By Suzy Keenan*
This is Ruth Daugherty’s eleventh consecutive time to serve as an elected lay delegate to General Conference from Eastern Pennsylvania.
Ruth, 81, of Lancaster, PA, and her late husband, Bob, came out of the EUB tradition. She first accompanied Bob, a clergy delegate, to the EUB General Conference in 1968.
In 1972, Ruth became the first elected lay delegate of The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. The first elected laity was to have served as head of delegation that year.
However, she was told that a man ought to lead the delegation – they also explained that she hadn’t had enough experience – so the delegation leadership was switched to clergy. At that time, Ruth was conference president of United Methodist Women. Since that time she has been a firm advocate for women and women’s rights.
Since 1972, Ruth has seen significant change. One of the most notable is an increase in women delegates and an increase in women in leadership. Women bishops have been elected and have presided during General Conference. “Now the delegates are 38% female,” she said. “We’re still not where we ought to be, but at that time it was less – much less.”
Other changes include the way in which delegates vote. Back in 1972, delegates stood to be counted by pages. “Delegations were punitive for those who would stand in opposition to the delegation,” she said. “Now technology has changed the way we vote, and we are able to more easily vote our conscience without retaliation.” Technology has significantly changed the work of the legislative committees. According to Ruth, forty years ago being on a legislative committee was literally an all-night job as everything had to be done by hand.
“1972 was an interesting time,” explained Ruth. “Now we talk about division, but then it was EUB and Methodist, bringing to resolution the differences we had in two denominations.” Ruth notes that the composition of General Conference members has changed with an increase in Central Conference delegates, bringing different understandings and priorities, and also greater division in opinions and theology.
Today there is an increasing number of caucuses and groups. “You look here and see groups meeting in the hallways or elsewhere,” Ruth said. “It is almost professional lobbying. I came from the former EUB denomination, and every person was to vote their conscience – lobbying was discouraged. Now, I am part of coalitions, myself.”
“What stands out most for me over the past forty years of General Conferences is the Act of Repentance and Reconciliation in 2004,” she said. “I worked on the committee that planned the worship. It was truly a growth experience and amazing feeling to participate in that.”
Ruth also noted the 2000 General Conference when some of the bishops openly stood with people standing in the center demonstrating for gay and lesbian inclusiveness, and who were also taken away by police with demonstrators out of General Conference. This was a real change in how individual bishops were expressing themselves, talking about inclusion – not exclusion – in leadership. “That year, while working with the inclusion issue, a woman stated to jump down from the balcony,” Ruth said. “She was restrained – but imagine sitting on the floor of General Conference and looking up. To me this gave great meaning to how much this issue impacts individual lives – the exclusion of persons of equal value and worth.”
Ruth has dedicated her life to volunteer service to the church.
At the present time, Ruth is secretary of the United Methodist Publishing House, a trustee of United Theological Seminary, secretary of the Northeast Jurisdiction, secretary to the National Advisory Committee of Church and Community Workers, on the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, chair of the Committee on Transition and Loan, on the Southwest District Committee on Church Building and Location, a leader of Bible studies and a member of the choir at Grandview UMC in Lancaster, and on the Investment Committee of Eastern Pennsylvania Conference United Methodist Women.
Formerly she served the General Council of Ministries, the Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Communications, as secretary of the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, as trustee of Lebanon Valley College, as part of the Ordained Ministry Study of the UMC (1984-92), and on the United Board of Christian Higher Education in Asia. She was national president of United Methodist Women, 1980-84.
Albright College and Shenandoah University, both United Methodist-related institutions, have bestowed Ruth with honorary doctorates.
She appears in Who’s Who in American Women.
Ruth credits her mentor, Katherine Grove, who served on the Judicial Council, a former EUB who was both national and conference president of WCWS. She explained, “From her I learned not to ask should I serve, but rather how can I say no? If you start with your commitment to Jesus Christ and his ministry, it turns around how you look at what you do.” Bob, Ruth’s husband, was a source of support to her dedication to church work. Even when they had three children at home, Bob would ask how he could help and find ways to work it out.
“After Bob passed away in 2003, I just continued on,” she said. “I was asked by the Council of Bishops to take his place a secretary of the Northeast Jurisdiction, as I had helped him with that work.”
The General Board of Global Ministries asked Ruth to write a history of the Methodist Protestant Church. Her book, The Missionary Spirit, published in 2004, focused on that denomination, which went out of existence in 1939. “They did not believe in bishops, but in the ministry of the laity. They went in and established new churches, and then trained someone inside to take leadership.”
Ruth muses that she has already written her epitaph: Active church woman. She explains, “The work ought to stand on its own – not the person who did it.”
The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference celebrates the continued service of this special, active church woman.
*Suzy Keenan is director of Communications for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.