For the first time in the 32 years that they have been priests in the Episcopal Church, ordained women will gather the first week in October to imagine a greater role for themselves in leading the Church, and to train for how that might happen.
The women who will gather for the "Imagine: Claiming & Empowering Ordained Women's Leadership" conference October 2-6 at the Kanuga conference center in North Carolina will also be called on "to look at the kind of church that they want to be leaders in," according to the Rev. Margaret R. Rose, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Women's Ministries.
"It's not just about having women take on leadership in the Church as it is," she said in an interview. "We are hoping that this week of gathering together will provide the opportunity for women to envision the kind of church we want to lead. What is it that needs transforming in the Church today? What are new models of church that we want to help bring about?
"What are the ways in which we can use our leadership to make the Church a better place, to make the Church a place where the gospel of Christ really can be preached, to make the Church a place where the mission of God, which is that of caring for God's people and especially those who are poor around the world, is possible?"
Rose noted that the conference fits well with the third United Nations Millennium Development Goal [http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals] of promoting gender equality and empowering women around the world. "We have discovered that when the women come together, though they may disagree on many issues -- including the one that seems to be dividing our Church right now -- we have noticed that they also agree on the issues of feeding hungry people and survival and the question of AIDS, and the women who gather are working in unity and they are finding ways to make a difference in the world," she said.
"I think [Presiding Bishop-elect] Katharine Jefferts Schori has this same desire, that the work of the Church is the work of the world, and it's the work of caring for a world that is broken right now by too much violence, too much war and those are the things that bind us together," Rose said.
The imagining will include, Rose said, helping the participants to articulate their ability to lead and find ways to place themselves where they might be chosen as leaders.
"When we look at the statistics we see that there are not a lot of women in the so-called cardinal parishes and there are not very many women, still, in the House of Bishops," Rose said.
Of the 311 bishops eligible to sit in the House of Bishops at the 75th General Convention, 13 are women. Rose noted that the 75th General Convention passed a resolution echoing one passed by the Anglican Consultative Council calling for 50 percent representation of women on all decision-making bodies of the Church.
"In many places, we have gotten there in this Church, but certainly not in the House of Bishops," she said. "This would be one goal of this conference: to give women both the courage, the vision, the sense of purpose, the ability to run for bishop in those places where they feel called to run."
Jefferts Schori will attend part of the conference and speak at its October 2 opening session about "perspectives on leadership."
The conference will also include peer coaching. Participants could register as peer coaches or as those wishing to be coached about their vocations and careers. The peer-coach training and the coaching itself have been organized by the Rev. Eleanor "Lee" McGee, retired professor of pastoral counseling at Yale Divinity School, and the Rev. Will Thompson, a professional coach trainer.
While this conference is focused on ordained women, Rose noted that "there have been wild strides with lay women in leadership in the Church. We're very grateful and excited for that and those lay women have led the way."
Conference coordinator Kim Robey, program assistant in the Women's Ministries office, said the distinction caused some comment but that the planners found that the conference needed a smaller scale and a sharp focus. She noted that much institutional power and leadership in the Church resides in its ordained ranks.
"I want to see ordained women be supported so that the Church can be changed," she said. "As a lay woman, I'm counting on that."
In addition to Jefferts Schori, conference speakers will include Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies; the Very Rev. Martha Horne, dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary, the Rev. Angela Ifill, missioner for the Episcopal Church's Office of Black Ministries; the Rev. Claiborne Jones, vicar and director of Emmaus House in Atlanta; the Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland; and Bishop Suffragan Cathy Roskam of New York. Bishop Suffragan Nedi Rivera of Olympia will serve as conference chaplain.
The conference's planning committee includes, in addition to Rose, the Rev. Lynne Grifo, associate coordinator, Episcopal Church Office for Ministry Development; the Rev. Elizabeth Morris Downie, president, Episcopal Women's Caucus; the Rev. Barbara Schlachter, convener, Committee on the Status of Women; and California Bishop Marc Andrus, member of the Committee on the Status of Women.
Registration for the conference is closed. Robey said that the organizers hope to stage the conference again at a later date and in another part of the United States.