Thursday, May 17, 2018

Changing the Mindset: Full Acceptance or Just an Exception?

  • Published on February 24, 2016

By Lydia Istomina Posted on by GCSRW
Re: Book of Discipline Paragraph 4, Article IV
Amend ¶4. Adding “gender” and “age” to the list of what the UMC cannot discriminate against

What prevented The United Methodist Church from amending the original phrasing of Paragraph 4 earlier? The amendment is about female leadership in The United Methodist Church and the age of our leaders. Let’s leave social justice, democracy, and inclusivity aside for a moment and approach the problem from economical and performance standpoint.

A recent study by Duke University shows that only 11% of women serve as “senior or solo pastoral leaders.” Ironically, the beginning of my ministry was with a “new start” congregation that became a fast-growing church. I became a poster-child for The United Methodist in Eurasia. But now, after 20 years of serving small American congregations, I do not see a way for me, as well as for many other clergywomen, to get even near the glass ceiling without divine intervention.

In 2008, there were 82 women who were senior pastors of churches with a membership of more than 1,000. In 2010, there were 94 women leading large churches. The survey found that 9 out of 10 lead women pastors of large membership churches were the first women to lead that church, as in the case of Grace Olathe UMC in Kansas.

Is the church scared of women’s sexuality behind the pulpit that it causes the church push a clergywoman to find a job outside of the church? Kira Schlesinger blogs about how often women clergy hear that they were “too pretty” to be a pastor. The still patriarchal Church continues viewing women as “desirable” or “disposable” objects. Could it be that out of the fear of sexual harassment lawsuits, The United Methodist Church keeps women away?
Pastors, like any other human beings, are mortal, and they do age. Harvard Business Review journal posted Zenger-Folkman’s results How Age and Gender Affect Self-Improvement. Successful professional women with age develop the higher ability for self-improvement in all professions  because as they say themselves, “we must perform twice as well to be thought half as good.” The situation in business gradually improves.  Though it is still true that women have to work twice as hard compared with men while being paid less for the same job, the studies in the business show some progress. I find this study’s results quite ironic. In business, the study shows, women with age become not only more effective but also more accepted while male’s performance declines. (see Table 1).[1] While businesses in America begin promoting women after 50 and electing them to higher positions, The United Methodist Church prefers young men fresh out of seminary.

A Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s study shows a 17% increase of men elders after the age of 35 in 2015 while the number of women elders in the same category drops from 26-29% in the same year.[3]
The United Methodist denomination operates largely at the level of organizational interests. It is not a secret that large, wealthy churches continue insisting on getting young men for their pastors, but young men feel less and less attracted to ministry due to multiple factors: long hours, high stress and low pay. Women pastors have to work twice as hard compared to clergymen, but their salaries remain 13% less, according to UMCOM.[4] Why have women pastors kept silent for decades? The reasons are many. One of them is the societal expectation of women to be “good girls” and to choose the “higher road.” Marie Fortune found that abused woman usually suffer in silence, “Christian women aren’t supposed to feel angry, are we?”[5]On another hand, that very silence makes women appear weak as leaders.

Though Rev. HiRho Park reports in the study that the “percentage of female pastors in the UMC increased by about 50% over the study period, and seniority of female pastors increased on an average of about 30%,” it is not a secret that large, wealthy churches often request a young man as their pastor in spite of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that protects certain categories based on gender, race, age and others.[6]

In some cases, if a local congregation accepts a woman under the Bishop’s pressure, soon, the church leaders tell their clergywoman, “No offense, but if we had a young Hispanic man with a band, we would start growing.” And this is when their community profile is blue-collar, white residents, retired or close to retirement and the congregation itself is in their seventies. This anecdotal exchange tells a lot about the present attitude toward women in The United Methodist Church.

Women are not wanted by larger churches because they are viewed as fragile and easy to be coerced into doing something they do not want to do.  Women have a deeper sense of compassion and people interpret it wrongly. Women are raised as “good girls to do this or that.” We even hear that women are more vulnerable and too emotional.  For the same qualities of being seen as a strong leader as a male leader, a woman is usually labeled a trouble-maker, nuisance, pest and an instigator. How do I know? I’ve worn those labels for years.

Let’s be honest, considering the ways girls and women are socially conditioned from birth, women are understood to be much more patient and more emotionally mature. Many women are fit and well-equipped for ministry in many cases, but they are not viewed as serious candidates. If women proved their efficiency in this business world, which is more demanding and technologically complex, does it not mean that The United Methodist denomination misses a huge opportunity retiring qualified, better educated, healthy and hard-working professionals? As a result, women clergy feel discriminated against and unjustly treated when it comes to getting a well-deserved appointment. The stained glass ceiling of The United Methodist Church is hard to break.

