About to Do a New Thing
The United Women in Faith Program Advisory Group gathers for its 2022 meeting
by Tara Barnes
The United Women in Faith Program Advisory Group gathered online March 11-12 for its 2022 annual meeting. A week prior, the organization announced its name change from United Methodist Women to United Women in Faith, debuting a new look and new website to go with the new name.
The theme for the gathering was “Inspire,” guided by the Bible verse Isaiah 43:18-19: “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey opened the gathering with a sermon on the Isaiah passage.
“When I learned that your foundational Scripture for this time together was Isaiah 43, I just had to smile and say, ‘Well, yeah, of course it is!’” she said. “The words of the prophet point to a future, a new future, a future that’s filled with hope, a future filled with possibility for a new way, a future that might feel, I pray, like water in a parched land, a future that we can face unafraid and undeterred and unbent.”
Opening worship also included Native American land recognition and a time of remembrance for leaders lost in the past year.
Stepping out boldly
The global gathering included reports from General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson and National President ‘Ainise ‘Isama’u and updates on various parts of the organization’s work.
“Happy anniversary, United Methodist Women! And happy birthday to United Women in Faith!” ‘Isama’u said.
“The month of our founding as the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society in 1869 is the same month we introduce our new name for our new time: United Women in Faith! March is the perfect time for us to honor our history by stepping boldly into our future.
The United Women in Faith Program Advisory Group consists of the 25 members of the board of directors, the five United Methodist Women jurisdiction presidents, a representative from each conference not already represented on the board of directors, representatives from United Methodist agencies and the deaconess and home missioner community and, with voice but no vote, United Methodist Women regional missionaries and representatives of World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women.
Program advisory group members are part of one of five working teams: membership, identity, relationship, technology and story. Members also serve on United Methodist Women’s editorial board, Reading Program team, Legacy Steering Committee, Committee on Deaconesses and Home Missioners and Assembly team.
Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Tamara Clark reported on giving and shared how members’ mission dollars are at work in the world through national mission institutions, international ministries, grants and scholarships, the connectional work of regional missionaries, deaconesses and home missioners and the Church Center for the United Nations, and member empowerment through leadership training, transformative education, spiritual growth and service and advocacy.
United Women in Faith supports projects and partners that benefit women, children and youth and follow the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church.
“We celebrate our ability to year after year support the ongoing work with our gifts. I can’t express enough the impact that these gifts and scholarships have on the world,” Clark said. “We continue to challenge social injustice and work toward improving the lives of women, children and youth, nationally and internationally. We continue the advocacy work on peace and justice, education, the rights of children, human rights and more. And we continue to provide space for inner work as members through transformative education programs with biblically grounded curricula intended to motivate, inform and enrich our commitment to be in ministry for a more just and equitable world.”
Nine conferences increased their giving in 2021, and 27 conferences met or exceeded their pledge. Together members gave more than $8 million dollars, funding hundreds of projects in the United States and around the world.
In addition to the traditional channels of Mission Giving—Pledge to Mission, Gift to Mission, Gift in Memory, World Thank Offering and Special Mission Recognition—the new United Women in Faith website offers new ways to give, directing funds toward where they’re needed most, social action and justice work, spiritual growth and nurturing opportunities, and education and leadership development.
United Methodist Women members also give generously to the Legacy Fund, a forward-looking permanent endowment to continue United Women in Faith’s mission with women, children and youth far into the future. Program advisory group members heard updates on the fund and got excited for the upcoming Day of Giving on March 23.
“Can we share some of the ways that United Women in Faith makes a difference in the world that matter to us personally and help people see how their giving makes them a part of something bigger than themselves?” asked General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson during her report. “The research told us that this is something women across generations want to experience. Funding can be an obstacle, but it’s also an opportunity. We can turn it into an opportunity to talk about the powerful, ongoing work of our national mission institutions, for example, or the pilot projects and other work led by our regional missionaries, or the campaigns and the difference they make in a world that badly needs them, of the powerful spiritual growth resources and of advocacy learning that helps us to speak where and when that matters.”
An inclusive future
The gathering included reports on Assembly 2022, the Reading Program, the Legacy Fund, the Just Energy for All and Interrupt the School-to-Prison Pipeline campaigns, the organization’s editorial board, and deaconesses and home missioners.
The time also included a chance to hear about partnerships with regional missionaries, the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, and the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women.
Each program advisory group meeting includes training on eliminating institutional racism. The theme for the 2022 meeting was Rivers in the Desert: Following God’s Call to Antiracism, focusing on learning about how racial injustice operates and how to speak out against it.
“United Women in Faith can be the kind of place where women around the country and around the world speak up, address big challenges and inspire others to join us,” Olson said. “Our work on eliminating institutional racism is designed to help us think about our own roles and provide us with framing and grounding for speaking and acting to make a difference close to home and in the world.”
Program advisory group members watched a video from the United Methodist General Commission on Religion and Race in which Brittany Jackson Brown shares her story of being asked “Where are you from?” and emphasizes how the church might welcome new people—especially people of color and multiracial people—to church. Members met in small groups to discuss who is included and excluded in their contexts and how it affects advocacy work. They then listened to the speech given by United Women in Faith Board of Directors member Darlene Alfred during a Central Conference United Women in Faith vigil after the police murder of Atatiana Jefferson.
Attendees also participated in conversations imagining the future of The United Methodist Church, a project of the Connectional Table. Program advisory group members took time to ensure laywomen’s voices are included in this envisioning of the denomination’s future.
“Sometimes we sense that God is calling, but we’re a bit nervous to say yes,” said Olson. “Friends, this should not be one of those times. We’ve been engaged in active discernment through a long process of asking for the guidance of God’s spirit in the plans we have made. We have heard the yearning of women who are not yet members for deeper faith and spiritual sisterhood—and we know that yearning, because we feel it ourselves.”
Every board of directors and program advisory group meeting is monitored for how well the organization lives up to its promises of sustainability, including carbon footprint, paper use, racial justice, accessibility, affordability, healthy food and drinks, local solidarity and multigenerational inclusion, among others.
Previous board secretary and current president of the Minnesota Conference United Women in Faith Cindy Saufferer served as monitor and offered her assessment and suggestions.
“I want to congratulate the United Women in Faith Program Advisory Group,” she said. “I have experienced this meeting to be inclusive and life-changing, both fresh and spiritual. And I look forward to seeing what you bring to us in the future.”
Members of the program advisory group serve for years and meet annually each spring and throughout the year in jurisdictional cohorts.
“This is an exhilarating time as we commit to even greater inclusivity, action and impact,” ‘Isama’u said. “We are women of passion and power united by God’s love in our mission to uplift women, children and youth. Let’s stand together to continue to put love into action.”
Tara Barnes is editor of response.