Response: March 2017 Issue

Leading into the Next 150 Years

The 2016-2020 officers for the United Methodist Women Board of Directors lead in faith, hope and love in action.

Leading into the Next 150 Years

National officers, left to right: Gayle Douglas-Boykin, Cindy Saufferer, Estella Wallace, Shannon Priddy and Clara Ester.

President Shannon Priddy

Shannon Priddy’s life journey so far has taken her on multiple paths. Among them: a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia, a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, a fundraiser for the Keep Indianapolis Beautiful nonprofit and an active church member. Now she’s taken on a role of a lifetime.

In August, Priddy became the president of the 25-member board of the United Methodist Women. At 42, she is one of the youngest members to serve in this role—a fact that will send a strong message as United Methodist Women seeks to draw new generations to its ranks.

“This isn’t just your mother’s or grandmother’s group. It is for all women, of all ages, who want to put their passion to work, from social justice to advocating for others,” said Priddy, a member of the North United Methodist Church in the Indiana Conference. “That’s something we need to be shouting from the rooftops. We need to be vocal about who and what we are, locally, nationally and globally.”

Priddy, a Michigan native, has done plenty of that her entire life. After getting a double degree in sociology and anthropology from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, she worked for a few years before following a dream of becoming a flight attendant. The job allowed her to indulge her love of travel and adventuresome spirit.

That chapter was followed by a stint at Harvard University, where she continued her anthropology studies. But along the way she learned she had an aptitude for business and shifted her focus.

Before she completed her master’s degree, Priddy had yet another dream in the works. She wanted to empower and teach women in struggling countries to become more economically independent. What better place than in the Peace Corps? In 2009, two years after she began the application process, she was invited to go to the Kaplan Women’s Resource Center in Armenia. Priddy spent 27 months with the center, which is dedicated to educating women and girls on improving their lives.

“A phenomenal life experience,” she said. “What you put in, you get back tenfold.”

When Priddy returned to the United States, she had clarity about her future. She wanted to work in nonprofits. Her first gig was with the Alpha Sigma Alpha Foundation, giving her an opportunity to help fundraise for her college sorority. In 2014, she accepted a position in development with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc. as the individual giving and annual fund manager. Among its duties: Creating “pocket parks” and planting trees around the city.

Though her career—and her experience as a first-time homeowner—keeps her busy, Priddy has never wavered on her church and United Methodist Women commitments, serving as secretary for her local and the language coordinator at the conference level. She also is the chairperson of her local church’s board.

She’s a big believer in being “intentional.” When Priddy moved to Indianapolis, she did a Google search to find the church that best suited her own social justice goals. She found that in North United Methodist, located in an economically challenged area. The congregation, among other outreach efforts, runs a local farmer’s market and helps with a local elementary school, mentoring students and providing supplies.

When she was asked if she was willing to be nominated for the United Methodist Women’s directorship, Priddy needed some time to reflect about it.

“I said to God, ‘Is this what you want for me? Will I have time for my career? What if someone comes along who wants to share his life with me?’ After some prayers, I got my answer,” she says. “I realized this isn’t just about me ,and I’m not alone in this challenge.

“It’s about teamwork, making connections and building our relationship with one another and Christ. No one works alone.”

In 2019, on her watch, United Methodist Women will mark its 150th year. That’s certainly a milestone that should be celebrated, she says, but it’s the next 150 years she intends to promote in her position. She will start by targeting younger women to get involved through conferences and mentorships by longtime members.

“Each and every one of us has a story. Let’s use our stories to inspire others,” Priddy said. “We offer countless opportunities at every level of our organization. Do not hide your light under a bushel. Make it shine and make a difference.”

Vice President Clara Ester

Clara Ester, the newly elected vice president of the United Methodist Women board of directors, can reel off countless reasons why she has devoted her life to service.

There’s the memory of two Meth-odist deaconesses who ran the Bethlehem Center in Memphis, Tennessee, where her mother worked as a housekeeper and cook. They were white; the Esters were black and beneficiaries of a ministry that introduced young Ester to art, pottery, etiquette, music, drama and dance.

“They were kind and committed in an era before the Civil Rights Movement was underway,” recalls Ester, 68, a member of Toulminville-Warren Street United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. “The races didn’t mix back then, but they didn’t care. They saw Christ in everyone.”

And then there’s the memory that changed everything in an instant. In 1968, the country was changing, and 19-year-old Ester was part of it. As a student organizer, she would finish her college studies then hurry down to Clayborn Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, so she could participate in marches, picket lines and sit-ins.

“I was on both sides of it. The prayer meetings and the activist meetings,” she says. “I remember my pastor, James Morris Lawson, telling me ‘You know what you’re doing and God knows what you’re doing.’ So I knew if there was to be justice, I had to work for it, not sit back and expect it to just happen.”

On April 4, Ester left Clayborn Temple and headed to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis to attend a fish fry. Just as she arrived in the parking lot, she caught a glimpse of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the balcony.

