Written by Gayle Starling-Melvin
January - February 2001
The Christmas holidays were anything but joyous for seven national staff members of Church Women United (CWU). One by one, on Dec. 11 each was notified in her New York office that her position was terminated. Making the announcements was CWU's national president, the Rev. Jerrye Gray Champion, along with two or three executive committee members of the board of directors. Some staff members acknowledged being taped recorded without their permission while being let go.
Given only an hour's notice to vacate the premises were Kathleen Hurty, CWU's executive director; Jeannie Lee, program manager for ecumenical development and global advocacy; Ascension (Inday) Day, program manager for leadership development; Aaron Agne and Jennifer Peterson, two Union Seminary students serving as part-time staff; and two UCC members, Mary Stamp, program manager for communications, and Jeanette Zaragoza De Leon, program manager for ecumenical celebrations.
Citing financial concerns as the reason for cutting out CWU's staff, Champion is currently handling the executive director's work, operating without a professional staff.
Stamp had just moved last summer to New York from Spokane, Wash., to take the CWU position. Among other positions, she had edited the Washington North Idaho edition of United Church News for 12 years.
According to Stamp, CWU has become a Christian organization divided.
"I'm amazed at how some of the board leaders seemed to function outside of CWU's governance guidelines," she says, "in that they would micro manage the staff. Instead of taking care of their board roles such as fund raising, making decisions and setting policies, they were hands-on with the programming."
Despite the board's action, Stamp feels heartened and encouraged by support that is being displayed by friends and colleagues standing in solidarity with those who lost their jobs.
Deborah Bailey and the Rev. Lois M. Powell, staff members in the UCC's national setting concerned with women's issues, are clearly disturbed by what has occurred. In a letter directed to Champion, they wrote, "We are appalled that anyone would be let go in this manner ... the credibility of the CWU Board of Directors has been seriously compromised and the programmatic work of CWU which evolved in a collaborative manner is jeopardized."
As a result of the professional staff's dismissal, Joyce Sohl, chief executive for the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, has stated that its 2001 contribution will be held back "until there is a clear direction set for the national organization and the justice issues regarding the firing of seven staff members is resolved."
According to Powell, the UCC is not officially withholding funds but is unlikely to send its contribution until the situation is resolved in a satisfactory way.