Women's Assembly Reaches Young Women
Samantha (left) and Melissa Clark are sisters from Bethel United Methodist Church in Lexington, Mich. Samantha has been active in United Methodist Women since high school. She brought Melissa to Assembly to get her involved as well. Credit: Kim Fry, May 4, 2006
by Kim Fry
Anaheim, CA, May 6, 2006 -United Methodist Women's groups across the country made a special effort to invite youth and young women to the United Methodist Women's Assembly, May 4-7 in Anaheim, Cal.
In response, close to 150 women and teens, ages 13-25, came to the gathering of close to 7,000 to see how they might fit into the million-member organization's purpose of ministry, advocacy and leadership.
A special focus on attracting young women to United Methodist Women was borne out of the reality that participation and membership of young adults and youth will secure the future of The United Methodist Church as a whole. Likewise, young women members will ensure the future of United Methodist Women.
Samantha and Melissa Clark are sisters from the Detroit Conference. They grew up in Lexington, Mich., attending Bethel United Methodist Church.
"Our grandmother has been a United Methodist Woman forever - since before they were called United Methodist Women!" said Samantha, 22.
Samantha has been active in her home church since high school and attended the 2002 Assembly in Philadelphia. She brought Melissa, 20, to this Assembly to get her involved in United Methodist Women.
"I'm mostly interested in the volunteering aspect, but I'm pretty new to it all," said Melissa, who attends Georgia State University and majors in marketing. The two had just come away from UMCOR's (United Methodist Committee on Relief) booth in the exhibit hall.
Samantha is a first-year student at Candler Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Ga.- her emphasis is in pediatric chaplaincy. After seminary, she hopes to serve in a children's hospital.
The organization's "push toward the betterment of the lives of children and youth is what interests me," she said. "Anything with children as a focus draws my attention."
The natural progression for young women like these enthusiastic sisters seems to be to follow in the footsteps of a mother, grandmother or other role model who is active in United Methodist Women.
Diane Ajadi, 27, said she and her parents are lifelong United Methodists, but a female mentor in her church invited her to join United Methodist Women. She attends First United Methodist Church of Passaic, N.J., and has been active in United Methodist Women for six years, primarily because of the mission work. Ms. Ajadi also mentors a young woman in her church with the hope that she can bring a fresh new member to the organization.
Young Women enjoy Assembly. Left to right: Rebecca Bergman, First UMC, Racine, Wis.; Chelsey Ganzer, Algoma Boulevard UMC, Oshkosh, Wis.; Tiffany Yang, member of the Women's Division Consultative Group, Hmong Christian Community UMC, Milwaukee, Wis.; and Diane Ajadi, First UMC of Passaic, New Jersey. Credit: Kim Fry, May 4, 2006
Kirsta Reisinger, 14, is another example. She attended Assembly with her mother. They are members of Selinsgrove Wesley United Methodist Church in Selinsgrove, Pa. Ms. Reisinger is an eighth grader who has already held an office at the district level in Membership, Nurture and Outreach. She is currently a youth representative to her district United Methodist Women, working to raise awareness of the organization and bring in new members.
"I've grown up going to meetings with my mom. Coming to Assembly is just another part of being a United Methodist Woman." Ms. Reisinger said.
Volunteerism and helping others is a drawing point for young women.
Eighteen-year-old Nantasha Williams grew up attending United Methodist Women meetings and events with her grandmother at Mount Calvary Manhattan United Methodist Church in New York. Ms. Williams was excited about attending the Assembly's focus groups involving hip hop and drama. She reiterated what the others said about why they plan to continue as members. "United Methodist Women in my church are involved in charity," she said. "They help children and teens. They support womanhood."
The aging United Methodist Church population results in a lack of youth activities for smaller churches. Rebecca Bergman, 22, came to Assembly for ideas on how to attract young people to her small church, First United Methodist in Racine, Wis. "We don't have a youth group," said Ms. Bergman. "The elderly women needed 'fresh blood,' and I was the youngest woman in our church, so they invited me to join!"
These young women breathe fresh air into the organization. Placing them in positions of leadership in local churches and at district levels early on excites them, empowers them and validates them as important persons in the United Methodist Church.
Ms. Berman met a new friend from her own Wisconsin Conference, Chelsey Ganzer, 14, from Algoma Boulevard United Methodist Church in Oshkosh, Wis., who said her church has a teen United Methodist Women's unit. Ms. Ganzer is not only involved in the teen unit, but is the district director for Ministry, Nurture and Outreach.
"My mom is a United Methodist Woman and at one point she said, 'OK, you're paying dues!'" said Deanna Stovall, 15, a member of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dallas. "She wants me to grow up in United Methodist Women and I am glad because of all the benefits I've already experienced. I want to start a teen unit of United Methodist Women at my home church."
The Women's Division provides grants for start-ups of district young women's units and circles of teens and college/university women. Paulette Kim, executive secretary for membership for the Women's Division, oversees a Consultative Group of young women ages 13-25. The Consultative Group members serve for two years and meet once each summer to evaluate existing programs involving teens or college/university women, advise the Division on resource development, and develop goals for attracting young women to United Methodist Women.
Kim Fry is the communications coordinator for California-Pacific Conference.