As he turned away to go back inside the room to get a coat, she heard a blast that sounded like a truck backfiring. It was a gunshot. Ester looked up in horror, watching as he was thrown into the air and back down again. She and a friend took off running up the stairs, reaching him in seconds.

“His eyes were open and he was breathing heavy. There was a pool of blood by the side of his head and neck,” Ester recalled. “Because he had just been involved in a pleasant conversation, he actually had a relaxed, comfortable expression on his face. I will never forget that.”

King died at the hospital that night. Ester and her fellow activists, like the rest of the city, were put on a lockdown. Tensions, already on edge, got worse as the National Guard arrived.

“I was never the same person after that. King was our hope and our future. But I came to realize that I would have to live my life addressing injustice in the same nonviolent way he preached,” Ester says. “Not just for black folks, but for all—immigrants, gays, the poor, children.”

She has kept that pledge. She spent 36 years with Mobile’s Dumas Wesley Community Center, rising to the post of executive director. The center, one of United Methodist Women’s 93 national mission institutions, serves at-risk families and seniors in an impoverished area with education, recreation, housing for single mothers, after-school programs, food assistance and other outreach efforts.

Ester also kept that promise in her personal life. She fretted about the growing number of African-American children who lived in foster homes, unable to find a forever family. In 1982, she adopted a 4-year-old as a single mom. He lived with her for 14 years, until moving to a group home because of several medical conditions.

Retired since 2006 and with lingering health issues from a 1985 car accident, Ester continues to honor that commitment made after her hero was assassinated before her eyes. Besides her work with United Methodist Women, she also is a United Methodist deaconess, a lay order dedicated to service ministries, a board member at the Dumas Wesley Community Center and traveling speaker at churches. She also sings in her church’s mass choir.

The message she intends to convey in her national role: Think local. She views United Methodist Women as an established launching point to drive awareness.

“Grassroots are where it all begins,” she says. “It should be our key priority. Be involved in your community, in your church. If we can nip problems and issues in the bud, maybe then they won’t escalate out of control. We have the power to make changes that seem impossible.”

Secretary Cindy Saufferer

Cindy Saufferer isn’t afraid about taking on new challenges. When her husband wanted to move back to rural Minnesota to help run the family’s dairy farm, the former X-ray technician supported that decision. Not only did she take on the rigors of farm life, a role that includes riding a tractor and milking Holsteins, she also raised four children. She will bring that same work ethic to her new role as national secretary for the United Methodist Women’s new board of directors.

“It’s not something I ever would have imagined. But somebody recognized something in me and felt I would be good for this,” says Saufferer, 57, and a member of the Minnesota Conference. “So here we go. I always welcome a new challenge.”

She credits her mother-in-law for planting the first seed of her involvement in United Methodist Women. Though Saufferer was born into the church, she never went regularly until she and her husband moved to Waseca, Minnesota. They started going to Blooming Grove United Methodist Church, the small church her husband attended as a child and now where her grandchildren are eighth-generation members.

When they first moved there, her mother-in-law called and mentioned a United Methodist Women meeting that night. Saufferer should join her, she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Saufferer replied.

Looking back at that fateful moment, Saufferer says with a laugh: “Of course I’m not going to turn her down.”

And that’s a good thing. She found a home in United Methodist Women. One of her favorite causes is working for social justice and eliminating institutional racism for Native Americans. Saufferer got involved in this campaign when the General Conference established “An Act of Repentance Toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous People” in 2012.

Saufferer, who also served a term on the board of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, has a few areas of interest she would like to pursue in her new role. They include: mass incarceration, global programs and maternal and child health.

What strengths will she bring to the board? Saufferer says she’s open, willing to listen and veers away from jumping to conclusions or passing judgment. She always prefers to hear voices on the other side and to hear opposing views.

She is confident about the United Methodist Women’s future and its ability to attract the next generation of members to carry on its mission.

“I like the direction United Methodist Women is going. Younger people like advocacy and justice, and that’s what we’re all about,” she says. “And having Shannon at the helm will help boost energy and new ideas. These are exciting times for us.”

Finance Chair Estella Wallace

Estella “Stell” Wallace, the new chair of the United Methodist Women finance committee, has a little secret to share.

“Every month when I reconcile my checkbook, I do a little happy dance,” says Wallace, 65, of the Pacific Northwest Conference.

Now she’s got a daunting challenge ahead of her: Oversee the organization’s $17 million budget. She says she’s got two secret weapons in her corner: “A good head on my shoulders and a daughter-in-law who is a CPA,” Wallace says with a laugh.

Don’t underestimate Wallace, either. The retired educator brings a wealth of experience to United Methodist Women, starting with 40 years as a teacher. With multiple degrees—special education, elementary education, working with at-risk youth and curriculum development—her career spanned from teaching kindergarteners to high schoolers. Her main focus, she says, was a challenge not for the faint of heart: Middle school humanities.

“I loved it,” she says of her career. “You are in the trenches in influencing young lives.”