When, by an extraordinary chance, I became the first female pastor in the former Soviet Union after 70 years of atheism, I was not meant to participate in the governance of the Church as a woman according to the present reading of The Book of Discipline. I was told by Bishop Vaxby from the Northern European Conference that the General Board made an exception for me. I was given a green light to serve on the General Board of Global Ministries and serve a local church without any theological education.

Rev. Canon Gina Gilland Campbell became a Canon Precentor of Washington National Cathedral after serving The United Methodist Church for 36 years. She is a good reason for me to believe that there should be no more exceptions in appointing deserving women in leadership positions, especially after 50, but a usual practice.[7] It’s clear from both the data and the personal experiences of many women in the denomination that the vision of a church where women have the same opportunities and support as men is not yet a reality. Becoming a United Methodist, I thought that I joined a community of equality and acceptance. To make it a law, not an exception, I propose to add “gender” and “age” by amending ¶4. Article IV to ensure inclusiveness of gender and age in the global UM Church.

After a short career in engineering, and nine years as Executive Branch Manager of the Russian nonprofit association Znanie (Knowledge), Lydia Istomina founded the Institute of Management for local entrepreneurs in partnership with Ural State University. She is also a founding pastor of the first United Methodist Church in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Lydia is the first woman pastor in Russia.
As the Director for Russia and the C.I.S. at the General Board of Global Ministries, Lydia Istomina organized negotiations between the UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) and the Russian government. She was able to negotiate the largest military airplane AN-124 (Ruslan) to deliver humanitarian aid to Ekaterinburg, Russia during the most critical years. Lydia’s church in Russia became a distribution, teaching and publishing center.
Lydia Istomina is a DMin graduate from St. Paul School of Theology. Her dissertation is on workplace and pastor bullying prevention. She was one of the key speakers at the Talking Taboo event at the Church of Resurrection last spring. Presently, Lydia serves on the Strength for Service Board of Directors and serves as a mentor at SCORE and the Regnier Institute of the Bloch School of Management at UMKC.
Lydia Istomina is an author and holds the SOJOURNER OF TRUTH AWARD for courage and justice and the ARLON O. EBRIGHT AWARD for leadership.

 [1] Bob Sherwin is the COO of leadership consultancy by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, who published his three-part series for Business Insider that was first published in a 2012 Harvard Business Review.  Harvard Business Review continues this topic in 2016
[2] Ibid.
[3] Clergy Age Trends in the United Methodist Church. A Lewis Center for Church Leadership. 2015 Report, 7
[4] UMCOM,Report Examines Salaries for United Methodist Clergy in the U.S.
[5] Fortune, Marie M. (2009-10-13). Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse (p. 50). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
[6] Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Unlawful Employment Practices. Sec. 2000e-2. [Section 703]

Originally published by GCSRW:

Saturday, March 25, 2017

My Christ has Risen, Yours is Next Week?

Russians celebrate everything twice, I like to joke. I don’t make it up, though; we do celebrate everything twice! Christmas is celebrated on December 25th by the conventional calendar and is repeated on January 7th, according to the ancient Russian Gregorian calendar. We grew up happily celebrating the New Year twice: first time as all Westerners, on New Year’s Eve, and second time, on January 13th. The first time is with family; the second time with friends.
Still, Christmas is not as important in the Russian Orthodox tradition as Easter. We were raised eating colored eggs and Easter cakes even under the fear of being caught. I am not sure how it works, but my body knows when Easter comes. It took me a while to understand the reasons behind my irritability and frustration each spring, when I prepare Easter services for my members. Holy Week in America is the worst time of the year. I see colored eggs in every store, I smell Easter cakes and I want to scream, “It is too early.” This is the time to fast, not to eat eggs. When it is Easter in America, it is Verbnoe Vosckresenie in Russia, like Palm Sunday, but with pussy willow branches instead of palms. 
I can’t color eggs and bake Easter Cake before my Russian Orthodox Easter. So I celebrate Easter twice: the first time with my church, and then second time with my family. We color eggs and eat Easter Cake.
I hold a hard-boiled egg in the morning of the Russian Orthodox Easter. We have something like an egg fight. The one who cracks the egg of another person wins. Then we say, Khristos Voskres! Voistinu Voskres! – “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And we kiss each other three times.
Then, I know that I have celebrated Easter and finally calm down, until next year. The problem is when we celebrate Easter on different days, someone will say, My Christ Has Risen! When is Yours?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lacking Self-esteem? Have a Happy Period!

