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You Are the Light of the World!

United Women in Faith Program Advisory Group meets March 10-11, 2023.

by Audrey Stanton-Smith

The United Women in Faith Program Advisory Group gathered for its virtual meeting March 10-11, 2023.

Centered around a theme of influencing, the global gathering included a report from CEO and General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson, breakout sessions for working teams, greetings from regional missionaries, and training on how to use Facebook to share information and inspiration from United Women in Faith.

Program advisory group members serve on United Women in Faith’s editorial board, Reading Program team, Legacy Steering Committee, Committee of Deaconesses and Home Missioners, and Assembly team, so those groups also made reports to the program advisory group. Presenters also shared reports about National Mission Institutions as well as information about the editorial board, Mission Giving, disaffiliations and The United Methodist Church, and United Women in Faith digital resources.

“We change as times change, using new approaches and different tools,” meeting facilitator and board member Valerie Clark, of the Upper New York Conference, told the group of more than 70 women gathered on Zoom who had just shared in an opening worship of liturgical dance. “Social media is a tool for today, and we will seek to influence, share our stories, and reach others through these platforms. Newer members and younger women see our current members standing up for justice, reaching out in new and sometimes unfamiliar ways to make a difference, and stretching themselves to honor and continue the legacy.

“These are characteristics of United Women in Faith since the beginning, and these are our characteristics for the future as we continue to be bold, continue to stretch, and continue to innovate and influence, for the future is bright, and the future is now,” Clark said.

A light on justice

Emily Jones, United Women in Faith executive for Racial Justice, encouraged program advisory group members to continue standing together to influence for justice and advocate for the marginalized.

“Over and over again, the biblical witness calls us to faithful action, to love and justice, in these and so many more verses,” Jones said after displaying slides of Scripture. “… We are called to the work of discipleship, and that means our faith calls us to the food pantry and the picket line.”

Faith also called program advisory group members to consider the sustainability of their own actions during the meeting. (See the “r list” in the upcoming July-August issue of response for a few of the meeting sustainability facts United Women in Faith Executive for Economic and Environmental Justice Ilka Vega shared with the group.)

A light on social media

Program advisory group members received a lesson on using social media to influence for justice and put love into action. Communications producer Jay Rollins walked participants through sharing Facebook posts, displayed examples, then assigned homework on Friday. On Saturday, the women looked at various ways those among them took United Women in Faith posts, made them personal, and shared them.

“Even if just one person goes and checks that out, that’s influencing,” Rollins said.

The theme of influencing continued when Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Tamara Clark presented a report on giving and shared the ways members’ Mission Giving is influencing work in the world through grants and scholarships, National Mission Institutions, regional missionaries, and the Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner, as well as leadership development, spiritual growth, transformative education, and service and advocacy.

“I always communicate to members that their Mission Giving does not fund projects or programs that don’t benefit women, children, or youth, that don’t comply with our United Methodist social principles, or that are administered by discriminatory organizations,” Clark reported. “We emphasize stewardship, accountability, and trust by making our annual report and grants disclosure available on the financial section of our website and uploading new reports yearly.”

A light on Scripture

In keeping with the weekend’s theme, program advisory group members read and studied Matthew 5:14-16 CEB: “You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”

The Rev. Vicki Flippin, pastor of First & Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven, Connecticut, in her opening worship message, used the verses to encourage program advisory group members to let their lights shine together. She cited the movie, Jurassic Park and true stories of Jesus, civil rights activists, and supporters of immigrants to illustrate her point that shining a light alone can be dangerous, but shining a larger one together can be a powerful influence.

“Jesus wasn’t telling one disciple to let their light shine,” Flippin said. “Jesus was telling the community of disciples—this network of resistance that he was building day by day, eating meals together, sharing lives together—he was telling this whole community, let your light shine. We don’t have to do these things on our own. We protect one another with our numbers. … When many, many lights shine, it just takes too long for someone to blow them all out.”

Olson echoed the theme in her program advisory group report.

“You and I and the whole membership together make the organization what it is. The program advisory group and staff offer resources, encouragement, challenge, and companionship to leaders throughout the organization, but we are not the organization. Only together can we rise to both the opportunity and the challenge of the present moment,” Olson said after challenging members to invest time and energy in growing Mission Giving.

“Remember Pastor Vicki’s reminder that shining our light can be risky for one person, standing alone,” Olson continued. “But when we connect with others, standing together, we shift the balance and gain energy and strength to do what some will say is not possible.

A light for sisterhood

Participants used breakout rooms, the chat, and open discussion throughout the meeting—and stretch breaks led by Wespath—to strengthen their sisterhood and discuss ways to influence in their jurisdictions and beyond.

They also listened intently as Director of Denominational Relations Tara Barnes and Connectional Officer Sung-ok Lee gave an overview about disaffiliations and The United Methodist Church. Barnes provided information about how women can remain members of United Women in Faith, even if their churches disaffiliate. (See “What’s Happening in The United Methodist Church” in the May-June issue of response.)

“Friends,” Olson concluded, “this is a time of challenge, there is no doubt. But it is also a time of opportunity, a time to speak clearly about who we are and what we are called to do and be. Pastor Vicki charged us to ‘be bold and luminous communities for the transformation of the world.’

“I believe we can do it. Shine our light. Gather our resources. Grow mission giving. Build our connections. Plant our feet and build community with one another and with those who are currently at the margins, so that God’s love is made visible. I thank God for you and for United Women in Faith.”

Audrey Stanton-Smith is editor of response.

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