‘Lead Like a Woman’ challenges women to new paths

May 3, 2017

Candice Potts offers the song, “I Can Only Imagine,” during the recent Lead Like a Woman conference near Baltimore.
Candice Potts offers the song, “I Can Only Imagine,” during the recent Lead Like a Woman conference near Baltimore.

By Melissa Lauber
UMConnection Staff

Candice Potts stood before a room of lay and clergy women from the Baltimore-Washington Conference wearing an intricate blue rhinestone necklace that caught the light of the hotel ballroom. “Can we have a song?” asked Bishop LaTrelle Easterling as she prepared to preach.

Potts tilted her head back, and her voice filled the room: “I can only imagine,” she sang.

The words were a defining mantra for those gathered April 21-22 for the Lead Like a Woman Conference. The event, explained its organizer, Jo Chesson of the BWC Vibrant Communities Ministries, was to provide a setting, a challenge, a path for growth, an opportunity for conversations, and a time-apart for renewal and transformation.

The women began to imagine.

Individually and in small groups, they explored their own styles of leadership within their own church contexts. The feminist theologian and Old Testament scholar, the Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, and corporate coach pioneer Jane Creswell, unpacked their respective wisdom.

Weems began by capturing the women’s attention. “Racism,” she said, “is a sin. But sexism is just naughty.

“We’re not outraged by it,” she said. “We’re not angry about the oppression of women. It’s unfortunate it doesn’t get our hackles up,” she said. “What does it continue to cost us to live in a society that questions a woman’s right to lead?” she asked.

She encouraged those present to stop going to church “to get along” and to be willing to be outraged, to put aside the luxury of fragility and complacence and confront “a church and a culture that still penalizes women for being women.”

The Rev. Dawn Hand, kneeling, washes the feet of the Rev. Johnsie Cogman.
The Rev. Dawn Hand, kneeling, washes the feet of the Rev. Johnsie Cogman.

If you’re going to do the work of equality and justice “you have to be prepared to be challenged and to challenge,” she said.

In order to do this, she encouraged the woman to more deeply explore the divine feminine and to listen for the presence and voice of God.

“How will you know it’s God’s voice within you?” she asked. “It will sound strangely like your own.”

As Weems delivered the theological and spiritual foundation for women’s leadership, Creswell delivered practical insights into the leadership of women

Creswell, who invented the role of Organization Coach and is the founder of IBM Coaches Network, has always seen herself as a missionary to the business world.

As a high-ranking executive at IBM, she drew upon her professional experiences to help define what it means to be a “Jesus-hearted leader,” drawing on the traits of confidence, authenticity, resilience and soul-care.

She encouraged those present to put aside their “little girl behaviors” that can limit their effectiveness.

As little girls, she said, women are taught things like “everyone must be included in everything, rules must always be followed, conflict must be avoided and your work should speak for itself.”

She led the women through a process that allowed them to identify their high-performance patterns and create a plan that builds on their strengths as leaders.

After the day-and-a half of learning, Bishop Easterling asked women to imagine themselves in the gathering’s guiding passage of Scripture from Romans 10:15, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of messengers who bring good news.”

Standing before an altar that held stiletto heels, camping boots, and panther-print shoes, she called on women to embrace their uniqueness and all they were created to be, and “give their hallelujahs to God.”

“So often we are told to reject our God-given nature,” she said. “We have been made to believe that we are the lesser sex.”

But God uses the feet of reconcilers and restorers and those whose hearts burn with passion and have the desire to “serve, and to save, and to set free,” said Bishop Easterling, who pointed out how God called forth the feet of Miriam, Deborah, Hulda, Ruth, Esther, Elizabeth, Mary, Rachel, Hagar, Harriet, Sojourner, Anna Howard Shaw, Susanna, Joaquina, and Leontine.

“Is God using your feet?” she asked. “Do you believe that your feet are God’s feet?”

“These feet, your feet, the feet that God gave you are beautiful because you speak life, and liberty and victory and hope and promise and purpose into God’s world,” the bishop said. “And with those feet, I want you to preach like a woman; with those feet, I want you to dance like woman; with those feet, I want you to sing like a woman; with those feet, I want you to  teach … baptize …, minister …  serve … and pray. With those feet, I want you to lead like a woman.”