Responsively Yours: Things Change Yet Stay the Same
- Things Change Yet Stay the Same: Audio version (MP3, 4.8MB)
- Cover of Response, September 2008 (PDF, 226k)
- Content of Response, September 2008 (PDF, 98K)
- Harriett Jane Olson is deputy general secretary for the Women's Division.
In 1888, about 20 years after one of United Methodist Women’s predecessor organization in the Methodist Episcopal Church was formed, five women were elected as delegates to General Conference. They were not seated or allowed to vote because the conference determined they were not “laymen.” One of the women elected was Mary C. Nind of Minnesota. Ms. Nind had helped form the western section of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1870 and had been tireless in her work both for mission and for temperance. She was elected a delegate in 1887 by the Lay Electoral College of Minnesota Conference as part of a movement started by a Nebraska laywoman to see women elected.
What a difference we see 120 years later, at General Conference in 2008. Laywomen, including a past president of the Women’s Division, chaired major committees. Women led worship, preached, reported, presented and presided as members of the Council of Bishops. Women participated in the decisions of the Judicial Council and one was elected its chair. Deaconesses, trained at schools founded by United Methodist Women’s predecessors, came representing their autonomous churches; Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, a United Methodist laywoman who is president of Liberia, delivered a major address to the conference; and women’s empowerment projects were a highlight of celebrations.
An advertising expert of Madison Avenue fame might say to the church, “You’ve come a long way, baby!”
At the same time, looking at conference statistics we see women were under-represented in their delegations in proportion to their membership in the United Methodist Church, and they spoke less than their male colleagues. Despite the number of female delegates, the dialog reported in the Daily Christian Advocate contained a disproportionately large number of male clergy voices.
Add to that, some of the matters we are dealing with sound very familiar. Who should administer the money that our women raise for mission? Who should review our decisions about what work to support? Can’t we curtail the work of deaconesses who are in boundary-crossing ministry to people on the margins?
To return to the story of Ms. Nind, in June of 1888, the same year in which she was not permitted to sit as a delegate at the Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference, she traveled to London as a delegate to the World Missionary Conference. She addressed that conference several times about a range of issues. She spoke to the need for separate women’s mission societies to focus on women serving women. She asserted female missionaries would some day be authorized to administer the sacraments as well as offer nursing, education and home visitation. She also presented a resolution calling on the governments of Germany, Holland, England, France, Portugal and the United States to proscribe the sale and shipment of intoxicating liquors to West Africa.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. We still answer questions about how best to organize to serve the needs of women and children. We still attend to questions about women’s proper work when they are called by God to offer spiritual, as well as temporal, aid. We still call governments to account for their actions and the actions of their citizens affecting people around the world. In 1888, Ms. Nind spoke to the “Great Powers” citing the authority of the General Act of the Berlin Conference. Today’s United Methodist Women’s resolutions refer to United Nations resolutions, the United Methodist Social Principles and the church’s Charter for Racial Justice Policies. We are still calling those in positions of secular and spiritual authority to use their influence on behalf of the most vulnerable, especially women, children and youth.
As you will see in this issue of Response, the resolutions proposed by Women’s Division’s board of directors received resounding support from the church. These resolutions, as well as the resolutions that were updated and affirmed, lay out a thoughtful basis for future work as we follow Jesus in mission in the world. The work is God’s — initiated in creation and incarnate in Christ. We are greatly blessed to be called to follow.
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary
Date posted : Sep. 29, 2008