When I hear that some American girls and women lack self-esteem, I can’t help but wonder. How can a young American girl have low self-esteem or lack confidence in this country of abundance?
I never liked when my parents used phrases like “When I was your age, I walked to school five miles, under the snow.” I rarely tell my story because it starts very similarly, “When I was your age, I had no Tampax during my periods!” This is when I get the sympathy that my father was looking for but never received from me. It is easier to imagine walking on snow than a period without pads or Tampax. 
“That can’t be true! Everybody has Tampax!”
“We did have pads, but we had to make them out of cotton ourselves.”
“Were you poor?” One girl finally began using her brains.
It didn’t matter how wealthy or poor we were - our drug stores were empty. It was a lucky day when you could get one or two rolls of pressed cotton or bandages to make those pads at home. Very seldom could we buy something specially designed for those challenging days.
The trick was not just to find sterile medical material but to find the right one, because not all cotton was equally absorbent, making the blood flow around the pad rather than going into it and staying there.
That was half of the problem; the real problem was to make those pads stay in place, especially during the warm season. American pads not only stick to the inner lining of the pants, but even have wings. Our self-made pads were bulky and long and didn’t want to stay between our legs. Dressed up as ladies, we had to move from one building to another, making an emergency stop at the first sense of a pad sliding down and adjusting it quickly under the dress.
When I listen to the whining of a seventeen-year-old that her Dad isn’t buying her a new Mustang, and because of that she has no confidence, I want to tell her about walking on high heels and being possessed by fear of losing a huge pad between the legs.
It is not just about pads but, at the same time, it is. Our beautiful, educated Russian women and young girls had to walk like ducks, trying to hold those hygiene items with their thighs.  How much self-respect, confidence, or self-esteem is left after that? And still, we had confidence!
When I visit young mothers in American hospitals, I am amazed at how fast they start laughing after the horrific experience of pushing a huge baby’s head through their vaginas. Maybe the difference is in after-delivery care? In Russia, we were handed an old baby wrap, folded into a huge “pad” the size of a small pillow. We were expected to get around the hospital with those pillow-like pads between our thighs sticking out from underneath our extremely petite hospital robes, covered with hospital seals and old blood spots so that no one will try to steal them.
It was summer of 2007 in my new Shawnee home. I opened a package with female pads one morning and I noticed that every pad had a sticker, “Have a Happy Period!” You won’t believe it – I was walking even prouder that day. No, I was not walking. I was flying, jumping as a girl - I am having a happy period! 

How is it that girls here lack self-esteem, I do not grasp.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How to Ignore the Secondary

One day my sister and I went to the woods to pick wild berries on a very hot day. To tell the truth, I did not want to go, but I said, "OK, Irina, let’s go. Some fresh air will be good."
"What is this?" I suspiciously pointed at something looking like an old rug that my sister put on as soon as we left the car.
"This is my raincoat. You should put one on too. Mosquitoes could be really bad in the woods at this time of the year." I forgot all about nasty creatures! I put the raincoat on. 
"What is it now?!" My older sister handed me a can. "Lydia, now you have to spray your face and hands with repellent."
"Oh, no! I’d rather die. It is enough that I wear this ugly raincoat. I can hardly breathe in it!” I hated even to touch the bottle! But you can’t argue with my sister - a chemist and a wild berry guru. We always had the most fragrant jam at her popular parties.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What Dostoevsky Can Teach Us About the Suffering Church

