Clergywomen Promote Conference Diversity, Improved Legislative Action

LAKELAND - Florida has a lot of diversity among its clergy, with significant numbers of women, African-American, Hispanic and Haitian pastors. A group of Conference clergywomen are working to ensure that Florida’s presence at the 2012 General Conference is more representative.

Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson of First United Methodist in Ocala
“In 2003, just before that upcoming General Conference, a few of us were talking and we realized that the majority of our delegates are white, middle-aged males from larger-congregation churches,” recalled the Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson of First United Methodist in Ocala.

The Rev. Emily Oliver, associate director of the Center for Clergy Excellence, said it’s not that the delegate selection process intentionally excludes anyone.

“It’s just that it takes a few cycles for the Conference’s voting membership to become familiar enough with a candidate’s name on the delegate ballot to select them. Naturally, long-time clergy from larger congregations typically have held other leadership roles in the Conference so they tend to be the most often selected,” she said.

Reasoning that the Conference can benefit from harnessing the diversity of its membership, Haupert-Johnson, Oliver and some 30 other clergywomen have launched a grass-roots effort. Their goal? To raise diversity awareness Conference-wide, as well as enact strategic efforts to expand the level of participation among women, minorities, younger clergy, small-church congregations and deacons and extension ministries.
The group meets regularly throughout the year, sometimes in person – such as a recent gathering at Lady Lake UMC in Leesburg – and sometimes via conference call. Members convene to review progress on a four-pronged approach to improve legislative action and inclusiveness in Florida’s general and jurisdictional delegations.
In addition to expanding diversity, the group has three other objectives:

    • Encouraging and equipping gifted laity to run for election and serve as representatives in the Florida delegations.
    • Creating a legislative action committee whose members are willing to study issues, draft legislation and work with the elected delegates to ensure passage of the legislation.
    • Providing mentoring and orientation to young and new clergy to make them educated participants in the legislative process.

The group’s efforts are focused on the 2012 General Conference in Tampa. Right now, group members are identifying both laity and clergy who would provide good representation and then encouraging them through phone calls and personal meetings to nominate themselves or get involved in other ways.

“There are a lot of gifted laity out there, but getting them to take more of a leadership role at General Conference is a challenge because of the time commitment,” noted Haupert-Johnson. “Not many people want to use their vacation time from work to attend the Conference or tell their family, ‘I have to be away from you for two weeks to do church stuff.’”

Rev. Emily Oliver, associate director of the Center for Clergy Excellence
There is a gender difference, Oliver added.

“For clergy, men typically have no problem deciding to nominate themselves as a delegate,” she said. “But for women, what we’ve found is that even if they are interested in being delegates they often struggle with having the self-confidence to put themselves out there as a candidate. Women also more often seem to have family concerns and other obligations.”

Haupert-Johnson said the group is pushing toward becoming more diverse itself, and an official legislative action committee would represent all segments of the Conference.

“We do realize that the entire Annual Conference should be cultivating young clergy and pushing diversity, but we had to start somewhere,” she said.

The creation of a Conference-recognized legislative action committee prior to the 2012 General Conference is among the group’s official goals. Haupert-Johnson said the drafting and passing of legislation at General Conference is often ad hoc, with the delegates having limited time and opportunity to study the issues and think strategically about what’s before them. The legislative committee would work year-round to ensure passage of legislation that is strategically drafted, thoroughly researched, and well-worded.

“We envision it to be a group of people who work not only during the four full weeks of the Conference but from year to year, monitoring the legislation, educating themselves and the other membership, and proposing legislation,” she said.

Meanwhile, as the group is raising awareness and promoting inclusion of diverse delegates, they recognize that for many new clergy the inner workings and daily activities of the General Conference can be a bit daunting. Thus, plans are also underway for the group’s fourth initiative of mentoring and orienting new and young clergy about the legislative process.  

“Even if they don’t attend as elected delegates, we want to encourage gifted young and new clergy to become engaged in the General Church process,” said Haupert-Johnson. “By having them attend as assistants to the delegates – doing research and observing behind-the-scenes how things happen – we would be purposefully exposing them to the process at the General Conference.”

To that end, the group is generating a roster of up-and-coming newer clergy that appear to have potential. Group members will reach out to them, not only encouraging them to nominate themselves but shepherding them through the process. Haupert-Johnson and the Rev. Debbie McLeod of Mandarin UMC in Jacksonville are preparing a day-long orientation session prior to General Conference for first-time delegates and attendees.

“This grass-roots effort is really about finding ways to tap into the enormous leadership potential and diversity of gifts that our women, minority and smaller-congregation clergy have to offer,” continued Haupert-Johnson.

The group’s efforts appear to be paying off, both in tangible numbers and in personal successes. Haupert-Johnson said women, minorities and smaller churches have shown more interest in getting involved in legislative work.

 “It has personally benefited me to be involved with this group and this process,” Oliver said. “I’ll turn 30 next year, and I have not had to struggle with people not responding to me as a leader or supporting my ministry because of the work this group has done to promote and encourage new clergy and women and minorities. Their efforts have been a blessing to me and my ministry, as well as making the entire Florida Conference better.”

Anyone interested in working with this group or participating in the orientation should contact the Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson at 352-622-3244 or

News media contact: Cary McMullen, 800-282-8011,, Lakeland
*McMullen is managing editor of the e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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