M. Garlinda Burton, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women, will leave that position at the end of the year.
The commission announced plans July 10 to launch a search for a new executive this fall, with an eye toward having a consolidated staff presence in the agency's Chicago headquarters beginning in 2013.
Burton, who lives in Nashville, said she has decided not to relocate to Chicago, despite her love for the agency and its work. During her years with the agency, she has worked from an office in Nashville when not commuting to the commission's headquarters.
In making the announcement, Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor of South Carolina, who has served as president of the Commission since 2004, said the board of directors understood and affirmed Burton's decision.
"She has given voice to the full inclusion of women across the church," Taylor said. "Her joyous spirit has blessed the work of the commission. We are grateful for her faithful service and she will be truly missed."
Burton, who will seek other opportunities, has worked for the church for 30 years and said she also was tired of being on the road so often. "I've had jobs that required a lot of travel most of that time," she explained.
Burton said she remains convinced the agency she has led since November 2003 is still important to the denomination.
"What we've learned in the last couple of years is that gender and justice have not gone away (as issues), particularly as we look at the global reality," Burton told United Methodist News Service. "Women in Europe and Africa and the Philippines are raising their voices and saying they want to be heard in a more significant way."
Statistically, more women than ever are active in the denomination, but they have yet to achieve parity in leadership positions in areas such as finance and clergy leadership, traditionally held by men.
"At General Conference, most of the movers and shakers were white men from the United States," said Burton, whose agency monitored participation at the denomination's top legislative meeting this spring in Tampa, Fla. "Young people, women, people of color and those outside the U.S. were disenfranchised."
In Tampa, Burton and other women were strong defenders of the women's commission, which was launched in 1972 to help The United Methodist Church identify, address and correct institutional sexism and gender bias, as well as advocate for equal participation for clergy and lay women.
A month earlier, Burton had argued in a UMNS commentary that neither of two restructuring proposals for The United Methodist Church gave "any systemic, structural or budget priority to ministry with, to and by women as part of the denomination's 'essential functions.'"
General Conference delegates adopted "Plan UMC," a modified restructuring plan, which would have combined the Commission on Religion and Race and Commission on the Status and Role of Women into a United Methodist Committee of Inclusiveness. Plan UMC later was declared unconstitutional by the denomination's Judicial Council, leaving both commissions intact.
But, questions over the denomination's commitment to the full participation of lay and clergy women remain. "I think the church has work to do in living out what we say we want to be," Burton said. "If women aren't included at the table, then we are not being the church."
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or [email protected].