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General Conference

Honoring the ministry of laity

United Women in Faith co-host Laity Dinner at General Conference

by Audrey Stanton-Smith

Laity delegates and friends filled the Richardson Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center Thursday evening for a Celebration of the Laity Dinner at General Conference.

Hosted by United Women in Faith, Discipleship Ministries, and United Methodist Men, the dinner welcomed table sponsorships from general secretaries, boards, and agencies and was free for lay delegates, several of whom took the time to publicly celebrate the role of laity in The United Methodist Church and at General Conference.

“We are here to celebrate the great work of God that the laity in this room and in the church have done,” said LaToya Redd Thompson, president of the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders.

Thompson talked about her childhood in Mississippi, where her parents influenced her by reading The Book of Discipline and then their putting love into action.

“They weren’t just reading it, but living it out, standing for justice in church council meetings and then going out and doing the nurture outreach in the community and making sure people in the low-income areas around the church that I grew up in had food, had school supplies, had things that they needed,” she said. “They made me the person that I am and the lover of United Methodism that I am today.”

Referring to Thompson’s address to General Conference earlier in the day, United Women in Faith General Secretary and CEO Sally Vonner said the influence and contributions of laity have strengthened the denomination throughout its history.

“I am grateful for the polity of The United Methodist Church that includes equal lay participation, voice, and our vote,” Vonner said. “I’m also grateful for the wonderful laity address this morning that we heard, particularly as it noted the contributions of laywomen to the movement of Methodism.”

United Women in Faith is the official women’s organization of The United Methodist Church. For 155 years, the organization and its predecessors have impacted local and global communities.

“We advocated and created ways for women to be involved as missionaries and deaconesses, a movement that still lives on today, praise God,” Vonner said. “We also led and supported women to be seated at General Conference to begin with, as well as ordained as clergy and elected bishops, and also advocated in calling the Church to continue the work of racial justice.”

Vonner, who is also serving as a General Conference reserve delegate from the North Texas Conference, said laywomen throughout history and today have tackled “the hard work of the world without hesitation, to transform the lives of the most vulnerable among us and the underserved in the world, particularly women, children, and youth.”

Vonner said that even though Thompson had used the word “unconventional” Thursday morning when she gave credit to the laywomen who influenced John and Charles Wesley, she preferred the word “unreasonable.”

“We have a word that United Women in Faith are ‘unreasonable’ when it comes to women, children, and youth,” Vonner said. “In 2022, we boldly launched a new brand—really to fulfill God’s call to us to welcome women who want to be inspired, who want to be influencers, and who want to make an impact locally and globally in The United Methodist Church and beyond.”

In that spirit of togetherness, Vonner introduced United Methodist Men Interim General Secretary and CEO Bishop James Swanson, a retired bishop from the Southeastern Jurisdiction, by saying, “There have been some brave brothers who have stood with us when we were being unreasonable.”

Swanson thanked laity involved with United Methodist Men’s priorities of evangelism, mission, and social impact. He cited the importance of Scouting ministries, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Amachi, a prison ministry program.

“We’ve made it our priority to not just talk about what we want to see happen with men, but we’re taking this directly to our local congregations,” Swanson said. “We’re trying to do some things that we have not done before, which means we need your prayers.”

Among those new things are a rebranded logo and an app, United, which gives users free access to devotionals and other support for men in their journey of faith and life, empowering them to become authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.

“We are not just pancake eaters. … We are embarking upon a whole new adventure,” Swanson said.

That spirit of adventure makes laity “the backbone” of The United Methodist Church, said the Rev. Jeff Campbell, general secretary of Discipleship Ministries.

“I am a product of strong lay leaders, lay leaders who taught Sunday School, who taught me to love the Bible, lay leaders who encouraged me to go on mission trips and taught me what it meant to serve,” Campbell said. “Every step of my journey, it was strong lay people who guided me and supported me in my spiritual walk. It can’t be overstated—the importance of you all and the work that you do.”

Other agencies and groups joined in the celebration as well, speaking to the crucial contributions of laity in making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

“As we look to the future,” said Vonner in her address, “United Women in Faith will walk with The United Methodist Church in faith, hope, and love as God leads us.”

Audrey Stanton-Smith is editor of response.

Cover photo by Mike DuBose for United Methodist News.

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