Program Advisory Group

A Place of Connection

Harriett Jane Olson Addresses Program Advisory Group

A Place of Connection
United Methodist Women General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson at the Program Advisory Group meeting in March.

The program advisory group is a place of connection, said General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson addressing members of the United Methodist Women Program Advisory Group annual meeting March 5-7 at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Conference United Methodist Women, directors, the national office, regional missionaries, deaconesses and home missioners, representatives of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women and other agencies of The United Methodist Church—we are a body composed to be in connection, Olson said.
“Not only is the whole work of our organization mission, but in fact various aspects of the work must be seen together to understand the whole,” she said. “The core integrity of the work lies in its connectedness. We do not do the same thing as a women’s book club, even though many groups use our Reading Program to grow and learn. We are not just about faith development, though growing in our faith is critically important to who we are, how we understand God’s work in the world, and how we engage. We are not simply about advocacy. Our work in the national office is to make these connections plain and help members, friends and potential members understand the power of our work.”
“We’re not trying to be the agency that’s ‘in charge’ of United Methodist Women everywhere,” she said. “We trying to be resourceful, supportive, connective. We’re trying to help shape the work, create a space where we are leaders together.”
How do we stand side by side and learn together? How do we best follow the call of God and work to be witnesses in this world? she asked.
In February 2015, Olson attended a meeting of the Connectional Table of The United Methodist Church, in Maputo, Mozambique. For the first time, the Connectional Table met with the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters.
“The Standing Committee as well as other groups throughout The United Methodist Church is thinking about how The United Methodist Church should be connected at the global level,” Olson said. Our structure as United Methodist Women is a response to the same kind of question, she said.

From 1964 United Methodist Women’s global connection was organized and structured through the General Board of Global Ministries. Beginning in the 1990s, United Methodist Women began a series of working conferences with women in its global connection to determine ways to best work together.

“For the past 15 years or so, United Methodist Women has rebuilt direct connections through regional missionaries and our partners,” Olson said. “Our regional missionaries build connections with local women, doing leadership development, mobilizing resources, helping local women and local projects apply for resources.

“We’re not doing the work of the women in those conferences. We’re facilitating that work. We’re building relationships,” she said.

United Methodist Women is in a time of growing into our new structure, operating as a national office within a worldwide movement, Olson said. How do we best engage the world today? We must use metaphors of movement and relationship to help us for mission in ways that includes dynamic connection and openness to the work of the Spirit as well as the strengths of our structure, she said.

“And we cannot talk about connection without mentioning the way we are connected to the women who built our organization and to the women who will follow after us,” Olson said. “We are part of a movement that has touched countless people, of women whose life and learning and just plain hard work made mission possible. They prayed, studied, built institutions, lobbied legislatures, protested, marched, trained and sent women.

“Our prophetic foremothers laid for us a foundation for mission. Some of that legacy was financial. Some of it was spiritual. And some of it was organizational,” Olson said. “They’ve left a legacy in us. We’re weaving our own journey and our own response to the call of God into their story. We’re now building a legacy for daughters, nieces, granddaughters, grandnieces, goddaughters and women we’ll never meet.”
The question for us is: Will we do what we are called to do today? she asked.

“It’s about connection,” she said. “To God, to one another, to the needs of women and children in the world, to our purpose, our past, our future. It’s a great time to be a part of United Methodist Women!”

Tara Barnes is editor of response, the magazine of United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 3/25/2015 11:00:00 PM