response: March/April 2021 Issue

Leaders for the New Quadrennium

Meet the executive officers of the 
2020-2024 United Methodist Women Board of Directors.

Leaders for the New Quadrennium
Bethany Amey Sutton addresses the 2020 Pre-General Conference Briefing in Nashville, Tennessee, in January 2020.

The next four years will be exciting for United Methodist Women. Your board of directors elected in the summer of 2020 is a diverse group of faith-filled leaders led by your new executive officers: President ‘Ainise 'Isama’u, Vice President Cynthia Rives, Secretary Bethany Amey Sutton, Finance Chair Heidi Careaga and Governance Chair Daryl Junes-Joe. Enjoy the profiles of these women committed to faith, hope and love in action.

‘Ainise ‘Isama’u

Something happened to ‘Ainise ‘Isama’u on her way to becoming an ordained United Methodist minister: She was elected president of the United Methodist Women for a four-year term. And with that, she also made history as the first native Pacific Islander to hold that position.

She has just two semesters left at the Claremont School of Theology before she graduates with her master of divinity degree. An organization to uplift and empower laywomen, clergywomen do not serve in designated leadership for United Methodist Women.  

“That’s OK. I’ll serve wherever and whenever God needs me,” said ‘Isama’u, 39, a member of United With Hope United Methodist Church in Long Beach, California, in the California-Pacific Conference. “This is an opportunity to be a national voice for an organization that equips women for leadership roles in their church and in their communities. This is where I got my training—and trust me, the learning curve will continue.” 

Fifteen years ago, she could not have imagined rising to the top of United Methodist Women, not in her “wildest dreams.”

“I’ll admit it. I used to think of United Methodist Women as just a group of ‘seasoned’ women getting together for long, drawn-out meetings to talk about things that happened back in the 1880s,” ‘Isama’u said. “I thought of sewing circles and drinking tea and coffee and eating cookies.”

But that myth was shattered when she was invited to a United Methodist Women event. She chuckles at the memory.

“Doesn’t every good United Methodist Women story start with an invitation to an event?” she said. 

As fate would have it, it’s where she met the California-Pacific Conference coordinator of United Methodist Women’s Limitless, a life-mentoring program for young women to connect them through spiritual development and service in a way that speaks to their generation. That’s the moment she learned something about United Methodist Women she had never imagined.

“I was blown away to find women in my age group who were just as passionate for social activism, who shared a deep-rooted love of God and working to make this world better for women, youth and children,” ‘Isama’u recalled. “They were there all along, and I didn’t know it! From that time forward, I was all in. It was life changing for me.”

No one was happier about her finding a home in United Methodist Women than her mother, Amelia Sivi Finau, a Methodist trailblazer in her own right. Born in Tonga, she came to America for more opportunities. After a career as a social worker in Hawaii, Finau followed a call to ministry and attended seminary at Southern Methodist University in Texas, becoming one of the first five female ordained clergy from the Pacific Islands in the denomination. 

In addition to serving the church, Finau is also a wife and a mother, raising four daughters and a son. The only one born in Finau’s native Tonga was ‘Isama’u, who made her entrance into the world while Finau was home visiting family. 'Isama’u was also the only one among the five siblings to follow her mother’s footsteps into ministerial life. And she was the least likely candidate.

“I was the rebellious child. I made it quite clear I didn’t sign up for what she did,” ‘Isama’u recalls. “But I got that gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit and I couldn’t ignore it.” 

Prior to attending seminary, ‘Isama’u got her bachelor’s degree in computer information systems. She worked in the field for several years before deciding she could not ignore that nudge anymore. Fortunately, she had the support of her electrician husband Henry Webb ‘Isama’u.

‘Isama’u expects their 8-year-old daughter will have a different view of United Methodist Women than she did as a child.

“I look at our past as a springboard, but not a guarantee of our future,” she said. “That’s why my girl will be attending our events and meetings. We have to look at our youth as our investment into ensuring that we are relevant. This is a rapidly changing world on so many levels, and we can’t be left behind.”

