The theme of the United Methodist Women’s (UMW) Assembly 18—20 May 2018 was ‘The Power of Bold’. More than 5,000 women gathered to celebrate nearly 150 years of courageous Faith, Hope and Love in Action, in the very city that hosted their first assembly so many years ago.
For some of us, our first opportunity to ‘be bold’ in Columbus was a pre-assembly demonstration in front of the Ohio State Legislature Building as part of the UMW campaign for a living wage.
The opening ceremony began with a procession of flags, lanterns and young women on stilts, and included the consecration of Deaconesses and Home Missioners supported by the UMW.
Throughout the Pentecost weekend, the excellent worship band led us in powerful singing and praise.
Events in the life of Mary the mother of Jesus were portrayed through creative drama, dance and even evocative tap-dancing. These showed how Mary’s boldness can inspire us to courageous obedience to God’s call. We heard stories of some of the many UMC women who over the last 150 years have shown extraordinary courage in their mission activity and service to women, children and youth. We heard from Harriett Olson, General Secretary of the UMW, from Shannon Priddy, the current President, and five Jurisdiction Presidents from across the USA. Keynote speaker Leymah Gbowee received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for leading an effective women’s peace movement in war-torn Liberia. She inspired us to speak out against injustice in all its forms, urging us to ‘dream boldly and then wake up and act boldly’.
We were also treated to presentations, often interview style, from bold women like Michelle Alexander author of ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness’ and Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund. We heard about the campaign to address the ‘cradle to prison pipeline’ a system of mass criminalization which channels particularly African American citizens into prison through discriminatory practices leading to acute child poverty. We were called to honour the memory of Martin Luther King by ending child poverty and ensuring quality primary education for all.
Rev Hannah Bonner is a present day, young prophetic voice advocating for those experiencing racial discrimination. With Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, (young champions of the civil rights movement, having leading roles in the Women’s March on Washington in 2017) she urged us to ‘listen to the voices of young women of colour and trust them to lead.’
Between morning and evening Community Gatherings in the cavernous auditorium, we had time to attend Town Hall style meetings on topics such as Climate Change and Maternal and Child Health. Katherine Hayhoe, named by ‘Christianity Today’ as one of the ’50 women to watch’ spoke about climate change as both a scientist and a committed Christian. We could also visit the vast Exhibition Hall filled with stalls offering information on educational and mission organisations and UMW campaigns and buy crafts, jewellery, clothes and other memorabilia.
There were dozens of workshops to choose from and I was glad to share in leading one, with Ann Connan, President Emerita, on the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women. We were encouraged by the interest shown but surprised by the number of UMW members who were unaware that their strong movement is just one of 70 other Units that make up the World Federation. We encouraged them to listen out for the date and venue of the North America Area Seminar – still undecided – and to come to the 14th World Assembly that will take place in Goteborg, Sweden 10-15 August 2021.
Highlights of the weekend for me were the tap-dancing angel Gabriel, the worship band, and the fearless trapeze artist who symbolized for me the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. I was also delighted to find time to use the prayer room, containing creative suggestions for prayer and quiet meditation.
There were surprise meetings that delighted me: with women from Zimbabwe and MCCA,
with Judith Siaba, our current Archivist, as she prepared to go on the pre-assembly Ubuntu Day of service in the local community;
with Emmy Lou John seen here with Shannon Priddy;
with Karen Landa, our Helen Kim Memorial Scholar from Peru,
and Patricia Mapani, our Southern and East Africa Area Vice-President.
I also had many conversations with individual women, serving God in their own localities – among Native American Indians in the USA, and global missioners in Latin America, Africa and East Asia. Ann was thrilled to meet up with women from Tonga where she and John served for many years and still consider their second home. It was also exciting to hear a group from Korea saying they now have 1 million members!
The next UMW Assembly will be in Orlando, Florida 20th – 22nd May, 2022.