Board of Directors

Harriett Jane Olson: Hope for Tomorrow

Harriett Jane Olson: Hope for Tomorrow
Yvette Richards, Harriett Olson, Vidette Mixon (l. to r.) at the Oct. 2015 board of directors meeting.

Harriett Jane Olson, United Methodist Women chief executive officer, brought a message of hope in action when she addressed United Methodist Women’s board of directors gathered at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City for their semiannual meeting Oct. 3.  

Ms. Olson recited the lyrics  “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” from the famed 1977 Fleetwood Mac song “Don’t Stop,” to describe where United Methodist Women is organizationally and the work of the board of directors.

“For the past five years we’ve been talking about United Methodist Women by describing what we do as: turning faith, hope and love into action on behalf of women, children and youth around the world,” said Ms. Olson. “We sometimes construe this phrase as if it was only love that results in action. And sometimes we speak as if faith, hope and love were synonyms—describing aspects of the same thing, and perhaps they are. Today I want to focus on how our work operates specifically to turn hope into action.”

Ms. Olson said that hope is often viewed as a last resort when all significant efforts have already been done to no avail. However, “In the world of faith, hope is not a weak thing,” she said, citing the biblical stories of a young David preparing to fight the giant Goliath and a teenage Mary proclaiming God was using her after learning of her special pregnancy from the angel Gabriel. 

“Through the eyes of faith, however, we wait for the rest of the story,” Ms. Olson said. “What we know is God is at work. God did use both the small smooth stones of the shepherd boy and the young woman’s ‘Yes,’ to advance God’s own plan. If we could appropriate that knowledge into our thinking and planning, perhaps instead of saying: ‘All we have is five loaves and two fish?’ We might say to Jesus, ‘Look, we’ve already collected five loaves and two fish, maybe we’re ready for a miracle!’”

Ms. Olson spoke of the belief that God is at work in the lives of individuals and in the momentum of United Methodist Women.

“God’s at work,” Ms. Olson said. “Engaging with the messiness and the hurts and the hates and loves that we have. God is working in the world as it is — which is why it is so important for us to see the world the way God sees it, the way it is and to tell the real stories of where women and men are marginalized and oppressed.”

From this knowledge of current realities springs hope and action. “Our job is to align our actions to what God is already doing. We’re being invited to join the dance. In some ways we do this by seeing what assets we already have and in some ways we see this by saying: If God is at work setting at liberty those who are oppressed, then we ought to take actions that line up with that work.”

Ms. Olson highlighted some United Methodist Women work as places where God is at work, including:

  • Setting new mission priorities focused on maternal health, climate change, income inequality and ending mass incarceration.
  • Applying NY state law to endowments that have been “on hold” due to the closure or change of institutions to address mission needs in the area the donor specified.
  • Elevating the voices and the leadership of women around the world.
  • United Methodist Women’s international work and support for national mission institutions.
  • Deaconesses’ and Home Missioners’ work and commitment to a lifetime of service.
  • Inviting new women to become members of United Methodist Women.

“We invite women to build relationships in circles, units and teams of all descriptions. Holding each other up and growing together,” Ms. Olson said. “It’s what we do when we support the spiritual growth of our members and then we invite them to participate in making a difference in the world.”

Ms. Olson also lifted up the upcoming 150th anniversary of the organization in 2019 through a new giving opportunity, the Legacy Fund. “We know that God is at work, and we can build a financial foundation for the next phase of our engagement as United Methodist Women in that work,” Ms. Olson said. “We can and we are. We rejoice at having women in every conference engaged and contributing and we are building tools and support so that every member will have the chance to contribute.”

In conclusion, Ms. Olson said, “We are a movement of women, a movement with almost 150 years of experience so far, that is built on the fired-up hope that God is at work and that God is calling us and equipping us to be at work as well. Every day, whether our imagination is strong or our vision seems dim, every day of United Methodist Women is an exercise of putting hope into action.”

Mary Beth Coudal is the interim managing editor of response magazine.

Posted or updated: 10/9/2015 11:00:00 PM
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