Response: June 2017 Issue

United Methodist Women in the Red Bird Missionary Conference

The women of the Red Bird Missionary Conference continue southeast Kentucky’s legacy of mission.

United Methodist Women in the Red Bird Missionary Conference
Red Bird Mission staff with some of the recipients of their services.

The history of United Methodist Women and their predecessors looms large in the history of Red Bird, because from the very beginning the work of mission and ministry in the mountains of Kentucky resulted from the prayerful vision of women of the general church.

Around 1918, requests came from Kentucky to the Evangelical Church to start work in southeastern Kentucky. Permission was granted, and to finance the work, the Evangelical women established the Faith Fund “with the faith that money would flow into it and that God would show them where to invest it.” Women’s missionary societies across the country contributed to the fund, and by the summer of 1921, the church’s mission board sent the Rev. John and Nettie DeWall to head the work in this remote, isolated valley in southeastern Kentucky called Red Bird named in honor of the Red Bird River chief. Two woman teachers had arrived two weeks earlier to teach at two nearby schools.

At about the same time in 1918, the United Brethren Church convinced their board of missions to work in an area 90 miles to the west of Red Bird in the hilly area along the Cumberland River. Here churches were started in Columbia, Glasgow, Barnett’s Creek, and other small communities to form the Cumberland District in the western part of Kentucky. The 1946 merger of the Evangelical church with the Church of the United Brethren unified plans to strengthen the work and, in 1955, a Kentucky Missionary Conference was formed with both the Cumberland and Red Bird Districts known as the Kentucky Highland Churches. From 1955-1968, the women of these two districts worked cooperatively, having meetings alternately at both locations, electing officers from both districts, sharing in mission projects and exploring new endeavors. Having worked together 13 years, the two districts met for the last time in 1968 after a merger with the Methodist Church to become the United Methodist Church and the districts becoming part of the new Kentucky Conference.

Continuing the legacy

Since then, the United Methodist Women of Red Bird have seen many changes. Now called Red Bird Missionary Conference, it is very much alive, serving a nine-county area in the southeastern corner of Kentucky with present day Kentucky Conference surrounding and intermingling within it. Local United Methodist Women’s units are very involved in doing, going, sharing, praying and reading. They actively implement the United Methodist Women Purpose as a community of women showing God’s love through mission to women, children, and youth locally and globally.

The active groups of United Methodist Women in the conference continue the legacy of our foremothers. As a conference, we offer scholarships to Assembly, jurisdictional meetings and Mission u. These are full scholarships to ensure that all may attend who want to attend. We are actively engaging our younger folks by sponsoring their participation in leadership activities, workshops and mission trips. Our youth are also represented on our conference leadership team. Every fall, we meet at Buckhorn State Park for our spiritual growth event, which includes workshops, fellowship and enjoyment of God’s handiwork manifested by the beautiful fall colors in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. Our Mission u is a joint venture with the Kentucky Conference and is held each summer at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky. Lindsey Wilson College is affiliated with The United Methodist Church and located in an area that was, at one time, included in the Red Bird Missionary Conference. Throughout our conference, we support children and youth programs and activities as well as community projects such as food pantries, gathering and donating money for shelters, supplies for victims of domestic violence and maternal/infant health, and giving to local agencies helping those with addiction.

Local members make prayer shawls for folks who are ill, suffering from a loss, or in other distress. These shawls are distributed through the local hospital as well as to individuals who request a shawl for themselves or a loved one. Christmas gifts and dinners are provided to local families each year. In another local unit, a member runs a food pantry from her home and is known in the neighborhood to help anyone in need. She brings food bags to needy families in her church each Sunday. Members buy supplies for cleaning buckets and have purchased enough supplies to fill more than 13 buckets.

One of our members has singlehandedly made over 70 lap blankets for a local nursing home and veterans hospital. They are outfitted with snaps, buttons, hooks, strings, pockets, belts, lace, fuzz, and other textures for Alzheimer’s patients. Another unit provides school supplies to children and youth and socks to nursing homes, while one member volunteered with her local 4-H group to wash, dip in chocolate, and sell hundreds of strawberries for a Valentine’s Day fundraiser. One group is now gearing up to host a Love Shower for a beloved woman who has been a faithful servant for many years and is now failing in health. Lessons on the mission studies on human sexuality and climate justice and on the Legacy Fund have been presented in local and conference-wide meetings. Local groups are taking a variety of steps to be better stewards of our environment.

We are so excited that the 2017 Mission u geographical study is on the missionary conferences! Red Bird Missionary Conference is home to two national mission institutions: Red Bird Mission and Henderson Settlement. We hope that this study will spark interest and conversations about the viability and relevance of the three remaining missionary conferences in the United States. As you read and study about our conference, region and missions we ask that you hold us up in prayer as we continue the legacy of our foremothers.


Kathie Harris is member of the United Methodist Women Program Advisory Group from the Red Bird Missionary Conference.

Posted or updated: 6/2/2017 12:00:00 AM
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