Harriett Jane Olson Nominated to Lead Women’s Division
When directors of the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries meet in August, they will consider the nomination of Harriett Jane Olson, executive of the United Methodist Publishing House, to become the division's chief executive.
If elected, Ms. Olson will join the division in the fall, succeeding Jan Love, who left the position at the end of 2006 to become dean of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. Lois M. Dauway is serving as interim chief executive.
Ms. Olson said she sees the role of the division, the administrative and policy-making arm of United Methodist Women, as both rooted in the past and poised for the future.
"United Methodist Women's story is of powerful women who overcame real limitations and took the church to a new place," Ms. Olson said. "I don't think that story is finished. The work today is different but it resonates with the past. We're still in a setting of 76 cents paid to women for every $1 paid to men. Women are still at a remuneration disadvantage, an experience and mentoring disadvantage with too few women role models. We still have work to do."
There is also new work, she said.
"For example, we have a new kind of immigrant population in a new context," she said. "In the 1920s, United Methodist Women's predecessors were active wherever non-English-speaking populations grew up in response to labor demands. We have these demands springing up everywhere today."
The needs of women and children around the world and close to home continue to need United Methodist Women's attention, Ms. Olson said.
"We have to address what limits women and children in pockets of the United States," she said. "I think of Appalachia because I've had experiences of standing with women and children there. You hear their concerns echoed around the world. We must stand beside women and children around the world."
Ms. Olson's experience in Appalachia has been through the Appalachia Service Project. She has also done hands-on mission work and travel through the General Board of Global Ministries' Russia Initiative and as an officer in her local unit of United Methodist Women in Morristown, N.J. She is a member of Morristown United Methodist Church and an affiliate member of McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville, where she has lived since joining the staff of the United Methodist Publishing House in 1996.
Introduced to United Methodist Women by her grandmother, Ms. Olson said she thought for some years she wasn't old enough to join. Then a member of the Morristown church recruited her to serve as the local-unit officer for spiritual growth. The United Methodist Hymnal had just been introduced. Ms. Olson had served on the General Conference committee that acted on it.
"Her appeal to me was to do Christian personhood and focus our thinking on the new hymnal so we could make it our own," she said. "I couldn't resist. I love to sing. I love hymns. I researched women hymn writers. I had a great time working with that team."
Since going to work with the Publishing House, she has found it more difficult to be active in a local unit because of her travel schedule. She believes that experience prepares her for thinking about new ways for women to be part of United Methodist Women.
"There are lots of ways to be United Methodist Women," she said.
At the heart of the organization is a holistic approach to being Christian women today, she said.
"Critical to United Methodist Women is the combination of spiritual formation, leadership development, personal engagement in mission work and social advocacy," Ms. Olson said. "In the spirit of John Wesley and in accordance with our United Methodist self-understanding, these are interdependent approaches."
Because United Methodist Women is large -- 800,000 women across the United States -- it has wide-ranging influence on church and society, she said.
"Women do mission in a unique way," she said. "They are empathetic, on-the-ground, standing side by side with women, children and youth. Helping women know they are loved by God, empowered by God, and equipped to live and work for the new creation to which we are called is close to my heart. This requires a blend of political intervention, practical assistance and loving support that I believe United Methodist Women is well positioned to deliver through active units in local congregations."
Selection of Ms. Olson as the nominee to head the Women's Division came following an extended nationwide search. In announcing the selection committee's decision, division President Kyung Za Yim said Ms. Olson matches the division's leadership needs.
"Ms. Olson is a woman of many gifts and will serve the division with distinction," Ms. Yim said in a June 13 letter to Women's Division directors. Ms. Yim chaired the search committee.
Ms. Olson was one of eight candidates interviewed and among four finalists. Division directors will vote on the search committee's recommendation in August and share that information with the personnel committee of the General Board of Global Ministries. The full board is scheduled to vote on the matter during its annual meeting in October.
Since 1996, Ms. Olson has been senior vice president for publishing, editor for church-school publications and United Methodist Church book editor at the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville. She supervises a staff of 125-150 people responsible for the development, production and trade distribution of resources from Abingdon Press, Cokesbury and Kingwood Books.
From 1983-96, she worked for the Pitney, Hardin, Kipp and Szuch law firm of Morristown, where she was a partner in the real-estate department with a specialization in environmental law.
From 1988-96, Ms. Olson was a director of the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship and was a delegate to the 1988, 1992 and 1996 General Conferences of the denomination. She also served on a number of committees with what was then Northern New Jersey Conference. Among those were the conference task force on sexual harassment policy and the conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women. From 1985-96, she spoke and taught on Words That Hurt, Word That Heal, the landmark publication that defined inclusive language needed for the church to be inclusive of all people.
Ms. Olson is a 1983 graduate of Harvard Law School and has a bachelor's degree from Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y., where she serves on the board of trustees.
United Methodist Women is an organization of approximately 800,000 members within the United Methodist Church in the United States. Its purpose is to foster spiritual growth, develop leaders and advocate for justice. United Methodist Women members give more than $20 million a year for programs and projects related to women, children and youth in the United States and around the world.