What Does a Community Look Like?
United Methodist Women is a community of women in which every woman can find a place, interest and/or passion. Yes, this community is organized for mission, and every woman can find a way to serve, learn and be in community with one another.
Who is a member of your community, church and unit? How are the members of this group different? How ethnically diverse are these communities? Is it possible that there is great diversity in your community but not so much in your church? How can we work to make sure that our communities of faith resemble our communities of residence?
United Methodist Women has focused on ways to expand the diversity at all levels of the organization. The “Affirming Inclusiveness and Diversity” document states, “For United Methodist Women, inclusiveness is the freedom for total involvement and participation of all women in the membership and leadership of the organization at any level and in every place. It is the acceptance of that freedom by all United Methodist Women not only as the basic right of every woman but also as a basic and inherent need for the life, growth and vitality of the organization.”
The question is: How do we become an ethnically diverse community? Of course there is not one simple answer. However, some practices that might reveal for us the benefits of creating a community of Pentecost in our units and teams are worth exploring.
Be intentional to start relationships with women of different cultural backgrounds. In many of our churches, services in different language are held. Do you know the women of these congregations? One way of getting to know them is to occasionally attend these services, and as you get to know them, invite them to your service. Be specific about the theme of the program. Avoid inviting people to “unit’s meetings,” rather, make the programs sound as interesting and exciting as you know they can be. New women will be more apt to take a risk when they see that you were willing to do so.
Expand the circle
Explore ways to include women of different ethnicities in the overall work of mission. If their interests differ from what your unit is working on, find ways to expand the mission work of your unit or team.
Many of the women from different ethnic groups will be younger and most likely employed. Explore ways to meet their needs — this may necessitate child care or programs that are child-friendly.
Share with one another the different United Methodist Women opportunities, such as Schools of Christian Mission, spiritual growth retreats, etc. Being sensitive to the financial requirements, find creative ways to promote and sponsor such events. Explore ways of fundraising on behalf of the whole team.
As you explore the need to expand your United Methodist Women community, consider the following:
- What resources can your team dedicate to creating new relationships?
- Are there any unresolved tensions among the group members?
- Identify key leaders; you might need to look beyond elected positions.
- Know who affirms the cross-cultural collaboration, and also be aware of opposition and why.
- Explore common interests and benefits. What are your group’s contributions and expectations?
- What are the risks for you and the members of the other group?
It is about integration, not assimilation. We will not become like them or they like us, but together in community we can explore new ways of being in mission.
Imagine what your unit, group or team can be like. It all starts with you.
Marisa Villarreal is Women’s Division executive secretary for language ministries.