United Methodist Women at Life’s Intersections
College women who met while volunteering at the food bank at El Divino Redentor United Methodist Church in McAllen, Texas, have formed a district unit of United Methodist Women in Rio Grande Conference’s Southern District.
by YVETTE MOORE *
For 45 years, Joan Ferris was a member of Faith United Methodist Church in Canton, Ohio, but not part of United Methodist Women. She simply had no time.
“With my kids, a full-time job and directing the church’s choirs for grades 4-12, I had to put United Methodist Women on the back burner,” Ms. Ferris said. Her mother, a member of the Methodist Church’s Women’s Society of Christian Service, and later United Methodist Women, regularly took Ms. Ferris as a teen to schools of Christian mission.
When Ms. Ferris’ husband died in 1995, she continued teaching in public school, directing the choirs and ushering her children into adulthood. Then her best friend introduced her to a pastor who had lost his wife. They lived two hours apart so they dated by cell phone. Soon, they decided to marry.
“My daughter got married May 3, 2003; I stopped teaching May 23; we got married June 7; and we got our new church appointment July 1,” Ms. Ferris said.
She immediately joined United Methodist Women — all three circles — at her new church, Lorain Delaware Avenue United Methodist Church, in Lorain, Ohio.
“I pulled up big roots when I moved,” she said. “I’d lived in the same community for 45 years. In the fellowship of United Methodist Women, I’ve made so many friends. I’ve been exposed to people who have such a deep faith, and they really live their faith.”
Ms. Ferris’ story is just one example of how United Methodist Women provides a supportive community where women grow in a love-in-action-based faith as they navigate life’s seasons, stages and times of transition. The circumstances that lead women to United Methodist Women vary, yet belonging to a community of women committed to mission in Christ’s name consistently empowers members to keep the faith in times of crisis, joy, change and uncertainty.
The writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1 says: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
A time of warCassie Spears of Nashville, Ga., learned there is even a time of war at a young age. Her family had been attending Nashville United Methodist Church for about five years when war erupted and her father’s U.S. Air Force unit was deployed to Iraq.
“My mom needed some support, so I started going to United Methodist Women meetings with her,” said Ms. Spears, now 17. “It was time for Mom to get her mind off of Dad not being home. It helped a lot, but you can’t help missing your Daddy. It gave me a purpose in life, knowing my purpose was not to worry about Dad being gone, but to serve God.”
Ms. Spears’ mother, Stacey Spears, also remembered the beginning of the war as a stressful time for her family.
“It was hard when you listened to reports about the war on the news,” she said. “They’d talk about different cities, and you’d think about the people you knew who were serving there.”
United Methodist Women members were a great support, she said.
“The women at our church are great,” the older Ms. Spears said. “They were a big help for me, taking care of the kids and just letting me know they were there for me while my husband was away.”
Today, Ken Spears is home, retired from the military. Cassie and Stacey Spears continue to be active in United Methodist Women. Cassie’s teen/young women circle, Sisters of Service, does hands-on mission projects. Last year, the circle was host to a cosmetics party for teens at a home for girls and volunteered at a food bank.
The Nashville unit supports the three national United Methodist Women-supported mission institutions in South Georgia, each month donating items from a wish list of one of the institutions: Wesley Community Centers in Savannah, Open Door Community House in Columbus and the Vashti Center in Thomasville.
“I’m circle leader and secretary of our unit,” Cassie Spears said. “A lot of my friends are in the circle with me. They think it’s pretty cool. It’s been a helpful channel for service.”
A time to buildEvery third Saturday, Ana “Ani” Elyssa Gaytan, Sara Molina, Sofia Garza and other college friends at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas, work at the food pantry at El Divino Redentor United Methodist Church in McAllen, Texas. They also have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity projects in the area.
Kattia Garcia of El Divino Redentor noticed the young women working at the pantry and invited them to join United Methodist Women.
“They got excited about mission,” Ms. Garcia said. “Then they said, ‘But what about the rules?’”
The young women wanted to serve but had little interest in an organization that, in their words: “Somebody else is going to rule.”
Ms. Garcia assured them United Methodist Women’s flexible organizational structure options would work for them as they focused on the basics: making a difference in the lives of women, children and youth.
“I’m excited watching them and giving them space to make this their own ministry, their own calling,” Ms. Garcia said.
