Marva Usher-Kerr: Profile of a General Conference Delegate On the Move
You probably already know Marva Usher-Kerr, an executive for membership for the national office of United Methodist Women and a delegate to the 2012 General Conference. If you haven’t met her, she’s hard to catch between meetings. When she does slow down, Ms. Usher-Kerr’s quick to offer you her trademark laugh and her catchphrase of agreement, “That’s what I’m saying!”
We met up with Ms. Usher-Kerr before she left for Tampa at her New York City desk, piled high with papers. She was answering the ring of phone calls and the pings of e-mails, organizing Limitless, a gathering at Duke University in August 2012 for more than 300 women, some newcomers to United Methodist Women, to strategize on ways to keep the organization relevant.
Igniting young people with a passion for mission is all in a day’s work for Ms. Usher-Kerr, who’s worked for the Women’s Division since 2004 and for the General Board of Global Ministries since 1983. She’s working toward her doctorate in ministry at New York Theological Seminary and is a popular speaker at United Methodist Women meetings.
Ms. Usher-Kerr’s most pressing concern about this General Conference is the way the church agencies will be restructured. She’s concerned that all voices be heard. Ms. Usher-Kerr asked, “Are we going to deal with surface issues? Or are we going to deal with racism, classism, ageism? Are we going to deal with poverty?”
As a longtime member (in fact, Ms. Usher-Kerr served as the conference president of the New York Conference of United Methodist Women from 1999-2003), she credits United Methodist Women with teaching her “how to be authentic in my thinking and to be open to knowledge from all sources.” For example, Ms. Usher-Kerr said, “I would listen to MFSA [Methodist for Social Action] and to Good News. I look at both sides. I weigh them. I make up my own mind.”
“I accept others at the table,” said Ms. Usher-Kerr. “It [United Methodist Women] has taught me how to listen well, even when we’re in disagreement.”
Ms. Usher-Kerr advised all delegates to be guided by John Wesley’s three simple rules:
- Do no harm.
- Do good.
- Stay in love with God.
“If we follow the three simple rules and live them out, we could handle many of the issues,” Ms. Usher-Kerr said.
“When I go out to speak to United Methodist Women members, I want to encourage them to seek offices in their own conferences, to take that chance. To be a good United Methodist Women member, you need to know your church. We are all John Wesley’s children,” said Ms. Usher-Kerr. “Sometimes we go to our meeting and we go to our church, but we don’t know the whole church, the global church.” She advised women to “Read The Book of Discipline, even just to understand the way United Methodist Women is connected to the church.” Ms. Usher-Kerr has taken her commitment to reading and holy conferencing seriously.
“A lot of us complain about the church and want it to be something different for us. And people complain that there’s too many meetings.” To which, Ms. Usher-Kerr answers, “Yes, there’s always been a lot of meetings in the church. Jesus met with his disciples. Then the disciples had meetings to decide what to do.”
“For me,” Ms. Usher-Kerr said, “God likes order. General Conference keeps us in order.”
Throughout the General Conference and the days that follow, Ms. Usher-Kerr continues to hope that the church retains a focus on mission. “As Emil Brunner said, ‘The church exists for mission as a fire exists in burning,’” said Ms. Usher-Kerr.
She would like to have continued our conversation a bit longer, but her office phone was ringing, her e-mail was pinging, and her cell phone was vibrating. Ms. Usher-Kerr was back on the move.