Justice and Grace: A historic panel of UCC leaders share sacred stories at the CHHSM Annual Gathering
Hope, grace, and justice. These three words wound throughout an historic panel discussion by four UCC women leaders in justice advocacy March 4 at the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries' Annual Gathering in Memphis.Read more
The Supreme Court decision giving some corporations the right to deny coverage of certain types of contraception to their employees based on their religious freedom will have a great impact on women of color. Although, the ruling does not single out women of color, our political and economic realities tell us that women of color often bear the brunt of the negative impacts of restrictions on women’s health.
Differences in rates of disease and health status among women of color and other vulnerable populations can be defined by many factors including poverty, education, employment with living wages and good benefits, neighborhood economic conditions, presence or lack of social support networks, cultural values, affordable housing, the degree of toxins and pollution in the air and affordable, quality, accessible health services. When these differences are combined with conditions that are unfair, unjust and avoidable, health equity – the achievement of good health regardless of one’s social position or other social factors – is threatened. The Supreme Court’s decision impacts the health equity of women of color in thee ways:
1. The Cost of Birth Control: In 2011 approximately 57 million adult women were covered through employer-sponsored insurance. If the policies of other companies like Hobby Lobby become the norm rather than the exception, it could impact contraceptive access for millions of people in the U. S. and have a disproportionate impact on women of color who, with lower income and wealth on average, may not be able to afford to pay for their contraception out-of-pocket.
Women of color are more likely to be low-income, and also more likely to work a minimum wage job. Getting an IUD could cost as much as an entire month’s rent working at the minimum wage. Purchasing birth control pills without insurance or benefit of plans that include prescription drugs could range $20 and $130.00 a month depending on the brand. Women of color, who are already struggling to make ends meet, may face increased burdens. That could mean doing things like splitting one pack of pills between two women each month or not using birth control at all. There are now more than 1 million Asian-American women living in poverty, an increase from 700,000 in 1999. This decision is yet another barrier for Asian-American and Pacific Islander women who already face significant health disparities and barriers to insurance.
2. Risks of Unplanned Pregnancy: The risks of carrying an unintended pregnancy to term are much higher for women of color. Black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth than white women. Being unable to prevent a pregnancy due to the financial barriers put in place by this decision puts lives at risk. Women of color are also at higher risk for infant mortality, low-infant birth weight and premature delivery – all things that pose significant long-term risks to the mother and child.
3. History: Women of color have dealt with a long history of reproductive control at the hands of employers and the government. From treatment in public hospitals, to welfare reform, to family caps limiting the number of children welfare recipients can have. Women of color have long had to fight for the right to control their own reproduction. This case just adds another layer to controlling fertility, this time at the hands of employers.
For more than thirty five years the General Synod of the United Church of Christ has advocated for health care as a right and a priority for all people. We are rooted in the conviction that all forms of injustice can be overcome. Health inequities are the consequences of public policies, and as such can be changed. Tackling health inequities requires widening our understanding of health and health care to include the ways in which lifestyle factors influence individual and community health. The Affordable Care Act made great gains by requiring insurance companies cover birth control with no out of pocket cost to women. Many women of color rely on a safety net for basic health care and needs. Let us remain vigilant in our advocacy making sure this net continues to remain safe for everyone and especially for women.
Spring and summer were seasons of change in conference leadership across the United Church of Christ, with six new conference ministers called, and in that group, a trio of women who are beginning their tenures.Read more
A nationally known minister, author and teacher in local church faith formation ministries has been called to lead the United Church of Christ Faith Formation Ministry Team. The Rev. Ivy Beckwith is joining the UCC's Local Church Ministries, headquartered in Cleveland, on Dec. 1. In this new position, Beckwith will foster a significant shift in how the denomination approaches and designs faith formation ministries within and for the UCC, in response to the findings of the UCC's in-depth Christian Faith Formation and Education Ministries Report issued in September 2012.
"As the UCC's Faith Formation Research Report made clear, approaches to faith formation have changed," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries. "No longer are we solely focused on an educational 'Sunday School' model, but one that embraces faith formation as the desired outcome of all we do as Christians and as communities of faith.
"Faith is being formed, for example, when we read the Stillspeaking Daily devotional each morning, or participate in a public witness for justice and then reflect on the experience. Faith is formed in worship, at choir rehearsals, in mission projects, in advocacy letters, with friends and family, and at dinner tables," Guess added. "This is the holistic, intergenerational direction we are emphasizing, helping to create faith formation components to everything we do in the church and in our family life."
