Responsively Yours: No Time for Business as Usual
As the sun declined in the sky small groups of women moved from seminar and meeting rooms to collect scarves and sweaters before the next session at the 12th World Assembly of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women in Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug. 10-15.
The nights were cool and the sun would set during the dinner hour. Stepping in the door to either one of the two dining halls involved a process of greeting, confirming that the participant was in the assigned hall, and welcoming to a warm space with bountiful food and amazing conversation.
United Methodist Women’s national board members, regional missionaries, scholarship recipients and staff participated in many ways in the work of the quinquennium gathering of Methodist and Uniting Church Women from around the world. It was wonderful to meet other United Methodist Women members from around the United States who attended the meeting.
We were just one of the excited groups of women who met over meals and in sessions across the campus. There was a large delegation from the Caribbean region as well as from several African countries. We were resplendent!
English was the language of the meeting, and there was assistance for Korean, French and Portuguese speakers in the main sessions. This meant that some of our informal conversations involved some words, some gestures, lots of smiles and some calling in people who have language gifts.
Many of the sessions started with remarks about speakers (many of whom were very interesting) or reports (each area told something about their work) or the challenging Bible study or wonderful singing. I support all of that. However, for me, it was the unplanned contacts and conversations around the table and walking around the campus that shaped my thinking and feeling about the women and the organizations with whom we are connected.
I have been thinking about this as we are preparing the poverty study for Schools of Christian Mission next summer and as the U.S. Census Bureau announced that 1-in-6 Americans lives below the poverty line. Among African American and Hispanic families the rate is 1-in-4.
What would happen if we sat at a table with some of these persons — sharing strategies, learning about efforts already in progress in communities, building the bonds not just of fact and figures but of smiles and gestures? Would we find that some of these folks were actually mission partners? Would we begin to think differently about the hard work of creating a sustainable economy in this country?
There is nothing about this time that calls us to business as usual. We are preparing to make new discoveries in our studies and in our relationships. Like the relationships among the women who were able to attend the World Federation meeting this summer, we have a sustaining relationship in our supportive creative fellowships — but as we discovered at this meeting, there are other creative and challenging relationships available to us.
The question is will we be open to them? Will we cross perceived barriers and work on becoming part of ministry with the growing numbers of people in need in our own communities? Will we address systems that need to be reshaped to change the results we’re seeing?
We can and we will as we turn faith, hope and love into action. United Methodist Women, the world needs us. May we have ears to hear and eyes to see.
Harriett Jane Olson
Women’s Division, Deputy General Secretary