UMW Seeks to Become Separate Church Agency

4/12/2011

The division responsible for United Methodist Women has decided to seek denominational approval for status as a separate agency of the church.

Directors of Women’s Division, the organization’s administrative body, unanimously voted during their April 7-11 meeting to “structurally separate” but remain “missionally connected” with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries rather than continue as a division of the mission agency.

Part of the goal, said Harriett Olson, the division’s chief executive, is to create more transparency and strengthen relationships throughout the church, as advocated by the Call to Action plan endorsed by the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

“The Call to Action challenges the church to do something bold,” she told United Methodist News Service.

Research from the Call to Action “really made us realize how beneficial it would be to have a broader program advisory group with all the conferences represented,” Olson said. She also expects the new structure to allow more frequent regional training for a broader array of members and “new permutations of organizing we haven’t even thought of.”

Under the new structure, the Women’s Division also would shed its name and be known as United Methodist Women Inc., a nonprofit organization.

UMW would continue to name five directors to the Global Ministries’ board, and collaboration on mission strategies and programs is expected to continue through broad cross-functional teams. UMW staff would provide the continuing presence at the United Methodist Office at the United Nations on behalf of both agencies.

UMW plans to cut its board of directors in half — from 50 to 25 members — but also create a program advisory group of 70-80 members, including the directors. The advisory group would meet annually and make recommendations on programs, training and social policies.

Approval by 2012 General Conference

Many of the proposed structural changes require approval by the 2012 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body. If approved, the changes would take effect on Jan. 1, 2013, but directors for the 2013-16 quadrennium would be elected earlier under the guidelines for the new model, Olson said.

Directors will have a special meeting on July 9 in Nashville to approve the appropriate legislation for General Conference.

The structural relationship between the Women’s Division and Board of Global Ministries dates from 1964, but division directors actually started the process toward separation two years ago.

In April 2009, the Women’s Division voted to accept, in principle, the “proposed strategic direction” offered by the cabinets of both the division and the Board of Global Ministries. A more detailed plan was approved the following October.

The new direction allowed the division to assume direct responsibility for relationships with its national mission institutions; all ministries with women, children and youth; and the board’s office of deaconess and home missioner program. Funding contributions by the division to several board administrative budgets also ceased.

Noting that United Methodist Women has “always been a vital part of the mission connection,” Thomas Kemper, the Board of Global Ministries’ chief executive, expressed confidence about the new relationship.

“We will continue to be intentional partners as we work together in pursuit of God’s mission in the world,” he said.

The Board of Global Ministries cabinet had seen both proposals presented to the Women’s Division — to stay in the current administrative configuration or to separate structurally — in advance of the meeting and had input into the process.

“Thomas and I are hoping that we get a joint proposal or complimentary proposals that would help us communicate to General Conference that we are seeking this together,” Olson said.

Focus on women, children and youth

In its proposal on the new structure, the division’s policy committee pointed to the need to keep the concerns and perspectives of women, children and youth as the basis of UMW’s work.

Educating the entire church and empowering women to grow spiritually and as leaders also are priorities, along with the need “to ensure that UMW is a primary place for women to grow as disciples and express their commitment to Christ through compassionate service and passionate advocacy on behalf of women, children and youth around the world.”

On a financial level, UMW is funded solely by its membership, so a separate structure will not mean significant changes, said Martha Knight, division treasurer. “We have been standing on own our all along,” she explained to directors. “We currently are not getting money from any organization. We do not get apportionment money (from the general church).”

UMW does rely on some shared services with the Board of Global Ministries, such as payroll, audit and computer technology, and expects to continue those contracts, she said.

The new plan also makes changes aimed at greater flexibility for the jurisdictional, conference, district and local levels of UMW. A congregational UMW group will be known as “the local organization of United Methodist Women” rather than a “unit” and the number of required officers reduced to president, secretary and treasurer.

Several directors told the group that they consider flexibility a necessary change to attract and keep younger members.

“We are trying to catch some members that our structure would not allow us to catch,” said Jeanette Westerfield, Kentucky Annual (regional) Conference. “I think we need to understand that changes need to be made in order for our organization to flourish and go on.”

Jeanette Kraus of the East Ohio Conference, who works at Ohio Wesleyan, noted that the university had a UMW unit for five years “but they didn’t stay (in a unit). They went to the Web. They’re online community members.”

In the new structure, UMW will allow local groups to “organize as they see fit” and offer models on how to handle the organization’s functions and goals.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.

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