That’s a message she will be delivering as United Methodist Women president. To change the course of history and right the wrongs of the country’s past—from unequal pay, sexual abuse and harrassment, underrepresentation of women in government and on corporate boards—Isama’u said it will take the “hard work” of women leaders.

She will continue her support of Limitless and its mission of encouraging members to go “above and beyond.” It won’t be an easy road, she said, noting it will take a strong commitment to meet the challenges before them. 

“Struggle doesn’t scare us away. This is a group that has proven over and over that we will rise to the occasion when we need to,” 'Isama’u said. “Our mission work here at home and around the world speaks to our willingness to sacrifice and do what has to be done to bring about change. And that will start with inviting new, younger voices into United Methodist Women and give them a reason to stay,” while, sometimes, enjoying tea and coffee and cookies.

Cynthia Rives

Cynthia Rives knows the future of United Methodist Women is in the hands of the younger generation. And she thinks women of all ages can make great partners, as she learned from serving for 16 years as a sponsor for the United Methodist Women college unit at Tarleton State University in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I taught them how to make a pie, and they taught me how to work my cell phone,” Rives, 69, said with a laugh. “We can bring all our experience and gifts to the table and make vital contributions in our communities.”

As the newly elected vice president of the United Methodist Women Board of Directors, Rives will focus on two of the organization’s long-held priorities: Working for social justice and mentoring. In her view, United Methodist Women offers multiple opportunities for women to make a difference, locally and globally. But she acknowledges members need to be more proactive in seeking out younger women.

“As a justice-seeking, spiritual-growth building and mission-supporting organization, we have an agenda that appeals to people of all ages,” Rives said. “Now we have to find ways to connect with those women who want to work together for the kin-dom of God. And we need to have open arms to welcome them.”

She will be concentrating on reviving enthusiasm in Mission Giving, which supports the total programming of United Methodist Women. She believes there’s joy in being intentional when pledging to increase our Mission Giving.

“The women before us chose to not wear fancy brocade but instead chose calico, which allowed them to give more to mission,” Rives said. “We can spend less on our hair and coffee every month to free up money for Mission Giving. We do this not because it’s easy but because it’s what we’re called to do.”

Rives got her first introduction to United Methodist Women from her mother, who served at the local, district and conference levels of the New Mexico Conference. She still remembers her mother’s women’s circle, the Twigbenders, whose name came from the saying “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

One of Rives’ memories is being the audience as her mother practiced her Woman’s Society of Christian Service programs. 

“The practice sessions were to ensure that she could share stories without crying,” she said. “She was totally invested in mission to women, children and youth.”

Naturally, her mother was thrilled when Rives stepped up and became 
a full-fledged member. After representing the Central Texas Conference, Rives is now in the North Texas 

She and her husband of 50 years are the parents of two children and three grandchildren. They’re members of Denton First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas.

When Rives isn’t working for United Methodist Women, she can be found in the dirt. She loves nothing more than being up to her elbows in it. 

“I’m a flower child at heart,” she said. “I’ve got a greenhouse so I have blossoms year-round. I have a real connection to God when I’m working in the soil. I find peace and comfort in the  beauty of nature.”

Bethany Amey Sutton

It wasn’t United Methodist Women’s noble purpose or rich history of service that first drew Bethany Amey Sutton to the century-old organization.

It was the cookies.

“My mom wore many hats with United Methodist Women over the years,” she said. “As a kid, I remember her bringing home the best cookies ever. And they did a lot of cool trips, too.”

As she got older, Amey Sutton began to appreciate the deeper mission of United Methodist Women. Given that she grew up surrounded by the church’s influence—her grandfather, father and uncle were all ordained clergy—her knowledge was firsthand. She could have put off membership until she was older, but she elected to become a young adult member in her late 20s. 

Amey Sutton brings an impressive background to the group. After earning her bachelor’s degree in political science, she could not ignore a calling from God urging her to work in justice and social action. So after college, she became a Global Mission Fellow through the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. 

