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Program Advisory Group Meets

Meeting reflects, looks to bright future.

by Audrey Stanton-Smith

Program advisory group members met for the final time in their four-year service period March 8 and 9 via Zoom. Their agenda over the two-day meeting included moments of worship, devotions, strategic planning, cohort updates, and reports from United Women in Faith and other agency offices.

“For me, it’s a story of gratitude,” Vice President Cynthia Rives told those in attendance. “You, the PAG of 2024, have had many unique challenges during these four years, but we have lived out the scripture, ‘We can do all things through the one who strengthens.’ ”

Rives and other group members reflected on beginning their term during the pandemic, a name change, church disaffiliations, and the transition to a new general secretary and CEO. Rives also recognized and remembered those who had passed away in the last year, including the mother and the husband of United Women in Faith President ’Ainise Isama’u.

“Thinking back to the beginning, I see God’s power, Christ’s love, and the shepherding of the Holy Spirit working in and through us,” Rives said.

General Secretary and CEO Sally Vonner called those in attendance “super PAG members” and continued to do so as jurisdictions shared videos of their “conference impact stories” throughout the meeting.

“Remember, our theme for this quadrennium has been, ‘dream it, believe it, do it,’ ” Vonner reminded the group as she welcomed them. “Thank you for saying yes to being part of the amazing journey to dream it, believe it, do it. You are history makers, changemakers, trailblazers, equipped for this time to lead forward.”

Bishop David Wilson of the Great Plains Conference, the first Native American to be elected as bishop, led an opening worship service that focused on Paul’s meeting with Lydia.

“We come from a long line of believers, women and men, who answered the call in their lives that now stretch across generations,” Wilson said. “We need to forge ahead and know that our presence and work is not in vain.”


Reports throughout the two-day meeting showed that the work of United Women in Faith continues forging ahead.

Director of Communications Praveena Balasundaram reported that as of March 8, the United Women in Faith Digital platform had welcomed 6,257 members.

The Office of Deaconess and Home Missioner reported that 27 new deaconesses/home missioners and four more transferring a relationship from the Philippines will be consecrated during General Conference on April 29.

In its report, the Reading Program gave PAG members a sneak peek at the 2025 Reading Program, which will include books evaluated by readers diverse in age and ethnicity. The list will be released later this year and will continue to focus on social justice themes, diverse author representation, and the mission of United Women in Faith. Book discussions will continue on the digital platform, where they are growing in popularity.

PAG members considered the story of Esther as they heard a report from the Eliminating Institutional Racism team before moving into the working session.

“Our community of faith for women is called to stand for the marginalized and disenfranchised of our society,” said Jennifer Noel of the Florida Conference before the meeting broke into small groups to discuss the 2024 Reading Program book Becoming Brave: Finding the Courage to Pursue Racial Justice Now, by Brenda Salter McNeil.

Marchelle “Micki” Phelps of the North Central Jurisdiction said the book uses biblical context to help readers accept and understand “God’s instructions to treat and love our brothers and sisters as we treat and love ourselves.” She called on members to use their talents, energy, and ideas to make a meaningful impact on racial justice.

Transformation Officer Khia Shaw presented an update on the work of transformation. It highlighted the success of member portal sign-ups, Soul Care manual purchases, and YouTube channel views that exceeded goals.

Ebony Diaz, director of Membership and Engagement, noted the success of Mission u trainings in 2023, as well as increasing interest on United Women in Faith Digital, “where we expect to continue building out the community and delivering more compelling engagement experiences for all members of the three I’s interest tracks of inspire, influence, and impact.”

Shaw also shared Mobilization and Advocacy updates, including work on climate and racial justice and a short film, Never Give Up: Cynthia and Michelle’s Faithful Fight Against Mass Incarceration.

At just over five minutes, the film—available to view on the United Women in Faith YouTube channel—is intended to educate and mobilize members and nonmembers alike to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

PAG members watched the film Saturday afternoon following a report on justice campaigns. In that report, Executive for Racial Justice Emily Jones and Executive for Economic and Environmental Justice Ilka Vega shared that United Women in Faith in 2023 had also trained 1,500 participants in five Just Energy for All trainings and webinars, facilitated 117 United Women in Faith Earth Day celebrations nationwide, launched the online Energy Grants Toolkit, and joined forces with more than 500 organizations and 75,000 individuals in the March to End Fossil Fuels.

