By Reverend Barbara Kenley

They had me at the hashtag! I felt like I’d been watching this movement from the sidelines, like a player dying to get off the bench. The Synod Gathering was my chance to listen and learn in a safe environment, then determine how to respond.

For two days in March, about two dozen clergywomen and church professionals gathered at St. Luke United Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, IL, at the invitation of the Synod of Lincoln Trails Executive Sara Dingman and Presbytery of Chicago Executive Rev. Sue Krummel. We learned from two members of the LeaderWise* staff, Caroline Burke, PhD, LP and Krista Redlinger-Grosse, PhD, ScM. We examined our culture’s marginalization of women and the growth of the #MeToo movement in response to it.**

After recognizing current systemic prejudices against women, the reflection took a more personal turn. Each woman had a “me too” story of her own, both inside and outside the church. These ranged from workplace exclusion to pay discrimination to verbal harassment and physical assault. Some issues had been handled effectively by presbyteries, but many had not. Some had been completely ignored. Very few had had positive outcomes. Clearly, the women gathered had a pent-up need to share in a safe place with others who could understand and empathize. The sense of relief in the room – of burdens lightened – was palpable.

While the gathering would have been worthwhile if only to lighten the load carried by those of us who serve the Lord, it shifted from being about us to being about ALL of us. We participants rose above our own circumstances to consider how we might respond to future discrimination in light of our new awareness. How we might stand up as allies of other clergywomen and church professionals in the face of discrimination. How we could help the denomination live into its ideals. How we could help the larger society welcome the equality of all people. Many creative ideas for actions were shared and committed to. Hope was blossoming.

Hope continues to bloom in me as I share with others about these dynamic two days in March. People are eager to hear what happened; it is a topic that engages women and men alike. They want to end sexism and promote equality, but they don’t know how. This is where the church can help. When the church dares to stand up with the #MeToo movement, we just might find ourselves relevant to the world around us. What a refreshing discovery that will be!

Thanks to the Synod of Lincoln Trails for underwriting this landmark event. Sign me #grateful.

* LeaderWise “provides counseling and consulting for lives of service” for almost 50 years. The Synod of Lincoln Trails contracts with LeaderWise for such things as candidate assessment and clergy leadership development.

** In 2006 social activist Tarana Burke used the phrase “Me Too” on MySpace social network as part of a grassroots campaign to connect and promote empowerment through empathy by women of color who had experienced sexual abuse. This movement grew quietly until 15 October 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano encouraged the spreading of the phrase through Twitter. Milano hoped to expose the pervasiveness of sexual abuse, assault and harassment in our society.