Responsively Yours: Leading into the Future
Practicing leadership skills, recruiting leaders, making room for new leaders — these are the discussions of movements, units, denominations and other organizations that have some history behind them. I am reminded of conversations I hear in United Methodist Women units from time to time: “Where are the young women?” “Who will do the work if I don’t?” and, perhaps most plaintively, “Can’t we try this a new way?”
This makes me think of my own history in United Methodist Women. Some response readers will remember that my grandmother was the first member that I knew of the Woman’s Society of Christian Service and later, United Methodist Women.
My regard for her, and my sense of all that I had to learn myself, combined to make me think I was not old enough for United Methodist Women when I joined Morristown United Methodist Church in Morristown, N.J., in 1983. In my own experience, after several years of looking for a place to connect — youth group advisor, yes; Sunday School class with the youths’ parents, not so much — I was caught by the friendship of United Methodist Women.
At that time, the leadership of United Methodist Women at the church wanted relief from the work of organizing. One of the senior leaders came to two of the younger moms in United Methodist Women to discuss the matter. Would they be willing to take leadership?
It was an act of faith for the senior women to take this initiative. I was appreciative of these leaders’ willingness to take this fairly radical action of enlisting others! The two young moms did some research and came back with a reply.
Yes, they would agree to be co-presidents of the unit, which had never been done before in that unit, on two conditions. First, the previous leaders would give them freedom to organize in their own way. If the new leaders were going to learn their way forward, they would need to be able to experiment. The existing leaders couldn’t expect that things would be the same.
The other condition was that the senior women would continue to support United Methodist Women by attending and holding the unit up as it evolved in new directions. The result has had its ebbs and flows, of course, but many groups of women and girls have been affected by the work of this vibrant unit as members have learned and grown in the ensuing 20-plus years.
Not every unit would be best served by relinquishment and rethinking, but some might.
Not every unit has senior leaders who are ready to take a step back or younger leaders who are ready to step up, but some might.
There is a world of possibilities for how we position ourselves to be United Methodist Women of all generations, all racial/ethnic groups, all women, including women who are not members of the United Methodist Church. We have the opportunity to create our future every day. What will it look like?
HARRIETT JANE OLSON
Deputy General Secretary