Quilting a Future in Mission
Women’s Division chief executive officer Harriett Jane Olson prepared division directors for a round of proposals designed to restructure the women’s mission organization in an opening plenary address filled with quilting-craft images at the division’s spring board meeting in Stamford, Conn., April 7-11.
Ms. Olson shared a story of a United Methodist Women quilt that traveled to a Women’s Division meeting in Stamford, went to the National Council of Churches Assembly, was displayed at United Methodist Women’s Assembly then had more squares added to it at the Edinburgh conference on mission in England in June 2010.
“The quilt is colorful and creative, but to tell the truth, it has had so many contributors and has already traveled so many miles being shipped here and lugged there around the world, … that it’s become more of a project than we ever imagined,” Ms. Olson said. “In a way, this is also true for the organization of United Methodist Women. We have built structures, organized movements and experienced the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit in so many ways, that the organization has a sort of sprawling reach that can make the gathering of ourselves together a bit of a project in and of itself. We and our predecessors before us have responded to needs of women, children and youth for a long time….While many of these needs are timeless, the context of our work has changed dramatically since that dark and stormy night in Boston in 1869 [when predecessors first organized themselves for mission].”
Ms. Olson noted that between 1910 and 2010, the church and the world have experienced many changes, including two world wars that galvanized women to work for peace, which led to the creation of the World Day of Prayer and the Church Center for the United Nations. Ms. Olson recalled how women were banned from many professions and schools in 1910 when United Methodist Women foremothers were in mission, but today women represent more than 50 percent of U.S. college and university students. Still, access to education is not generally available to all people in all nations, which is why education is one of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. Ms. Olson noted that it is now common knowledge that the way to improve the quality of life in a community or country is to improve the condition of women’s leadership in a community, something United Methodist Women and its foremothers have long known and acted upon.
“You might well ask, how would United Methodist Women need to organize and operate in order to engage in today’s issues around the world?” Ms. Olson asked. “Issues that are so much like the need for health care and the need for education that our predecessors tackled in their day, but in contexts that are so very different….
“United Methodist Women is a flexible organization. We have changed many times over our 140 plus years. We have been an organization that helped women to learn the rules of procedure, to plan and to implement plans and reform plans …. We are also an organization that has stood against racial segregation — organizing outside the segregated structures of the Central Jurisdiction and forming places where women of different racial-ethnic groups could come to know each other as sisters. We choose to continue our work to become the multi-ethnic, anti-racist organization that the church and the world need us to be today.”
Like a useful and beautiful storied quilt, Ms. Olson said United Methodist Women can continue to change, clipping, sewing and reshaping itself for mission that responds anew to the needs of members, nonmembers and women, children and youth and shares the compelling story of God’s love.
“We know that quilts were not just made for warmth, and in fellowship, and with appreciation of a piece of good cloth that might otherwise have been overlooked. Quilts were often beautiful and powerful expressions of creativity and meaning…. Some quilters fashioned their work to tell a story,” she said, referencing a collection of antebellum quilts in the Smithsonian Museum that stitched Bible stories alongside information about the Underground Railroad and said United Methodist Women today works against the similar injustice of human trafficking. “[Psalm 139:1-6] reminds us that God has ‘hemmed us in, behind and before,’ perhaps like the pieces of a quilt are hemmed to become a wholly new creation — useful beautiful and powerfully communicating the love of the creator.
“After all, it is the love of God which constrains us…. It is the hope that we have in God’s good will for the world, and it is our faith in God through Jesus Christ that impels us into action shaped and reshaped to respond to the needs of members and nonmembers around the world.”
Yvette Moore is editor of response, the magazine of United Methodist Women.