Six women in Boston came together in 1869 with just a few pennies to organize for mission. When the women saw the dire need of women in other countries, they saved their money to send female missionaries to work with these women. These women understood that they could not do the work alone so they organized to meet the need, becoming the first United Methodist Women. They continue that work today.
Women know how to motivate other women around issues and programs that will most effectively serve women and children. Women know how to make ends meet, how to stretch the dollar to make the most impact on mission. They know how to share resources to vision for a better future for all people. Women see in hungry children their children, so they feel compelled to act.
To quote Barbara E. Campbell’s United Methodist Women in the Middle of Tomorrow, "We are not just a social club or charitable group. We are women organized for mission. We are not a group to be joined lightly, where membership has no meaning. United Methodist Women is a missional unit with responsibilities to all members and for a worldwide program of mission outreach." The communities of women called United Methodist Women keep the vision of justice ever before them as they work on behalf of women, children, and youth.
Over 140 years of mission work is a testament in itself. The needs are still there, the methods have changed. In 2010, the Women’s Division had the opportunity to become more directly responsible for the administration of the work of National Mission Institutions (NMI). The last year has been spent visiting these institutions, updating the covenant, determining criteria, reviewing bylaws, reviewing liability, as well as determining ways to fund these programs that help so many. All of this review to ensure that the mission work continues.
A flexible structure in doing the mission work has always been an option but to meet the needs in a new way, UMW are encouraged to determine within their local church, district and conference team, the best methods for them to get the work accomplished. A leadership team of four will work as well as a leadership team of thirteen.
Whatever the decision, each day UMW determine ways to be in partnership with women, children, and youth in need, either through NMI, local programs, global programs they know or read about in Response magazine or issues that impact their community, etc. Each day UMW experience passion for the work; see the commitment; feel the respect and honor and experience the family of God in new ways. God uses our gifts to protect, affirm, encourage, challenge, provide opportunities and bring voice to those in need. And UMW is the community of women strategically organized to accomplish the mission.
For me, Luke 18: 1-8 is a prime example of the tenacity women in mission possess:
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him saying, “Grant me justice against my opponents.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” And the Lord said, “listen to what the unjust judge says, and will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you he will quickly grant justice to them.”
This woman would not be silent, she would not be put off, she would not be pushed aside. We don’t know if the woman had family, we don’t whether she went alone or with friends, we don’t know who her opponents were. We only know that she was persistent, courageous, and a risk taker.
This is the community of women I believe in and belong to.
United Methodist Women will not be pushed aside, will not be silent, and will not be put off. They continue to
- be the voice for those without voice;
- risk ridicule by standing with immigrants;
- question institutions which continue to profit from the weak;
- remove funds from banks and investment firms that prey on the poor;
- provide legal help for those seeking justice.
The women who started this mission were women who were not afraid to buck the system; go against the grain of society and come out different. UMW continues this tradition. UMW write letters to their senators and representatives; attend school board meetings; town councils. They envision a better society and work toward that vision. They are persistent risk takers. Standing strong to address unjust situations takes courage and is risky but these women do it every day. This is a community of women who has made this organization what it is today and will keep it strong and vital for the future.