What is United Methodist Women Doing, in Heaven's Name?
Harriett Olson's General Secretary Report
Harriett Jane Olson, General Secretary of United Methodist Women, addressed the organization’s board of directors, newly configured, at their first meeting of the 2013-2016 quadrennium. The meeting took place October 18-21, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn., at United Methodist Women-owned Scarritt-Bennett Center.
She asked the board, “What is going on with United Methodist Women, in heaven’s name?” In other words, how is United Methodist Women’s mission work living into the Gospel to benefit women, children and youth?
Olson listed many strategies and program changes to engage more women in leadership, to equip The United Methodist Church and to build a network of shared wisdom. Examples for how United Methodist Women is executing these goals in its programs are:
Leadership Development Days: Expanding opportunities for engaging leaders.
Mission U: Transmission of the mission studies to and through the local, district and conference networks.
Voices: Recruiting and listening to women of color to help United Methodist Women aspire to being antiracist, multicultural, multilingual.
“All of this work,” Olson said, “is in heaven’s name. Just like the amazing women who preceded us in this organization, we see a powerful, faith-filled, forward-looking group of women who are bold enough to follow Jesus into the world.”
What, in Heaven’s Name, Is Going on With United Methodist Women?
Speech by the General Secretary at United Methodist Women Fall Board Meeting 2012
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The lord, your God, is at work in United Methodist Women.
You can see it in our #mysubway ads standing against hate speech. You can see it in our new buttons and posters declaring us compassionate, graceful, daring, unreasonable. You can see it on our website, Facebook page, and Twitter.
Good News! United Methodist Women are claiming a goodly heritage:
- Work with United Methodist Men.
- Work with young women.
- Work with Native American women.
- Real work that matters to real women and children.
- Real work that will challenge us and draw us deeper into prayer.
- Real work that will build us up and draw us to listen more deeply for God’s voice of love and compassion for the world that God so loves.
Yes, something is going on with United Methodist Women—in heaven’s name.
The United Methodist Church’s Call to Action report about what makes for vital congregations documented for us all the power of some of the aspects of or life together as United Methodist Women: shared leadership, small groups, Bible study connected with real issues, lay leaders who can describe how their faith is animating their work and service.
United Methodist Women—we’re being called to be what we’ve always been, except more so:
- More practical.
- More flexible.
- More intentionally integrating all the parts of our work: prayer, study, service, advocacy, invitation, financial support and leadership development.
A few weeks ago a United Methodist friend told me about his daughter who has moved back near her hometown with a new job as a teacher and has started a new United Methodist Women circle. She’s supported by the members in her church with resources and encouragement. Her new circle meets in her apartment and includes friends and acquaintances who work nearby and building new networks. They are reading books from the Reading Program, doing service and growing in faith together.
A few years ago, a longtime United Methodist Women leader told me that she was glad to see what was going on at United Methodist Women but that she was just tired. I was troubled by our conversation both because of what it implied about our organization and about how it connected with some of the other things going on in her life. I’ve keep her in my prayers and tried to stay connected. I saw her at a jurisdiction meeting in June and she was raving about her district leadership team, the relationships they were building and the ways they were making more mission possible. I can’t actually tell you exactly what changed. It’s probably more than one thing, but I was so happy to know that God is at work in her and her team.
I am hearing stories like this all over our organization, from young women, senior adult women and the famous “sandwich” generation. All around the church women are building relationships, responding to God’s call and stepping up in response to human need in the stubborn belief that we are called to try to make the world a better place by addressing the systems that treat people unjustly by alienating, isolating, oppressing and impoverishing them.
So, living here in this moment, what are we doing about this, in heaven’s name? What are we doing to draw this freshness, this excitement deep in to the organization’s DNA?
- Thinking strategically about training, equipping and inspiring more leaders through Leadership Development Days.
- Building up the formation and transmission aspects of Mission u—we will be more obviously preparing Mission u participants to lead studies in district and local settings.
- Opening the way for young women leaders to bring their gifts to the organization.
- Continuing to recruit language coordinators and consult with women of color so that United Methodist Women can be more clearly the multicultural, antiracist community to which we aspire.
- Building a network through which knowledge, learning and wisdom will be shared—not just from leaders to members or big to small but all across our organization.
- As an agency of The United Methodist church, we’re rethinking all of the places inside and outside the United Methodist structure where we should be connected.
What’s been done already, in heaven’s name?
- June: Elected new leadership and set the nominations committee to work.
- July: Change of name from Women’s Division to United Methodist Women.
- August: Adopted new bylaws and moved ahead with ideas about how the program advisory group would operate.
- September: Signed Memorandum of Understanding with General Board of Global Ministries and celebrated with them our shared history and our missionally connected, structurally separate future.
- October 1: Transferred staff to the newly named organization.
Of course, all of this is to make the rest of the work possible—in heaven’s name.
- Membership survey collected great information to support their ongoing work of member enlistment.
- Assembly Committee work has begun in earnest.
- Work with regional missionaries, deaconesses, home missioners, National Mission Institutions and an array of coalition partners continues day in/day out as our service and advocacy work reaches out to share God’s love and to work for a more just world.
Here are some specific examples:
- Supporting a National Mission Institution struggling with board and staff issues.
- Sharing important information and supporting connections with entities working on voters rights.
- Working with partners to call attention to child labor practices of corporations, this time the Hershey Company—sending postcards, writing articles, gaining a rare meeting with corporate leaders and being among the first to know of the Hershey Company’s plan to be 100 percent fair trade by 2020.
- Human trafficking—continuing to raise awareness and to work with law enforcement and local organizations to make a difference in how children are treated.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo—helping to draw attention to the voices of those suffering from violence in North and South Kivu and pledging to help our sisters there be part of the solution.
- Speaking up against hate and for the hard work of peace when offensive advertisements were posted in our communities. Interfaith partners are working on various responses, but United Methodist Women was the first to produce a counter ad, knowing that the response to speech is “more speech” in the United States. I want you to know that we have had an amazing response—heartfelt expressions of gratitude from Muslims and non-Muslims, absolutely amazing media coverage and wonderful notes from United Methodist Women members about how glad they are that we are able to stand in this space.
All of this work is in heaven’s name.
Because we believe in a God who loves us—loves us enough to call us into Christ’s own ministry of reconciliation, this same God who loves the world. Because we believe the scriptural text that describes the world as groaning in eager longing to become the New Creation that God has promised. Just like the amazing women who preceded us in this organization, we see a powerful, faith-filled, forward-looking group of women who are bold enough to follow Jesus into the world.
All of this and more is going on, in heaven’s name.
Harriett J. Olson is the General Secretary of United Methodist Women.