Response: July/August 2014 Issue

Assembly First-timers

Assembly First-timers
Sauliloa Vatikani raises her hand as a first-time Assembly attendee during opening worship.

For some, Assembly is a kind of family reunion, a time to see old friends and relatives who now live across the country or even the other side of the earth. But what's Assembly like for first-time attendees?

"The energy of thousands of United Methodist Women members together in one place was an experience," said Tara Barnes, response managing editor and an Assembly first-timer. "It's not every day you get to be in the same room with so many women who want to work together to change the world."

Ms. Barnes worked United Methodist Women's social media messaging throughout Assembly. For her, joining in the solidarity march for economic justice with Louisville residents was the high point of Assembly.

First-timer Rochelle King of Great Plains Conference heard accounts of past assemblies from friends and wanted to share in the experience. She was not disappointed. "I chose to attend to have a life-changing experience," Ms. King said. "The opening worship Friday night was so spirit-filled, and I was deeply impacted."f

Assembly first-timers also included United Methodist Women mission personnel like Hikari Chang, United Methodist Women regional missionary assigned to the Wesley Foundation in Tokyo, Japan.

"What I enjoyed the most was meeting many wonderful women who have engaged in learning and serving faithfully," Ms. Chang said. "As these women with many different cultural backgrounds, life experiences and generations came together in praise and prayer, it was truly spirit filled and joyful."

Ms. Chang's work at the Wesley Foundation includes training young women in Asia for leadership. Like many of Assembly first-timers, Ms. Chang said she came to Assembly looking to engage new issues and to share her learning with people back home, particularly about how the issue of violence against women crosses cultures.

Joy de Leon Hayag is a deaconess on transfer from the Philippines serving as the volunteer outreach coordinator of the Pitter Patter Pantry of Carroll County in Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church. Ms. Hayag said she came to Assembly to be inspired and challenged for mission.

"The most enjoyable part was to be with the community of deaconesses and women in mission," she said. "The rehearsal time for the consecration was fun, being with the bishops and leaders of the community was an honor for me. Meeting the diverse community anywhere you go was one of the enjoyable scenes at Assembly—mingling with different cultures, different colors and different sounds, and yet one in spirit and mission to make things happen."

Ms. Hayag said the workshops were also a highlight for her. "The workshops were amazing, we couldn't even fit in a room. And some of us sat on the floor. It was really the feeding of the multitudes—we were hungry for truth and thirsty for God's words," she said.

Home missioner candidate Steve Taylor, outreach mission coordinator for the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church and an Assembly first-timer, facilitated the workshop on Messaging a New Way of Leadership. He also had an opportunity to just participate in a few of the other workshops. Assembly workshops were "on target" for equipping participants for mission action, he said.

"'The Challenging the Culture of Violence in the United States' workshop provided excellent contextualization on the connections between systems of oppression and violence," Mr. Taylor said. "Particularly gripping was an exercise demonstrating that many ministries of our congregations are not engaging the systemic issues of violence. This provided insight and the catalyst to work for change."

Ms. King had a similar experience in the workshop she attended on Healthy Families, Healthy Planet, an initiative funded by a grant from the United Nations Foundation and housed at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society to educate and advocate for funding, programs and policies that support access to maternal health and voluntary family planning services around the globe. "I am an official ambassador for Healthy Families, Healthy Planet," Ms. King said. "We were selected to advocate on behalf of women and children."

While Assembly was a big celebration of mission, there were special moments for each newcomer. First-timer Isabella New-Walker, 13, came to Assembly with her mother Anissa New-Walker. She missed a few days from Nyack Middle School in New York, but she learned a lot, she said.

"I enjoyed hearing Hillary Clinton speak about our responsibility to women and kids who need help," she said. "I also enjoyed learning about topics I didn't know about before. I saw the documentary 'Gasland' and learned about fracking. I learned about human trafficking and how United Methodist Women is working to help women and girls who are caught in this. I learned more about what is going on in the world with women and kids and how to help."

Praveena Balasundaram is the executive for resource development for United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 6/30/2014 11:00:00 PM
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