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UMW moves ahead, despite uncertainty Mary Jacobs, Mar 26, 2012
PHOTO BY CASSANDRA ZAMPINI
Attendees raise their voices in song at the Women’s Division semi-annual board meeting, held March 15-19 in Dallas.
By Mary Jacobs Staff Writer
DALLAS—A sense of both uncertainty and possibility loomed over the March 15-19 meeting in Dallas of the board of the Women’s Division, the policy making body of the United Methodist Women.
“We are in a state of anticipation,” said Harriett Olson, deputy general secretary of the Women’s Division. “The Women’s Division and the General Board of Global Ministries have made historic decisions this quadrennium and very soon we will know if the General Conference is willing to affirm them.”
She was referring to the Women’s Division proposal, approved last April, to separate structurally from the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). Under a new name, “United Methodist Women, Inc.,” the organization would become its own entity within the United Methodist Church.
GBGM blessed the proposal; now, it’s a matter of waiting to see whether General Conference, which meets in Tampa April 24-May 4, will approve it.
In an interview, Ms. Olson said she’s feeling optimistic that General Conference will pass the measure.
“We have heard a couple of questions, but not very forcefully,” she said, noting that both the Women’s Division and GBGM made the proposal to separate well before the Connectional Table made its recent recommendations. She’s hoping Conference delegates won’t see the proposed separation as dependent on the Connectional Table’s proposal. And, given that both agencies have had several months to hammer out a new organizational structure, “our proposal is a little more definitive than the Connectional Table’s proposal,” she said.
At the meeting, Thomas Kemper, GBGM’s chief executive, told the Women’s Division board that he’s already seeing good results from the planned separation of the two agencies.
“Once you start to separate, you get more intentional about collaborating,” he said. “We can dare to dream big as separate agencies.”
Since last April, UMW and GBGM have created five roundtables which connect staff from both organizations to focus on areas where the agencies would continue to collaborate: poverty, global migration, justice & reconciliation, leadership development and health.
A committee has crafted a new set of bylaws that will be ready for consideration at the next meeting of the UMW board, tentatively slated for Oct. 18-22 at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville. (The next set of board members will be elected this summer at Quadrennial Jurisdiction meetings.)
Ms. Olson acknowledged the possibility that the General Conference could move to study the matter and thus postpone the separation.
“That would be a very difficult result,” she said. “We’ve already done so much work thinking about this.”
However, whatever General Conference decides, Ms. Olson said that UMW is ready to move forward.
“We’ve prepared by building in flexibility and focusing on our strategic undertakings,” she said.
Ms. Olson also acknowledged that the proposed separation of the Women’s Division from GBGM comes at a time when many church leaders are broadly calling to consolidate church agencies. She noted that Women’s Division leaders met with staff from the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW), about a year ago, to consider the possibility that General Conference could fold COSROW’s work into the Women’s Division.
That’s not a move that Ms. Olson would support.
“Obviously we support [COSROW’s] work,” she said. “But I don’t believe the laywomen of the church should carry either the cost or the burden of sexual ethics. I believe that is a responsibility of the church. . . . It’s not just a women’s issue.”
In other business, the board voted to change the name of the School of Christian Mission—an annual educational event held throughout the connection—to Mission u (year)! When the change takes effect in 2013, the event will become “Mission u 2013!” The “u” represents both the idea of a university as well as texting language for “you.”
The board also approved themes for upcoming Mission u programs. For 2015, the spiritual growth theme will be “Pursuit of Happiness,” and the geographical and youth and children studies will focus on Latin America. In 2016, “The Bible and Human Sexuality” will serve as the spiritual growth study, and “Climate Justice” will be the focus of the issue study as well as the youth and children’s study.
Board meeting attendees also honored Inelda González, outgoing National President of United Methodist Women. The meeting ended with hugs and a few tears as board members, who have served together for the past four years, said their goodbyes.
A new set of board members will meet in October, and for now, it’s not clear whether they will meet as United Methodist Women, Inc., or as the Women’s Division of GBGM. Thus the words of the closing song, “Hymn of Promise,” seemed apt: “In our end is our beginning . . . unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”