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The Experience Hall of Assembly

Women tour an exhibit on human trafficking that is housed in an international shipping container at the United Methodist Women’s Assembly in St. Louis. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

By Shanta Bryant Gyan

Assembly’s Experience Hall offers participants an opportunity to learn about justice issues – and be entertained.

As United Methodist Women Assembly participants walked through the Experience Hall, they were greeted by interactive, multimedia displays on pressing justice issues, more than 50 exhibitor booths, nearly 7,000 colorful prayer shawls and live entertainment.

Assembly’s exhibits were grouped into four key areas: United Methodist Women initiatives; United Methodist agencies; universities; and other organizations and vendors. The exhibit area also featured a solidarity marketplace of goods from around the world.

The exhibit booths ranged from Crafts from Jerusalem, Mothers Acting Up and National Network of Korean United Methodist Women to Africa University, National Farm Worker Ministry and the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Jennifer McCallum, Assembly’s Experience Hall team leader, said the exhibit areas were designed to be a welcoming space where United Methodist Women members could learn about some of the critical issues impacting women, children and youth worldwide, and then take action in their local communities.

Ms. McCallum said participants also gained access to a wealth of resources from United Methodist general agencies and organizations working in partnership with United Methodist Women.

“The exhibits in the Experience Hall raise awareness about many of the issues that United Methodist Women work on; so we hope participants will go home with ideas for action,” said Ms. McCallum, a seminar designer for United Methodist Women’s Seminar Program on National and International Affairs. “And women see firsthand where their mission money goes and make a connection.”  

Social issues

An interactive educational display on the hot-button issue of immigration highlighted the “Top 10 Myths about Immigration” and outlined proactive ways for members to advocate and get involved in the issue. A computer station with an online survey was set up to capture information on how immigration is playing out in local communities. 

Margaret Harris, a member of Archer United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., felt the time spent at the immigration display would be helpful in her church’s work on immigration, particularly in advocating for passage of legislation assisting undocumented youth. “I hope to take back ways for more people to get involved in working for immigrant rights,” Ms. Harris said.

The Chlorine Free Products Association exhibit booth complemented a nearby display on United Methodist Women’s Green Team initiative by offering resources on products to clean everyday household items without using chlorine.

“We work closely with the Green Team, so we’re here to help educate and share what products are less harmful to the environment and help people to meet the [commitments on the environment] in the United Methodist Social Principles,” said Archie Beaton, executive director of the Chlorine Free Products Association.

Other United Methodist Women-related educational displays focused on health care, economic justice and globalization.
An exhibit booth from the Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV), a United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries’ initiative, featured resources specifically geared toward women on education and training, networking opportunities and support in responding to substance abuse and its impact on individuals and families in local congregations and communities.

“We think it’s important for women to know how the church is addressing substance abuse and to let them know that there’s support out there for them,” said Kevin Nelson, SPSARV’s program associate. 

Prayer shawls, computer classes and entertainment

Some 7,000 handmade prayer shawls were on display in the Experience Hall. Members of United Methodist Women in local units across the country knitted the prayer shawls, which span a host of colors and designs.

Shawls from the Susanna Wesley Circle of United Methodist Women at Fairfield Glade United Methodist Church in Tennessee included customized tags with “The Knitter’s Prayer” on it, noting the shawl was created to be prayed over.

Sandra Griffith’s local United Methodist Women unit at Bethany United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York, contributed six baby shawls to the display. “I had to go over to see the shawls because a group of us made a donation of baby shawls,” Ms. Griffith said. “I was amazed to see what hands can do, especially with such little time to make them!”

A series of computer classes took place to give Assembly participants an opportunity to find out more about United Methodist Women’s new social networking site, UMWOnline; participate in hands-on learning on how to use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as gain insight into cyber safety for parents. Assembly participants could also sign up to use the Internet Café.

While browsing the exhibit areas, participants had the option of visiting two stage areas featuring a wide range of vibrant, soul-stirring performing artists such as the Sunshine Community Performance Ensemble from United Methodist Women-supported Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House in East St. Louis, Ill., and St. Louis-based performers Perfect Image.

Liturgical and interpretive dance, monologues and spoken word were also happening on Experience Hall stages.

Brightly colored display boards with thousands of sticky notes invited United Methodist Women members to write their name and highlight their local unit, district and annual conference. 

*Shanta Bryant Gyan is a freelance writer and communications specialist in New York City. She is a frequent contributor to Response magazine, the official magazine of United Methodist Women.

Last Updated: 05/02/2010

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