Like all working parents, Wallace had to learn how to balance her profession and a busy family life. She and her husband of 44 years, now a retired firefighter, raised two children who have followed in their parents’ footsteps. Her son is a firefighter; her daughter is a school principal.

Church has always been a priority for Wallace. She likes to say she was literally born into the denomination, as she made her entrance into the world at the Methodist hospital in Dallas, Texas. As a longtime member of Ellensberg First United Methodist Church in Ellensberg, Washington, she is a past director of Ellensberg Community Clothing Center Ministries, a former board member of Tacoma Community House (a United Methodist Women national institution) and a volunteer for Cold Weather Shelter, a multichurch local program that provides sleeping quarters to the homeless when temperatures dip too low.

Her work with United Methodist Women took off after her kids graduated from high school, including a stint with the jurisdiction leadership team and serving as a member of the committee nominations. Now she steps to a big role in her new position with United Methodist Women’s finance committee, covering the organization’s budget, property and endowment administration.

Others may be daunted by the responsibilities of the job. For all the Mission Giving generated by United Methodist Women, Wallace and committee will oversee how the board approves giving for mission, including national mission institutions, international mission projects and scholarships. The committee also oversees the investments and use of the Legacy Fund and other endowments given by our foremothers.

“We’ve been around 150 years. We’ve proven that we’re efficient, good with the dollar and we have staying power,” Wallace says. “Yes, our assets and our budget may seem staggering, but I’m always humbled by what good stewards of money we’ve been historically. There are so many organizations today vying for your dollar, so we have to continue to show that we are a responsible, viable group that will make a meaningful impact with your donation.”

Wallace believes the organizational skills she honed as an educator, mother and community and church volunteer will serve her well in her four-year term. She’s a big believer in teamwork and the strength that comes when people work together for a unified mission.

“I’m a lifelong learner and lifelong teacher. That didn’t stop with retirement,” she says. “So many people say they wish they could do something, but it stops there. You have to take that next step and be intentional about it. I’m lucky to have found an organization where I can have a voice and I can make a difference.”

Governance Chair Gail Douglas-Boykin

Gail Douglas-Boykin believes in embracing every day. That attitude could be attributed to her 21 years as a police officer with the New York City Police Department, when she was in the trenches working with at-risk youth.

It became even more apparent to her on Sept. 11, 2001. Boykin was stationed at One Police Plaza, just a quarter mile away from where the Twin Towers fell and ground zero for first responders. The terrorist attack and its aftermath—which claimed thousands of innocent lives, along with hundreds of her fellow officers and firefighters—was a crucial turning point.

“I always had an appreciation for life. But on that day, which started out so beautiful, I saw how quickly and drastically things can change in a few moments,” recalls Boykin, of the Long Island West District, New York Conference. “So ever since, I live each day as if it could be my last.”

She’s bringing that same enthusiasm to her role as a member of the United Methodist Women national board of directors for a second four-year term. This time around, she will chair the governance committee, which reviews the bylaws, fills vacancies and proposes policy changes.

“It’s in my nature,” Boykin says. “I like order. I like rules. Without rules, there would be chaos. I like to make sure that all steps are taken properly, all the paperwork is in order and nothing falls through the cracks.”

She likens bylaws to roadmaps. They give guidelines on what members should be doing and what should happen as a result. While there is some flexibility, Boykin says bylaws provide a solid foundation to keep a wide-reaching and mission-oriented organization like United Methodist Women running smoothly.

Boykin, raised a Roman Catholic, became a “Methodist by choice” 24 years ago. She had attended a United Meth-odist service that was run entirely by youth and was so impressed that she decided this denomination suited her more.

“As a police officer, I worked in the community affairs division with youth. I gravitated toward them, and they gravitated toward me. Seeing their participation and passion for their faith made me want to be part of this church,” she says. And she intends to use her position at the national level to advocate for children and youth, saying that is her “true purpose” in life.

Boykin is a member of the Vanderveer Park United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband. Their grown daughter, a recent graduate of New York University, just completed her master’s degree in school counseling.

Boykin’s enthusiasm for Methodism is evident in her actions. When she returned to the work force, she chose The United Methodist Church. For 10 years, she was a church administrator; now she’s the coordinator of ministerial services for the New York Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.

At her home church, she’s a certified lay servant, an assistant Sunday school superintendent and a youth ministry advisor and mentor. For United Methodist Women, she’s served as a social action coordinator and as a youth studies teacher for Mission u. Currently, she’s the treasurer for her local unit.

“I never grew up with my sister. The United Methodist Women are the sisters I never had,” she says. “We have a shared sense of purpose that helps with both spiritual growth and making this world a better place. I call it the sisterhood of grace.”


Michelle Bearden is former religion reporter for The Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV and is now a freelance writer specializing in faith and values. She’s a two-time winner of the national Supple Religion Writer of the Year award from the Religion Newswriters Association.

Posted or updated: 3/1/2017 12:00:00 AM
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