2014-2021 Press Releases
Peggy Billings, United Methodist Women Justice Action Officer, Dies at 90
Peggy Marie Billings, who headed United Methodist Women’s social justice work from 1968 to 1984, died surrounded by loved ones and friends at Bridges Cornel Heights assisted living residence in Ithaca, New York, July 19. Ms. Billings was 90.
Ms. Billings was born September 10, 1928, in McComb, Mississippi, to Dave and Inez Billings, the youngest daughter with eight siblings. After elementary and high school in Pike County and graduating from Millsaps College in Jackson, Ms. Billings prepared to be a missionary with the Woman’s Society of Christian Service, a predecessor organization of United Methodist Women.
She studied for mission service at Scarritt College, a Methodist institution in Nashville, Tennessee, and took a year of language study at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Travel to Seoul
In 1953 the women’s mission society sent Ms. Billings to Seoul, Korea, in 1953 to reclaim the Tai Wha Community Center property that had been used by the U.S. Army during the Korean War. During a one-year leave, she earned a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University in New York City, then returned to Seoul as director of the Tai Wha Community Center until 1963.
Ms. Billings returned to the United States in 1963 and joined the Christian Social Relations staff of the Woman’s Division of Christian Service of the Methodist Board of Missions. Her work on behalf of the organization in the Civil Rights Movement included participation in the historic Selma March with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1968, she became assistant general secretary of the Christian Social Relations Section of the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, the former national administrative body of United Methodist Women. She became deputy general secretary of the World Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, serving from 1984-1989, and continued as a consultant for the board until 1993.
Ms. Billings received an honorary doctorate from Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea, for championing women’s and human rights at the school’s 100th-anniversary ceremony in 1986. She was the chair of the inaugural board meeting of Ewha Foundation in 1970 and served the Ewha Foundation’s board from 1970-1980.
Her tenure with the Women’s Division and Global Ministries spanned the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, the modern women’s rights movement and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), the work for global women’s leadership development and empowerment, the peace movement and work for nuclear disarmament, the anti-apartheid struggles of Southern Africa, and the ongoing work for racial and economic justice for all people here in the United States.
Ms. Billings worked to navigate—and often create—opportunities for United Methodist Women and the church to learn, engage the world and bring their faith to action on the critical and often controversial issues of their time. She was instrumental in the creation of a new Charter for Racial Justice in 1978, which would later be adopted by The United Methodist Church General Conference in 1980.
Ms. Billings described the work in Speaking Out in the Public Space:
“Working with our partners in other denominations and through the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA and the World Council of Churches, the Women’s Division has been a reliable friend in the struggle to make Christian faith a living reality in racial justice, tolerance and understanding. This wouldn’t be possible unless we kept our own house in order. A careful watch must be kept to maintain the spirit of inclusivity and to insure the equality of all with The United Methodist Church.”
“Peggy Billings had a significant and enduring impact on United Methodist Women and on our church,” said Harriett Jane Olson, chief executive officer of United Methodist Women. “Her leadership, mentorship, and ability to couple keen analysis with effective action is a rich legacy for our organization and set a high standard for how we engage in support of women, children, and youth today. We are grateful, beyond words, for her life and witness.”
Throughout her time of service to the Church, Ms. Billings was a consummate administrator, organizer, and writer. She led the planning of many seminars and educational events for United Methodist Women including its quadrennial social justice organizing event, National Seminar; wrote studies about World Division initiatives; and documented the work of United Methodist Women from 1968 to 1984 in her 1995 book, Speaking Out in the Public Space: An Account of the Section of Christian Social Relations.
“Peggy’s book made a deep impact on my life and work with United Methodist Women, inspiring and shaping our work in public policy and advocacy in racial and gender justice,” said Sung-ok Lee, United Methodist Women Connection Officer and former assistant general secretary for Christian Social Action. “Also, I am deeply grateful for her legacy as a missionary to Korea in the gravest time of conflict and poverty in modern Korean history. She was a giant in bringing about a path where there was no path. She changed so many, inspired so many.”
United Methodist Women has been turning faith, hope, and love into action since 1869. Members’ generous donations fund programs improving life for women, children, and youth in the United States and more than 100 countries.
Contact: Yvette Moore, email@example.com