For 2024, their impact has included a Climate Justice video scheduled for release in late April, social media marketing and video clips, and an Earth Day Vigil scheduled during General Conference.


In her Mission Giving report, Treasurer and CFO Tamara Clark focused on the many ways Mission Giving is at work.

“We continue to challenge social injustice, and we work toward improving the lives of women, children and youth,” Clark said.

Justice campaigns, opportunities for education and leadership, the Reading Program, Mission u, and national and international scholarships continue.

“Education can transform women, and women absolutely transform the world,” Clark said.

United Women in Faith also continues supporting National Mission Institutions.

“We call them NMIs,” Clark said. “They’re like our babies, our organizational offspring.”

United Women in Faith supports 87 NMI organizations in communities across the country, through grants, information, training, and resources. PAG members heard reports from them Saturday morning, as well as reports from International Ministries.

On the international level, Clark continued, United Women in Faith awards grants for economic empowerment; vocational training; global leadership development support; and support for regional missionaries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean who work for health care, equality, the elimination of violence against women, and supporting the uprooted and marginalized.

For women throughout the world, United Women in Faith also continues to create resources for spiritual growth, including the Program Resource and Daily Prayer Guide, and nurturing events, such as Faith Talks and Soul Care.

“As women walking in our faith, we know that centering ourselves and our spirituality in our connection with our creator is important for us to do, and that’s what enables us to grow our sisterhood,” Clark said.

Clark also recognized those conferences that increased Mission Giving in the last year. Twenty-six out of 53 conferences met or exceeded their pledge, and two out of five jurisdictions (North Central and Western) met or exceeded their pledge.

Those conferences that increased giving compared to the prior year in addition to meeting their pledge were Iowa and Northern Illinois in the North Central Jurisdiction; Greater New Jersey, New York, and Peninsula-Delaware in the Northeastern Jurisdiction; North Texas and Oklahoma Indian Missionary in the South Central Jurisdiction; Holston in the Southeastern Jurisdiction; and Alaska, Desert Southwest, Oregon-Idaho, and Pacific Northwest in the Western Jurisdiction.

Clark reported an overall decrease of $811,000 or 11.10 percent compared to 2022 Mission Giving. From 2019 to 2023, the average rate of decline has been 9.35 percent, with a total decline of $3.46 million.

In their Legacy Fund report, Director of Development Cecilia Malm and Dawn Armstrong from the board of directors reported that The Legacy Fund’s total value at the end of 2023 was $36,596,855, which includes planned gifts and major gifts. Eighteen conferences increased their gifts to The Legacy Fund in 2023.

“We’re very grateful for that,” Malm said, calling on members to continue working toward the permanently invested endowment fund’s $60 million goal to carry out programs and activities for many years to come.

Looking Ahead

In other business, the PAG recognized the retirement of Rev. Dr. Heasun Kim, director of Scranton Women’s Leadership Center in Seoul, Korea, and three regional missionaries. Members also discussed Assemblies for 2026 and 2030; United Women in Faith representation among at least 50 delegates to General Conference; its ongoing work toward zero emissions in 2050; and the fiscal stewardship of the national office’s recent relocation to the Church Center for the United Nations.

Vonner, in closing remarks on strategic goals, said: “God is calling us to do more for such a time as this. May our hopes and dreams be that by 2028, the vision for growth in membership and giving through our strategic plan becomes reality.”

That vision includes growing membership beyond 500,000 members by 2028, generating $10+ million per year in revenue, and meeting and/or exceeding the $60 million Legacy Endowment Fund goal set in 2014.

She asked members to believe and boldly adapt for the present and future. Vonner referred to one of the weekend’s devotional times, when Regional Missionary Hikari Chang discussed Peter walking on water when he focused on faith in Christ.

“God will be in the bright future that lies ahead for United Women in Faith,” she said. “God will continue inviting us to step out of the boat in faith, saying yes to God for the sake of love for God, our neighbors, and ourselves.”

Audrey Stanton-Smith is editor of response.

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