These women don't stick to knitting
|Purpose of UMW
|The organized unit of United Methodist Women shall be a community of women whose Purpose is to know God and to experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ; to develop a creative, supportive fellowship, and to expand concepts of mission through participation in the global ministries of the church.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WMC) -- “Conveying the message that United Methodist Women are not just a group of old ladies knitting booties, that’s the biggest challenge for the UMW in West Michigan right now,” says Nichea Ver Veer Guy. Indeed! Throughout the 143 year history of UMW and its predecessor organizations, the focus of their handwork has been mission not knitting needles.
And now the United Methodist Women—800,000 strong around the globe--enter a new chapter in their world-wide movement. On May 1 in Tampa, the General Conference approved legislation to separate UMW and its administrative body, the Women’s Division, from the Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), to which it had been related for decades. Now it’s an independent agency, United Methodist Women, Inc.
The way forward
Barbara Campbell, a retired Women’s Division exec and UMW historian, says the new structure is “an important and strategic move” to reassert control over assets, institutions, and missional goals. UMW top executive, Harriet Olson, believes the change opens up new opportunities to expand on their tag line, “Turning faith, hope and love into action.”
Thomas Kemper, head of the General Board of Global Ministries notes, “I think this is a liberating act in a way. It gives both organizations a chance to sharpen and focus their identities.” New patterns of working together are being created. UMW will represent GBGM for all United Nations related work. The Board will continue to give priority to serving the needs of women and children. Oversight of Deaconesses and Home Missioners will be under the UMW.
Management transfers take effect on October 1. UMW staff will remain at their headquarters in the Interchurch Center in New York City, across from the U.N.
Dollars and sense
The commitment to the work of UMW is financial as well as spiritual. Although the economy and a decline in investmens contributed to a 3.7% reduction in giving to United Methodist Women in 2011, 47% of all conference UMWs exceeded their pledges.
During the past four years, $9 million in grants were allocated to some of the 97 national mission institutions of UMW. Those institutions, mostly community centers, employ about 6,300 and serve 535,000 clients each year. The United Methodist Community House in Grand Rapids is one of those agencies.
Another $9 million was directed to 150 Methodist and ecumenical partners in 80 countries. These programs assisted women’s economic empowerment, health and HIV/AIDS, vocational training, advocacy and counseling, spiritual and leadership training and rehabilitation projects for those affected by war. The Women’s Division International Committee provided seed money for Haitian Artisans for Peace International (HAPI) during its start-up phase in 2007.
Here and now
Several conference officers from West Michigan were asked what kind of difference this change at the top will make here “on the ground.” Conference President Ruth Whaley says, “The changes we have seen in 2012 are yet to be fully determined. More flexibility is being offered to local, district and conference bodies and that will allow for a shift in officer responsibilities.” Phyllis Jackson, Conference Vice President, agrees, “It’s too early to tell how it will affect us.” She goes on to note, “Sometimes it’s difficult to fill all of the leadership positions. With the new structure, units can function with fewer officers.”
Nichea Ver Veer Guy adds, “There will be better stewardship of funds available for mission and less tied up in bureaucracy. This opens up new windows on what can be.”
Active for many years in UMW, these women reflect on the current status of the organization. “The organization is ageing and we have not been able to replace some of our leadership with younger women,” Phyllis says. Ruth shares that the “social aspect of UMW is important as women become friends and share their stories with other women who have similar interests. But,” she concludes, “being mission centered is always the main focus of United Methodist Women.”
Nichea agrees that leadership development is a key aspect of UMW. “This not only empowers the women who choose to serve but the local church that they serve!” She went on to call the UMW, “an amazing network living out the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church.”
Trying new things
“We are evolving,” Ruth says. She reports on a new thing being tried in order to involve more women. “This year Schools of Christian Mission were offered on each district as well as the central Summer School. This eliminated the old Drive-In Day.” While more labor intensive, these district schools were well received. “The bottom line is,” says Ruth, “if you believe in something strongly enough, you will be willing to make changes and try new things.”
Phyllis lifts up another new facet of UMW: “Districts where churches do not have Local UMW Units are now forming District Units made up of members representing several churches.” Nichea cites healthy developments like embracing university women through support of Wesley Foundations, providing educational opportunities for younger women, and promotion of service through programs like Mission Interns, US2s and Deaconess. “School of Mission will now be known as Mission U,” she remarks.
Bottom line, according to Phyllis, is that “United Methodist Women support who they are and stand by their belief in justice for all.” Ruth echoes that assertion when she says, “Even though the organization has undergone some changes over the years, the purpose is still the same.”
Such strength of resolve is not without its frustrations, however. “We’re an organization,” Nichea explains, “committed to social justice, new mission opportunities and the creation of new and innovative ways to reach needs of local women. Now, how do we get that word out when we have clergy and interest groups who do not allow us to even be available?”
Woman to woman, over 140 years, this great movement has grown into the largest women’s faith organization in the world. Everyone starts somewhere and usually that start happens through a friend or a mentor, as shared by our trio of witnesses.
- Ruth Whaley: “When I first moved to Ashley, I was invited to the local UMW and was even picked up. I had a small baby and was welcome to bring her along. After many years of holding various local offices, Irene Keck asked me to go on the District. I dragged my feet but Irene never gave up on me and she kept asking. If finally said, “Yes,” and look what happened! Irene was a mentor to many and she firmly believed in United Methodist Women. Thanks, Irene, for never giving up on me.”
- Phyllis Jackson: “There have been many UMW who have inspired me to make the organization a priority. I am forever grateful. Thora White, from Grand Rapids First United Methodist Church, was the first person to invite me to School of Christian Mission in 1983, and the rest is History!”
- Nichea Ver Veer Guy: “Bea Shashaguay, from Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, took this young woman out of college and encouraged me, nurtured me and tooled me to be a leader. Bea did not give up. She did not tell me what I could do or how I could do it. She asked me what my passion was and helped me to live it! That was what United Methodist Women was all about then … and still is and more!”
These women and many like them will continue to touch the lives of sisters they meet, ever widening the circle of love in action.
Nichea has been nominated to serve as the Chair of the Finance Committee of the national Board of Directors of United Methodist Women for 2013-2016. Harriet Olson concludes, “God has blessed United Methodist Women with a rich resource of gifts and talents. In the coming quadrennium, the board will guide staff and leaders about how to put our new flexibility to work, how to plan to our objectives and how to keep on listening to the calling of God as we move forward.”
~reported by Kay DeMoss, Weekly News Senior Writer. United Methodist News Service feature, “Is this your mother’s UMW?”” by Linda Bloom, contributed to this report.