"I can envision no one more appropriately suited to lead and speak to these shifts than Ivy Beckwith," Guess said. "Her thinking and writing has inspired and challenged Christian leaders across a broad theological spectrum, from liberal to conservative to emergent."
Beckwith, an ordained UCC minister hired following a national search, has spent her entire ministry career in faith formation ministry, most recently as Director of Religious Education at Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York, N.Y. She has also served as the Minister to Children and Families at the Congregational Church of New Canaan, Conn.
"I use a very simple definition for spiritual formation of children, youth and adults," Beckwith states. "For me spiritual formation is a process of loving God and living in the way of Jesus. People have written books on the definition and process of spiritual formation, but as I write and speak to groups about spiritual formation I want something that is easy for people to remember. And this definition seemed to be it for me."
Beckwith holds a Ph.D. in religious education and has worked in curriculum publishing as a writer, editor and marketer, authoring several well-received books in the area of childhood faith formation. Her most recent work, "Children's Ministry in the Way of Jesus," written to bring justice into formational ministries, will be released this fall.
"I see this as much more than the once-in-a-while application to a Bible story lesson," Beckwith said. "I think that living out the concept of God's justice in a children's ministry means helping children to act justly in their worlds, talking about human issues that perhaps aren't often talked about in a children's ministry and being aware of what the 'hidden curriculum' in our lives and churches is teaching children. How adults act means much more to them than what we say."
Beckwith's Faith Formation Ministry Team includes the Rev. Susan Blain, Waltrina Middleton, and the Rev. Scott Ressman, plus three part-time children and family ministers working jointly with the UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Rev. Kate Epperly, the Rev. Olivia Bryan Updegrove and the Rev. Olivia Stewart Robertson. They will work to infuse new ideas, understandings and resources that speak to how faith is formed and deepened through every aspect of the church's corporate life (study, prayer, arts, worship, advocacy, mission, service, leadership, etc.), through families, in vocations, and in relationship with all of God's creation.
"Ivy emphasizes we've focused on the 'educational' model exclusively for too long, while ignoring the importance of the 'experiential,'" said Guess. "Her approach to faith formation is holistic. It happens everywhere, not just at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, and it's lifelong and intergenerational."
"We have too long believed that we can 'school' children, youth, and adults into being fully formed lovers of God and followers of Jesus," Beckwith said. "The church has in many ways seen spiritual nurture or faith formation as a cognitive endeavor where we think ourselves into belief or action. I think that is backward. I think we act ourselves into belief which involves behavior and emotion. That's not to say there isn't a place for formal education. I just think the emphasis has been misplaced."
A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with a Masters of Religious Education, Ivy earned a Ph.D. in education from Trinity International University, where her dissertation focused on experiential education and psycho-social growth. As team leader of the UCC Faith Formation Ministry, Beckwith will continue to establish the UCC's "Inspiring Models of Ministry" concept, like the "Bless" event in Boston, or "Peace Village" in San Mateo, Calif., where congregations inspire other congregations in the ministries in which they exceed.
As Guess said, "Ivy has talked repeatedly about the need to find, embrace and replicate what's happening in congregations of all shapes and sizes that is working well."
"I think our churches have much to learn from what other churches have found to be both meaningful and successful," Beckwith said. "And one of the things I love to do is connect people in ministry who are thinking and talking about the same things. However, I do believe that how any church does faith formation really needs to grow out of the ethos of that particular church. I am a big believer in the idea of transferable concepts. Once we understand the underlying basis of a program or initiative, we can bring that idea to different settings and tweak it to fit that particular setting. I am also a big fan of tweaking."
In 1975, the United Church of Christ honored two clergywomen with the first Antoinette Brown Award, celebrating the life and ministry of the first woman ordained into Christian ministry since biblical times as well as the lives and ministries of UCC clergywomen who exemplify Brown’s spirit of trailblazing leadership in church and society.
Forty years later, the pathways are considerably widened for women in ministry in the UCC, but there are still necessarily pioneers and innovators in our midst, women who lead in extraordinary ways and who make possible other women’s ministries. From “now until January 15, 2019, we invite your nominations of trailblazers (UCC clergywomen who honor Antoinette Brown’s vision of women in leadership in church and society) as well as catalysts (collectives, projects, congregations, or organizations that serve as provocative spaces that advance women in ministry) below. Alternatively, you can download the form. Honorees will be celebrated at General Synod 32 in Milwaukee in June 2019.
On August 24, 1920—more than 40 years after Susan B. Anthony first penned 39 straightforward words as a proposed U.S. Constitutional Amendment to grant women the legal right to vote—the weight of that historic decision all came down to one man, Harry T. Burn, Sr., who, at age 24, was the youngest-elected member of the Tennessee House of Representatives.
