I am Dawn Wiggins Hare, an attorney and former judge, and I serve as General Secretary of the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. My "official" service with The United Methodist Church began in January of 2013, when I began my role as General Secretary, but my work with and for the church began much earlier. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women is one of the thirteen General Agencies of The United Methodist Church and our mission is to work for the full inclusion of all women within The United Methodist Church, seeking to support all women in ministry-both clergy and laity.
In 1976, Dr. Ed Hardin was the minister at First United Methodist in my home town of Brewton, Alabama. I had just started college and was pursuing a double major in math and theatre with a minor in music. I was lucky enough to have the lead role in a musical and Dr. Hardin saw my performance. He came to my parents' hardware store where I worked after classes and asked if the church could hire me to sing alto in the choir for the summer. I was flattered but I couldn't imagine getting paid to sing at church. After telling my parents (who met through their love of music, my dad sang with Eddie Fisher in the army and my mother played piano for a gospel quartet), I said "yes" and I have been with The United Methodist Church ever since.
Although I had been in church all my life and reared in a wonderful church (not Methodist), the teachings of The United Methodist Church based on a theology of grace (not guilt) were music to my soul. But there was more. The United Methodist Church, even in 1976, recognized the importance of women as Christian leaders and ventured to ordain women. Imagine that! Across town and across the creek (literally), from my new home church, the Reverend Jean Spikes served at East Brewton United Methodist Church. As a young woman who was blessed to be born to loving parents who stressed the equality of their three daughters and their one son, to my young adult eyes here was equality in action by the church.
When my husband Chip and I married, Monroeville, Alabama became my adopted home and First United Methodist our church home. Monroeville is considered the literary capital of Alabama as it is home to Nelle Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Ms. Lee is a wonderful lady, but it was her older sister Miss Alice Lee, a devoted United Methodist who was the first woman to lead the Alabama West-Florida delegation to a General Conference, who became my mentor both in the legal community and in the church. Miss Alice tapped me into leadership in the church. Again, I was blessed to see equality in action at the church with women leaders and husband and wife co-pastors, the Reverends Libba and Judd Stinson. Here was a church where as a woman, I felt at home and welcomed to serve in a leadership capacity.
What began as a ministry through music grew into a deep appreciation of the hope for the teachings and traditions that have helped form The United Methodist Church and the mission of the church to create disciples for Jesus Christ "for the transformation of the world." The church has been my community, my family, and the nurturers of my sons, Nicholas and Eli. The women and men of the church such as the Rev. Pam Barnhardt, the Rev. Thomas Lane Butts, the Stinsons, and many others have guided my family’s faith journey. But my local church is but one chord in this wonderful symphony of a connection of Methodism that serves in places that we cannot go, teaches in languages that we cannot speak, serves those whom we will never meet, and ministers in ways that we cannot even imagine. My mission and that of my commission is to work for the full inclusion of all women so that we will truly "transform the world." No woman and no man should be denied a leadership position at any level of church service because of her or his gender. The great commission gives us lots of work to do and we need everyone working side by side.
Several years ago, I sat down during an Ash Wednesday service and was challenged to pray for someone with whom I had issues, someone with whom I was angry, someone who did not like me, someone who had hurt me, someone who had shown evil towards me. We were told to write the name on a piece of paper and that the pieces of paper would be burned with the palms for the next years’ service.
Every day I prayed for the person on my paper, a very mean person who had hurt me. It was not easy. It was not fun. But it was transformative. Sometimes I prayed at home. Sometimes I prayed in the chapel. Sometimes I prayed in the sanctuary. Sometimes I prayed driving down the road. After 40 days of finding a way to pray for healing for that person and for my own healing, I arrived at Easter with a spirit of forgiveness and my obsession with this person lifted from my shoulders.
Do I believe in prayer? You bet I do. Do I believe that we must forgive others to be forgiven? I truly do. Do I consider the church, my church, the United Methodist Church to be my rock? Yes, and I will sing it in an alto voice from the choir loft of First United Methodist Church Monroeville, Alabama, to the rafters of First United Methodist Church in the Chicago Temple in Chicago, Illinois, and everywhere in between.
Dawn is an attorney, mediator, and former Circuit Judge who has been an active member of the Alabama West-Florida Conference, serving as a delegate for the last two General Conferences, and receiving the 2012 Alice Lee Award. Dawn and her husband Chip have two sons, Nicholas and Eli.