Her assignment: A two-year missionary commitment at an afterschool program for Chinese immigrants in San Francisco. Because many of the parents didn’t speak English, Amey Sutton worked with children on homework assignments, language classes and cooking lessons. She got a $300 monthly stipend and a housing and food allowance. Learning to live with limited resources helped shape her worldview and have a deeper understanding of the struggles people endure.

It also helped her connect to her Asian roots. Born in Korea, she was adopted by her American parents when she was three months old.

The missionary experience had a profound impact on her life, giving her confidence and courage to step out of her comfort zone. She will use that in her new position as secretary on the national board of directors.

“It wasn’t something I aspired to,” said Amey Sutton, 37, of the Greater New Jersey Conference and a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Clayton, New Jersey. She is also an elected delegate to the denomination’s General Conference and head of the Greater New Jersey delegation.

“But once I was approached and nominated, I didn’t hesitate. I truly believe the fellowship of women is so powerful when it comes to advocacy and working for a greater cause. We’re stronger when we work together.”

Amey Sutton will need to put her master’s degree in organizational leadership to work in juggling her schedule.

She gave birth to a daughter in February 2021 and is a mom to an active 2-year-old son. And she also works full time as director of operations for Arch Street United Methodist Church in nearby Philadelphia. Her husband is a respiratory therapist who works at a Level 1 trauma center and is a frontline essential worker during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, so there was a time during the pandemic they couldn’t even live together.

With her new national post, Amey Sutton will help the organization reduce carbon emissions as part of its Just Energy for All Campaign and help members interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. Maternal health education is also a cause close to her heart. She suffered from high blood pressure during her first pregnancy, which landed her in the hospital and required bed rest.

“Not everyone has access to good health care or a strong support system,” she said. “I’m passionate about women getting that before birth and postbirth, both in this country and around the world.”

In her spare time, if she has such a thing, Amey Sutton loves to unwind in the kitchen, cooking and baking. Sitting idle is not something she does well.

“I’ve always said it’s better to be busy than to be bored,” Amey Sutton said. “I’m very anxious to get the story of United Methodist Women out there to communicate how much we have to offer. This is a group that has the collective power to change people’s hearts, both inside and outside the church.”

Heidi Careaga

It should be no surprise that Heidi Careaga loves the organizational aspect of United Methodist Women.

“They are women with a purpose,” she said. “And that best describes me. I like having goals, accountability and drive. That’s what first attracted me to this group, because it fulfills all of that.” 

So all should rest easy, given her newly elected post as the finance chair for the United Methodist Women Board of Directors. With her background in business administration and her work as a church treasurer, the 43-year-old Careaga will be diligent in her duties, which includes working closely with the national treasurer and monitoring all the properties owned by United Methodist Women.

Careaga, who was adopted from Guatemala and came to the United States at age 10, is married to a Methodist pastor from Mexico. He now leads the Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Janesville, Wisconsin, located in the Wisconsin Conference. The couple are the parents of two teens.

Identifying as Hispanic, Careaga will make racial justice her first priority.

“I will find ways that we can advocate and try to create impact and change for women of color and the very diverse population of immigrants in this country, which is growing at an incredible rate,” she said. She’s already done that at the conference level as Spanish language coordinator when she lived in the Central Texas conference. “We also need more Hispanic women in our organization. We definitely are not represented the way we should be yet.”

Raised Catholic, Careaga became United Methodist because she fell in love with her high-school sweetheart, who told her he intended to be a Methodist pastor one day. She embraced the denomination in 1995, learning as much as she could about Methodism. The more knowledge she got, the more she admired its practices and purpose.

“It fit like a glove for me,” she said. And that included United Methodist Women, where she felt right at home. 

Even as the couple moves around due to church assignments, Careaga has stayed very involved in United Methodist Women. When her daughter was three months old, she undertook a training course.