A year earlier, on June 4, the proposed 19th Amendment had won the hard-fought two-thirds "super majority" required of both chambers of Congress and, within nine months, 35 of the 48 states had ratified it. But the proposal had stalled.
Its fate, ultimately, came down to a decision by Tennessee, the necessary number 36. It was one of only four undecided states, but the only one willing to call its legislature into special session to consider the measure before the ratification process expired. Burn arrived at the state capitol that morning intending to vote against the constitutional change, as the red carnation on his lapel so indicated. Burn and 48 other legislators wore the crimson boutonnieres as a public sign of their opposition to women's equality. On the other side, 48 representatives wore yellow carnations to indicate their support. The measure seemed destined to fall short by one, critical vote.
But when the roll call was held, Burn—wearing a "nay" red carnation—switched sides and cast the decisive "yea" vote to ratify the 19th Amendment.
More than 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, nearly 58 years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and 72 years after the Suffrage movement was founded in Seneca Falls, N.Y., women had finally received the vote.
By this time, the Amendment's principle architects—Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton—had been dead for 14 and 18 years, respectively.
After Burn's fateful decision, legend has it that he eluded physical assault by hiding in the attic of the capitol until the coast was clear.
Explaining his flip-flop vote, Burn said that he had discovered, in his pocket, a personal note penned by his mother, Febb E. Burn.
"Vote for suffrage!" she wrote to her son. "Don't keep them in doubt. I have been watching to see how you stood."
Said the legislator Burn to his colleagues, "A good boy always does what his mother asks him to do."
This powerful, but little-known story of one man's influence on history is, at one level, a poignant illustration of how one vote matters. But, at a deeper level, it's a reminder that our influence, our leverage matters as well. Others, to be sure, are impacted by how we feel and what we think.
Public policy decisions affect the lives of real human beings, and it is through our personal stories that we best make this reality understood. Yes, it takes conviction to make the phone call, to offer the word or to pen the note. But it may be just the thing another person needs to muster the courage necessary to resist the rising tide, to reject the scapegoating and to do the right thing.
So, during this important election year, here's to fearless Harry Burn. But, even more so, here's to his gutsy mother.
And here's a shout out to all who realize that standing on principle is easier when the encouragement of others emboldens us to take a stand for justice, just as God requires.
Harry Burn died at age 81 in 1977—when Jimmy Carter was president—an acute reminder that we still live in pivotal times. Your vote and your influence do matter.
A monthly feature about the history of the United Church of Christ
In many Protestant churches today women clergy are more and more common. Although people may think that the ordination of women just happened in our lifetime, the UCC knows better. This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first woman ordained in our tradition, and, for that matter, in any major Protestant denomination.The date was Sept. 15, 1853. On that day a woman named Antoinette Brown, at the age of 28, was ordained in a small Congregational Church in South Butler, N.Y. Brown received her theological education at Oberlin College in Ohio, the first college to affirm coeducation. She was a well-known lecturer on temperance and the abolition of slavery. Brown's ordination caused little national controversy, because the polity of Congregationalism empowers local churches, supported by nearby congregations, to call and ordain their pastors. At her ordination a progressive Wesleyan Methodist preacher named Luther Lee entitled his sermon "A Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel." He used Joel 2:28, as quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts. "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." He insisted that the church does not "make a minister," rather God calls ministers, and the churches under the "Lordship of Jesus Christ" gather to celebrate that fact. Unfortunately, Brown's ministry in South Butler was short. After a few years she resigned due to ill health and doctrinal doubts. In 1856 she married Samuel C. Blackwell, the brother of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, early women physicians. She raised a large family, but remained intellectually and theologically active, writing many books on philosophy and science. After her family was grown she returned to active ministry as a Unitarian. In 1889, over 30 years after her ordination, there were only four ordained Congregational women listed in the annual Congregational Yearbook. By 1899, that number had risen to 49. In 1920, a commission on the status of clergywomen in Congregationalism reported that there were 67 ordained women out of 5,695 clergy. It took until the 1970s before these small percentages made dramatic increases. Today there are 2,832 ordained women (27 percent) out of the 10,321 active, nonretired clergy in the UCC. To celebrate this legacy and honor these women, at every UCC General Synod since 1975 the Antoinette Brown Award is given to two outstanding clergywomen, "whose ministries have exemplified advocacy for women and significant leadership in the parish, community, or other church-related institutions." In July, at General Synod 24, the award was presented to the Rev. Ruth Duck and the Rev. LaVerne McCain Gill. Church historian the Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund is the series editor of The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ.