Board of Directors Gathers for Fall Meeting
The United Women in Faith Board of Directors meets Oct. 7-8.
by Tara Barnes
The United Women in Faith Board of Directors gathered virtually Oct. 7-8, 2022, for its fall 2022 semiannual meeting. Board members heard reports, approved budgets and spent time together in worship and fellowship.
The board approved a total operating budget of $25.8 million for 2023, including more than $4.1 million in grants and scholarships and more than $5.5 million for membership programs and resources. In 2022 to date, United Women in Faith has given more than $3 million in scholarships and grants.
Innovation and hope
The gathering opened with a Native American land recognition led by National President ‘Ainise ‘Isama’u, encouraging attendees to use Native Land Digital to name the Indigenous lands from which they were attending the meeting.
Opening worship, “A Time of New Suns”, was led by Deaconess Sophia Agtarap. The worship centered on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
“‘There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns,’” Agtarap said, quoting author Octavia Butler. “What a beautiful and hopeful proclamation. Sometimes we can get caught up in the fallacy that there’s no way out of a situation. But imagine what could happen if we refused to believe that what’s been tried before and didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped should not be tried again. Imagine what would happen if we committed from this day forward to creating something different, something more just and joyful, something bold and more faithful not just for ourselves but for seven generations to come.”
Music was provided by the Rev. Catherine Jordan-Latham of Broadway and Port Colden United Methodist Churches in the Greater New Jersey Conference.
National President ‘Ainise ‘Isama’u called the board to hope with her report.
“We continue to bring our perspective on the leadership of women and the needs of women. We continue to shape our own structures to provide the framework supporting spiritual leadership development, mission, education, service, and advocacy for justice,” she said. “We continue to embark on our new journey responding to a changing landscape in church and society, including the way women are living into their faith. This new journey forward is inclusive of women of all ethnicities, social strata, and walks of life, who have chosen to be followers of Jesus.”
In our 153 years of history, she said, change has been constant. United Women in Faith’s ability to innovate at the technological and grassroots level has allowed women of all ages to connect to United Women in Faith resources and one another.
Some examples of innovation ‘Isama’u offered were when the organization built a building across the street from the United Nations, when national mission institutions change their programs to meet changing needs of their communities, when the Texas United Women in Faith invited young women from the Lydia Patterson Institute on the U.S.-Mexico border to their Texas Legislative Event. One of the students invited was Ilka Vega, author of the 2022 United Women in Faith Program Guide and new executive for environmental and economic justice.
“When this dynamic organization continues to invite, encourage, and empower young people to participate in and make the organization their own—that, my sisters in Christ, is innovative.”
Board members heard about the progress on the new e-store set to debut by the end of the year and on the new member website coming this spring. New banners and tablecloths are available, and a new mission, vision, and purpose poster is on the way along with more ways to use and share the New Wineskins materials.
United Women in Faith’s Khia Shaw shared that almost 18,000 women have signed up to inspire, influence, and/or impact since the new website debuted in March, noting that the “impact” track has had the overwhelming majority of signups.
“These impactors are women who are looking to take action,” she said.
The new website is to invite new women to learn about and join in our work, Shaw explained, while the member website currently in progress will be a place for members to dive deeper into resources, history, Mission Giving tools and more. Shaw shared that new membership resources are available now as well.
The board ended its first session together by taking action for the Just Energy for All campaign and the Interrupt the School-to-Prison-Pipeline campaign, asking congressional representatives to prioritize climate justice and end corporal punishment in school.
Commitment to change
In addition to updates on the organization’s work on its commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, board members also heard sustainable investment updates from Wespath Benefits and Investments.
The board also heard about a Methodist ethos resource in development and updates on the Legacy Fund as the organization approaches its $60 million dollar goal.
Mission Giving updates were shared by Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Tamara Clark. To date, United Methodist Women members have given almost $2.7 million in 2022.
The board celebrated Assembly 2022, which took place in May 2022 in Orlando, Florida, and for the first time as a virtual event. The wrap-up report shared that more than 3,000 people participated in person and online.
Total scholarship, Friend of Assembly, Assembly offering, targeted giving, and Legacy Banquet came in at $158,846—higher than 2018. Surveys of attendees showed that this year’s Assembly, the first as United Women in Faith, exceeded expectations
The new name celebration and other Assembly videos can be found on the United Women in Faith e-store downloads page, and United Women in Faith is now also offering videos of keynote speakers Heather McTeer Toney and Sung Yeon Choimorrow and Assembly theologian Janet Wolf for purchase for individual or group viewing at uwfaith.org/digital. You can see photos from Assembly on our Flickr page and read more about it in the September/October 2022 issue of response and on the blog and website.
The board also celebrated retiring Regional Missionary Catharine Akale for her many years of service. General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson and Connection Officer Sung-ok Lee honored her with a slideshow and acknowledgment of her many years of service.
Akale, as Olson explained, was among the first regional missionaries commissioned when the initiative started in 2000.
“She served as regional missionary in Angola, Namibia, Southern Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique, and her home country of Cameroon working with United Methodist women in Africa on issues of health, gender inequality, violence against women, and women uprooted and marginalized,” Lee shared. “She was a frequent contributor to United Women in Faith resources and speaker at events. She became a favorite with our members.”
Akale thanked members of United Women in Faith for the opportunity to serve women, children and youth in Africa.
“To me, Christianity is not just a religion, but a relationship,” she said. “And so I bear special witness that Jesus Christ lives. He is the shepherd of the lost sheep, the healer of the wounded hearts, the hope of humankind, and, specifically, of the women and girls with whom I worked. The mission and values of my ministry reflected the United Women in Faith Mission of faith, hope and love in action.”
During their time together, board members also approved “Lifting Up Voices for Climate Change” as the theme for the 2023 A Call to Prayer and Self-Denial Offering as well as the themes for upcoming Mission u events and studies.
Stretching and breathing exercises offered by Wespath were shared at each break.
Sister to sister
In her address, General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer Harriett Jane Olson expressed that this was a “wonderful, creative, and formative” time for United Women in Faith despite the tumult in the world.
She discussed the impact of United Women in Faith within The United Methodist Church, the expanding methods of United Women in Faith membership and engagement, and broadening the connections of United Women in Faith to global and regional organizing. Through all this work, Olson emphasized the importance of a connected sisterhood. “Sister-to-sister organizing is something that has characterized our recent work and will continue to be a way of organizing as we go forward,” Olson shared.
Discussing how we do this work, she talked about the ongoing tools such as Faith Talks, the Daily Prayer Guide, the Program Resource, the Reading Program, Mission u, and Soul Care offerings. She also highlighted the work of deaconess and home missioners and staff and elected leaders in the midst of the pandemic. All this work “offer opportunities to both attend to our own voice and to listen and learn from others,” as Olson stated.
“Our national mission institutions are places where there is active listening to the needs of the community, and we are postured as learners alongside them and alongside the organizations that have received our recent significant racial justice grants,” said Olson. “Sister-to-sister work takes listening and self-reflection as well as resources and speaking up!”
In her closing, Olson reiterated the importance of collaborative, relational work. “As we live into the brand, take new action to clarify who we are, and work even harder to stand appropriately beside communities in need and suffering injustice, we really are excited about the times we’re in.”
“Sisters, our voices are needed,” she said. “Our witness and our experience is needed, but we also need the power and the mystery of ‘the sound of me, singing with you’ and the harmony that comes when we are clear that our personal experience is not the only truth in the room and that there are times when we need to hear the quietest or the most excluded voice the loudest. May these moments of opportunity in the midst of tumult recalibrate the mix of our listening.”
After committee reports and a monitoring assessment sharing how well the meeting met the organization’s goals for sustainable gatherings, ‘Isama’u closed the meeting.
“We have asked for the guidance of God’s spirit in the plans we have made,” said ‘Isama’u. “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. This is an exhilarating time as we commit to even greater inclusivity action and impact. We are women of passion and power united by God’s love, and our mission to uplift women and children. So I say to you, my sisters in Christ, let’s stand together to continue to put love into action.”
Maryann Verghese is managing editor of response and Tara Barnes is director of denominational relations for United Women in Faith.