Feodor Dostoevsky is the author of one of the most profound dialogues about sin and evil in his book The Brothers Karamazov that reflected on his unrest over injustice. Reading the book, one begins to understand that it was not God, who Dostoevsky had a problem with, but evil and disingenuous Christians. Elissa Kiskaddon claims that Dostoevsky’s disappointment with God was not only “confined to religious persons, but extended to the entity of the church itself and its excesses.” Walter Wink's concern is that the condition of the Church is far from ideal. “These churches are riven by strife, factionalism, backbiting, and heresy. As human communities, they have little to commend them."[1]
The recent resignation of Bishop Robert William Finn in Kansas City after he was convicted of failing to report child abuse in his Diocese left many Kansas City-area Catholics to feel betrayed. Susie Evans, a lifelong Catholic, shares, “I find it unacceptable to embrace something I don’t agree with. I don’t think that’s what Jesus wanted. People have to stand up and say what’s right, and what’s wrong. And that wasn’t happening.” Child abuse is inhumane and should be considered one of the worst evils. Dostoevsky names children's suffering as the most irrational and unjust sin and struggles to reconcile it through Ivan and Alesha’s dialogue in the attempt to reconcile such abuse with the loving God. This example serves as a good illustration of Dostoevsky’s view of the human heart as the battlefield between good and evil.[3] Dostoevsky’s frustration was caused not only by his observation of evil in the world but by immorality and incivility done in and by the church.
Pastors respond to their calling with pure hearts but gradually end under double pressure from their congregations and their denominations. This is when pastors' personal “inner demons” get exacerbated by “church-growth pressure," local church politics, performance reviews, family expectations, and isolation. When it comes to pastors, their spiritual health suffers from pride, envy, greed, anger, and unhealthy ambitions. Bishop Robert Schnase describes in his book Ambition in Ministry, calling them  as “ardent desires and deadly appetites.”[4] Wink calls them “inner personal demonic” tendencies for evil. 
In his letter to N. L. Ozmidov, Dostoevsky writes: “Now assume there is no God or immortality of the soul. Now tell me, why I should live righteously and do good deeds if I am to die entirely on earth.” 
What will be your answer to Dostoevsky's question?

[1] Wink, Walter. Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1986, 72.
[2] Dostoyevsky, Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Ed. Frank and Goldstein. U.S.A.: Rutgers University, 1987. 446.
[3] Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. III, 3.
[4] Schnase, Robert. Ambition in Ministry: Our Spiritual Struggle with Success, Achievement & Competition. Abingdon Press, 1993, 42.
[5] Wink, Walter. Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1986, 53.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Courage is required

“Hope has two beautiful daughters their names are anger and courage;

Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain

the way they are.”   (Augustine, Summa Theologica)

In the world of greed for power there is little space left for morality. Robert Fogel, University of Chicago economic historian and winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for economics, said on the day his award was announced, "intense beam of morality... can change history."[1] To start and nurture that “beam of morality” requires courage, knowledge of history, sharing stories, and patience in pursuing the truth.

Every family in the Soviet Union lost at least one member in the World War II. Intelligent and well-educated Germans became obsessed Hitler-phrenics and followed their leader, who promised them Europe and Asia, as their dominion in exchange of loyalty. One man-dictatorship created an army of soulless human machines that experimented on children and women, burnt people in concentration camps, and exterminated village after village, and town after town. The insanity of one man was    not resisted and it cost Europe millions of lives. It cost Russia 20 million lives. The   scariest part of that time in our history was that Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin–two communist dictators­–brutally murdered another 20 million Russians in Gulags.

So many people in the former Soviet Union have been hurt and humiliated unjustly. Many died without being rehabilitated.  Many are still keeping family    secrets, afraid of sharing them, though everything is supposed to be long forgotten. One day, the KGB archives in Ekaterinburg, Russia were opened and the dismayed residents learned that just near the town gates there was a nameless burial ground. Thousands of guiltless people had been secretly shot, the dead and those left to die were pushed into ditches and covered with earth.  Relatives who had been patiently looking for their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters lost in prisons, went hopefully to this    place. Thus a new "cemetery" was born.   People began to nail the photos and names of their relatives to the huge trunks of the trees that had grown in the area since the   night of massacre.  All tablets with names had the same date of death. When my father took me there one afternoon, the spirit of violence shook me, and I felt horror hovering over the burial ground.

Vladimir Lenin[2], the Father of the Soviet System, came up with a postulate, required for change: “Change (revolution) is possible when the top (the powerful) cannot rule in the old way, and the mob (the powerless) cannot live in the old way.” Modern Russians reinvented the old postulate: “When the top cannot rule in the new way, and the mob doesn’t want to live in the new way.” Unfortunately, I observed   similar attitude among Americans.

Oppressed people are fatalistic and passive. They do not want to get involved. They don't understand that they are oppressed.  Courage doesn't come until we get angry at how things are. But anger is not popular. We all want to be nice.

Hope has two beautiful daughters.... And hope dies last.

[1] Longworth, R.C. Morality:  It's Time for a Closer LookChicago Tribune, 
17 October 1993, 1, 4.
[2] Lenin, Vladimir – Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, 1870-1924 (later known as 
Lenin), leader of Bolsheviks, a politician, one of the Russian dictators -