The women chartered a United Methodist Women unit for college women in Rio Grande Conference’s Southern District. Iris Molina is the adult sponsor of the 11-member unit, which includes students from several schools in the area.
Ms. Gaytan, secretary of program resources for the unit, talked about forming the unit:
“This is something we’ve been wanting to do for the longest time. We had a calling to serve, and that’s what United Methodist Women is all about.”
Finding a time to meet was difficult. Unit members all work part time while going to school full time. Members decided to meet the third Thursday of each month, after they help prepare packages for El Divino Redentor’s food pantry.
“We want to give back to the community,” Ms. Gaytan said. “A lot of us have scholarships from the community. We want to show that the college girls are here. They’re not disappearing or fading. We’re busy, but there’s always time for God.”
A time to seekDebra Jenkins knew United Methodist Women members at Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Savannah, Ga., when she was growing up, but it never occurred to her to join them, even after she’d returned home from college. When she relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y., that changed.
“Gwen Grissom saw me, knew I was new to the community, thought I needed church involvement and invited me to Hansen Place Central United Methodist Church,” Ms. Jenkins said, recalling her former pastor’s wife reaching out to her.
Once she participated in the Walk to Emmaus program, she knew that to be true to her commitment she had to plant herself and grow.
United Methodist Women was the place for her. United Methodist Women is a place for women to feel true joy when serving, Ms. Jenkins said. It’s a place where a woman can develop leadership skills and travel her spiritual journey at her own pace, and it’s a supportive community for a woman when her personal life is in pieces, she said.
“The support that I got from United Methodist Women at Hansen Place really helped me through my divorce,” Ms. Jenkins said. “In times like that, you want to go away from the church in shame, but I didn’t. United Methodist Women members helped me dig a little deeper. They helped me hold my head up and keep going. I met God in the middle of all of that, and knew I would be okay.”
Today, Ms. Jenkins is active in United Methodist Women at Union United Methodist Church, also in Brooklyn, and is vice president of New York Conference United Methodist Women. Her unit just completed two years of serving Anchor House, a conference ministry to people recovering from substance abuse.
Unit members are host to baby showers and serve as prayer partners for women in prison through the Women’s Advocacy Ministry. The unit also supports Global Action on Aging, a Mission Giving- supported non-governmental organization that advocates for the issues of older women in the international community.
“I feel I am carrying on the legacy from our predecessors,” Ms. Jenkins said. “United Methodist Women’s purpose gives each woman a sense of belonging to something tangible and worthwhile.”
A time to harvestUnited Methodist Women’s purpose is what hooked Heidi Careaga on the organization. In 1999, Ms. Careaga married a pastor. He was beginning his first appointment, which was to San Pablo United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, when a friend introduced her to United Methodist Women. With the friend’s help, she started a unit at the church. When her husband was appointed to Bethania United Methodist Church in Dilley, Texas, a small town between San Antonio and Laredo, she started a unit there. And she started a third unit at El Redentor United Methodist Church in Bishop, Texas.
“I fell in love with United Methodist Women’s purpose,” Ms. Car-eaga said. “What I’ve learned and seen is we need to show women the purpose. You can’t make anybody do anything, but once they fall in love with the purpose, they want to be involved. Start with the purpose, not rules and regulations. The rest will come automatically. With the Lord’s help, we can make it happen.”
Living out the purpose is what’s kept Barbara Wilson involved in United Methodist Women for nearly 40 years. She joined in the mid 1960s when her husband was sent to fight in Vietnam. While he was gone, she moved from Fort Worth, Texas, to Oklahoma to be closer to family, and joined United Methodist Women at Angie Smith Memorial United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. When her husband returned from Vietnam, they moved to California where she sought a United Methodist Church and a United Methodist Women unit. Living United Methodist Women’s purpose helped her through a divorce and rearing children and moving on with her life, including moving back to Oklahoma.
Today, Ms. Wilson and her second husband are helping rear five grandchildren. She is vice president of Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and a member of United Methodist Women at Norman First American United Methodist Church in Norman, Okla.
“It just feels right to belong to United Methodist Women,” she said. “When there’s a lot of women concerned about an issue, it really helps. I like to hear that we make a difference in the lives of children. It always amazes me what we can do when we all stand together.”
* Yvette Moore is an executive secretary for communications with the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.