (And I hoping to make friends with some Eastern Orthodox priests!)

Thanks, Rev. Kelli

Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network – Day 2

Today was the second and final meeting day of EDAN North America. There is so much to think and process that there is surely more to this day than what will be included in this blog. I would have to say that key words for today were pioneers, power, process, and voice.

As we sat around the conference table today brainstorming about how to assist the churches and religious institutions be more inclusive of people with disabilities (PWD) there was much said and much felt that was not voiced in the space given our limited time together and the need to complete task oriented goals. Nonetheless this was a very fruitful day and I believe our work done today will multiply in the time ahead.

There was recognition today that the work that we do as professionals with disabilities, and all that goes on behind the scenes in relation to our professional development and even our  professional being is in so many ways pioneering. We may not always have the accommodations we like, we may not find the world as kind or welcoming as we would like but in some ways just by being who we are by advocating for change where we find the need to do so we are pioneering a way for PWD who come behind us. How can we institutionalize our work so it becomes a legacy rather than a path that gets grown over when we move on professionally?

In all institutions, but particularly in the church, there is also the issue of power. Who holds power, who grants access to power, and how to get invited to the table. That’s a big issue, these are big questions. Questions that I think may Christians do not like to think come into play in the structures of the church. But we are not so nieve. There are church and ecumenical power structures to work with, and around. I found the need to mention the fact today that even Jesus, at times challenged the status quo in unexpected ways–if someone takes your cloak as collateral for a debt, give them your shirt also  so you are naked…for in Jesus’ context it was not shameful to be naked but to see another naked. So yes there are processes and power structures to gain access to, to share our stories and unique lens of the gospel with, but neither are PIONEERS WITH DISABILITY willing to sit passively by in the churches forever, having our human right to inclusion within the Body of Christ continually ignored. We are educated, articulate, armed with the gospel and we expect a seat at the table, along with an Aaron-like interpreters when needed. We are a part of the body and we have the agency that we need to make our part known.

Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network, Day 1

I have spent today talking with and listening to people with and without disability who advocate for inclusion for people with disability (PWD) in their/the church context. These are people from around the US, and we will soon be joined I am told by persons from Canada. These are people who have physical disabilities and people who work with persons with intellectual disabilities and parents of children with disabilities.

We have gathered to for the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network (EDAN) for North America. EDAN is a program of the World Council of Churches. We have been joined by Samuel Kaube and his wife for this historic meeting in Denver. Mr. Kaube is the Executive Director of the EDAN program for the WCC. Mr. has graced us with his knowledge of the work being done by PWD and their allies around the world to gain understanding and inclusion in the churches around the world–the very Body of Christ. He has shared some with us about the work that other EDAN groups have done in other areas of the world; he has shown us the books about disability theology that have been written in other areas of the world and told us of how parts of India and Asia are starting to include the area of disability awareness in theological institutions.

I love this, it is part of what I feel called to do in my life and in my ministry. But it also raises a good number of questions for me. One of the new ones of which is, why is North America so behind the rest of the world when it comes to organizing for access and inclusion within the churches? Given the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act is now over two decades old one might think that the issue of accessibility and inclusion in the American churches is an issue long since solved. WRONG. Churches and institutions owned by them are exempt from the ADA, and have long failed to meet their moral and ethical obligations to PWD. I have said it before–the churches are among the most inaccessible places in America due to both physical and attitudinal barriers (discrimination). Yes, I said there is discrimination against PWD in the American churches. If you are shocked I am glad, and I hope you will start to raise the question of why in your own church setting. PWD in the churches need allies. If you are not shocked I am probably preaching to the choir–when will we get loud?

Another question, as one of the participants here put it “where are our allies” and “why is this not seen as civil right’s issue”?

Yet another is why have we not begun to formulate a disability theology, or even theologies, pertinent to the North American context? Is there something about the religious history of America or the decisive role religion has played in American culture over the last twenty years that is preventing us from doing so? And why, Why, WHY, is it that nearly thirty years after PWD were guaranteed access to education that PWD are still not included in the greater histories of the American people, and that disability perspectives are not taught at any level in our educational system, and that  our theological educational systems not only fail to include disability as a theological lens to be explored in diversity but do not even encourage their faculty to be aware of how disability has been studied and/or addressed by every facet of theological education?

There are several people at this meeting who have been doing this work for much longer than myself. At times I feel dwarfed by their work. I have had moments when I wonder if I am too emotional, if I have been hurt too deeply by the system that disregards PWD to effect change in any meaningful way and yet, I find myself drawn to this work and I have been in invited to participate. I am looking forward to where the conversation goes and, meanwhile, I hear the poets and theologians from whose work I have learned urging me to write on…and yet I am still listening for the inspiration of the words that are to come.

Spreading the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

—He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
William Butler Yeats

In a few days we will ring in the New Year. When I read this poem, I wonder to myself: Have I treaded softly on the dreams of others this past year? More importantly, have I spread the cloths of heaven under the feet of those who need it most? And what might that look like? Does this mean that I have focused on creating the kin-dom of God on earth—as it is in heaven? Have I helped the marginalized? As Jesus says, “for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me…Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (NRSV, Matthew 25:42-45) I wonder if I had fed anyone that needed food or drink or welcomed a stranger, or clothed the naked or visited the sick or those imprisoned this past year?

Prayer:

Lord, as I get closer to beginning a new year of my life, may I remember to recognize the blessings of being on this earth and serving you, by serving others. May I never forget to include helping the oppressed in my New Year’s Resolutions. I recognize that I may not have done everything that you have called me to do this year, but I will remember that receiving your grace allows me to give grace, in return. I recognize that my blessings are meant to be shared. I will clothe the naked, feed the hungry and visit the sick and imprisoned—whether physical or spiritual. For I am your servant, and I must spread the cloths of heaven for you. Amen.

***

Summer Albayati-Krikeche is a woman who speaks inside and outside of the church. She is a candidate for ordained ministry in the Unitarian Universalist church, and serves as an intern chaplain at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. While studying in seminary, Summer felt that all of the sacred scriptures called us to help the oppressed.  Shortly, thereafter, she decided to help those considered the most marginalized in any society—orphans. In 2009, Summer founded Orphan Whispers, a nonprofit that helps orphans in conflict and post-conflict societies, and is currently focusing on the orphans in Iraq.