“If you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, it doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in,” she said. “That’s the message I want to push for working moms and younger women. If you’re inspired and motivated to make a difference, don’t let anything hold you back.”

She’s also a big proponent of Mission u, a United Methodist Women transformative education program that offers study on biblically grounded curricula. Careaga credits it for playing a big role in developing her leadership skills, nurturing her spiritual growth and getting her out of her comfort zone.

She brings those qualities to the table for United Methodist Women. And the avid runner—who clocks about two miles a day to stay physically fit and to connect with God and nature with no distractions—brings energy as well.

“I feel blessed to be part of helping us move forward,” Careaga said. “We’ve accomplished so much as an organization, but there’s so much more to do.”

Daryl Junes-Joe

The loss of her mother when she was a sophomore in high school left several gaps in Daryl Junes-Joe’s life. Among them: Her faith life. Junes-Joe’s mother was the one who took her to a Christian Reformed church in New Mexico on the Navajo reservation where they lived. After her mother died, Junes-Joe fell away from organized religion.

Until she connected with the Methodists.

After going to college on the East Coast for a year, Junes-Joe returned to the Navajo Nation for a decades-long career in tribal government as a prosecutor specializing in sexual assault, neglect and abuse, and serving as advocate for victims.

Through her work, Junes-Joe met a Methodist pastor’s wife early on and began to learn about the mission of the denomination. That’s when she realized her passion for social justice and spiritual development were right in line with United Methodist Women.

“Everything I was passionate about, United Methodist Women was passionate about,” she recalls. “That’s when I knew I found my spiritual home.”

To this day, she considers her fellow members as family. For a woman who lost her mother at a vulnerable age, those friendships have given her a solid foundation throughout her life. She knows she can call United Methodist Women members all over the globe and have an instant connection.

The relationship with her adopted faith is still going strong after 50 years. So when she was nominated as chair of governance for the United Methodist Women Board of Directors, Junes-Joe readily accepted the challenge. She brings multiple talents and experience to the position, from testifying on behalf of indigenous people at a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Washington, D.C., to serving on the board of the United Methodist General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. 

“I guess God doesn’t want me sitting at home, just relaxing,” said Junes-Joe, a member of Shiprock First United Methodist Church and the New Mexico Conference. “If God thinks my background and experience will help United Methodist Women, then I’m here to serve.”

Junes-Joe, 72, had anticipated a quiet post-work life with her husband, a retired Navajo police officer, but that 
hasn’t really been the case. With two grown daughters, three grandkids and two great-grandbabies, they devote plenty of time to family. She also serves on the community committee of the Shiprock Planning Commission and on the boards of the Navajo Methodist Center New Beginnings Shelter, which provides transitional housing for women coming out of domestic abuses, and the Four Corners Native American Ministries. 

If there’s a common thread through her life, it’s her tireless work as a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. In this national position, Junes-Joe intends to continue to be an advocate for women, children and youth and encourage more Native women to get involved in United Methodist Women.

She will also lend her expertise on environmental and climate justice, which affects her fellow Navajo citizens. Many cash-strapped families accept offers for oil and gas permits and grazing rights, which puts food on their table but may not be the best long-term choice for the reservation lands.

“Retirement just isn’t an option right now,” Junes-Joe said. “I’ll have to do some juggling, and I’ll have to learn to say ‘no’ on some occasions. But it’s my nature to want to be part of the solution. And that means staying involved.”

Leading into the future

Isama’u, Rives, Careaga, Sutton and Junes-Joe will serve as your executive board from 2020 to 2024. In addition to an annual fall meeting and annual spring meeting with the full United Methodist Women Program Advisory Group, the United Methodist Women Board of Directors meets regularly to shape and ensure the mission of United Methodist Women. Keep these creative, bold women in your prayers as they lead United Methodist Women into the next quadrennium.  

Michelle Bearden is former religion reporter for The Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV and is now a freelance writer specializing in faith and values in Tampa, Florida.

Posted or updated: 3/9/2021 12:00:00 AM