UMW: Revisiting the 10-Year Vision
Although many local churches are challenged by a declining volunteer base and attendance at meetings, the fact remains that the United Methodist Women -- 800,000 members strong -- is the largest denominational faith organization for women and all are focused on fostering spiritual growth, developing leaders and advocating for justice.
Impressively, these women collectively raise up to $20 million each year for programs and projects related to women, children and youth in the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world.
United Methodist Women became an independent agency of The United Methodist Church at General Conference 2012, held in Tampa, Fla. April 24-May 4. Harriett Jane Olson, top executive of United Methodist Women, shares more about this approval on this video.
As one of the Texas conference’s longest supporters, since 1975, Velma Williams is still active locally as the Central South District President of UMW. “Our UMW programs encourage mission work, social action, spiritual growth and the connectional benefits of a caring community at the local, district, national and global levels.” However,” she adds, “Over the years as I have seen UMW membership become more of a challenge because younger women tend to live so far away from their churches these days, and have so many other options and responsibilities to fill their lives than I ever had at their ages.”
She joins other UMW leaders across the globe in adapting to new circumstances that require changes to make membership more convenient and accessible to all ages. “One of our strengths as an organization is to broaden women’s horizons through book studies, and those can be accessed on the new Kindles and electronic readers at whatever time works for the individual,” explains Velma. “We discuss the books at some of our meetings and are even investigating Skype and other technology that would allow more women to participate from home in a virtual community.”
Lee Thornton, vice president of the Texas Conference UMW loves the “sisterhood” of UMW that supports diversity and sharing of resources across the globe. “As a way to foster expansion of groups and recruitment of younger members,” explains Lee, “The Texas leadership sponsored a fun Sock-it-to-You challenge last year where we sent socks to churches and instructed them to acquire at least two new people before they could send the sock to the next church. It was well received and created some out-of-the-box thinking and new awareness of UMW’s role in congregations.”
Another connectional aspect of UMW that Lee enjoys is the “mission mile” at collective meetings and retreats. “We line up posters displaying what UMW groups have done for their mission projects and see what interesting mission work is being done by our sisters in other communities.”
Another strategy to involve younger women in UMW activities: involve their children. “We had a science camp at one of our churches in the summer, and it drew a good turnout and helped put UMW on the radar of more families,” says Lee.
Another emerging focus of UMW that’s catching the attention of younger members is the “Green Team” focused on environmental issues. “It’s been a long time since the Texas Annual Conference had a representative on the national board, but we elected Stacy Hawkins to represent us this year. She’s young and drawing in younger women in this area, all of which has been a great thing for the Texas Conference.”
Making it Easier
According to Lee, there are ample resources for new and existing chapters of UMW, at every level of the organization and many on the website at http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umw/. There are district training events, officer training events at the conference level, “how to” videos, and resources for program ideas, racial justice and financial support and even a YouTube channel.
“Years ago, UMW sent me to a course on human trafficking and I believe this awareness raising is one area where UMW has made a global impact by pooling our knowledge and partnering with organizations that are already working to help women and children in this trap.”
“The Church is Better off with UMW”
Longtime UMW leader Charlene “Chicky” Fowler believes the Greater UMW is a great example of the connectional system of the UMC. “UMW has certainly been a positive influence in my life and I want that experience for the younger women. It has stretched me to be mission oriented, and to grow spiritually and through several leadership roles. The circles and local unit have been life supporting!”