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First woman takes office as Council of Bishops president


NOTE: Photographs of Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher and Bishop Sharon Rader are available at For further coverage of the Council of Bishops' spring meeting, see UMNS stories # 201, #205 and #207. *Peck, former editor of Newscope, Circuit Rider and the International Christian Digest, is the information officer for the Council of Bishops.

By the Rev. J. Richard Peck*

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (UMNS) - For the first time in the history of the United Methodist Church, the top two officers of the Council of Bishops will be women.

Bishop Sharon A. Brown Christopher of the Illinois Area became the first woman to assume the office of president on May 3, and Bishop Sharon Rader of the Wisconsin Area continues as secretary, an office she has held since 1996.

The president normally serves for one year and presides at all meetings of the council and the executive committee. She also represents the council at official functions and serves as the spokeswoman after the body has acted. The council comprises nearly 150 active and retired bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines.

The secretary serves for four years. She coordinates the agenda, maintains current records and assists the council in connecting with others across the church.

Asked about the significance of serving as the first woman to preside over the council, Christopher said, "This moment is not about me. It is about the Council of Bishops that has been appointing women as leaders in congregations and conferences for many years. It is about laity who have been forming girls and women in faith and welcoming them as pastors of their congregations. It is an expression of the heart of the United Methodist Church, a church of open hearts, open minds and open doors."

Christopher, 57, is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology in Dallas and served churches following her 1972 ordination as an elder in the Wisconsin Annual (regional) Conference. She also served as a district superintendent and an assistant to the bishop before her election to the episcopacy in 1988. She is married to Charles E. Logsdon Christopher, a retired clergy member of the Wisconsin Conference. The couple adopted the name Christopher (meaning "Christ bearer) following their marriage in 1973. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.

Rader, 62, is a 1976 graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., and she was ordained an elder in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference in 1978. She served churches in Illinois and Michigan before being named a member of the West Michigan Annual Conference program staff and subsequently a district superintendent. She was elected to the episcopacy in 1992 and assigned to the Wisconsin Area. She is married to the Rev. Blaine Rader, an ordained elder in the Michigan Conference now serving a church in Wisconsin. The couple has two adult children and two grandchildren.

Of her role as secretary, Rader said, "I find it challenging and fulfilling to help this world body give attention to the many languages and cultures gathered around the table. Sensitivity to the global nature of the council assists the whole church in its effort to live as the body of Christ."

Bishop Ruediger R. Minor of the Eurasia Area was elected president-elect. He will become president at the council's 2003 spring meeting and will serve until the bishops meet at the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh.

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