All the members of the program advisory group dressed in black to say NO to violence.

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Program Advisory Group Focuses on Innovations, Economic Inequality at Spring Meeting

Program Advisory Group Focuses on Innovations, Economic Inequality at Spring Meeting
Thursdays in Black: Towards a world without rape and violence.

United Methodist Women Program Advisory Group focused on program innovation and economic inequality in the United States when members gathered for their annual spring meeting at Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee, March 1-3.

Group members opened the weekend of meetings wearing black in solidarity with "Thursdays in Black," an international women's campaign confronting violence against women.

The Program Advisory Group's focus on economic inequality previewed United Methodist Women's 2018 What About Our Money mission study. Carol Barton, United Methodist Women executive for community action, led the session, which began with a review of the Exodus story and manna in the wilderness, and Levitical instructions on Sabbath rest and the year of Jubilee. Group members discussed how God's message of grace and "enough for all" embedded in these stories compared with economic principles based on scarcity that are impacting their families, local churches and communities.  

The Economic Inequality session also tracked real family income growth by quintile in the United States from 1947 to 1979, when family incomes grew evenly across income levels; and from 1979 to 2012, when the middle quintile grew by 8 percent while the top quintile grew by 185 percent. The women discussed what these statistics meant for their communities. They named health care expenses, student loans, child care expenses, affordable housing, and living on fixed incomes as some of the areas where they are seeing the impact of an economy based on scarcity rather than abundance.

"The message is the one we get from the manna story: When you take more than you need, it gets rotten and it sure is smelling up the place around here," said Cynthia Rives of Central Texas Conference, a member of the Program Advisory Group and the board of directors.

Group members discussed how public policies drive economic inequality and ways women in their areas are taking action to address the issue in their communities.

  • Crater Lake District United Methodist Women, Oregon-Idaho Conference, is working with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon to address wage theft.
  • Central Texas United Methodist Women invited Saru Jayaraman, director of Restaurant Opportunity Centers United and author of Behind the Kitchen Door, a Reading Program Book on wage theft, to speak at its 2017 annual meeting. Ms. Jayaraman challenged the group to work against a federal government administrative ruling that would seize workers' tips.
  • West Ohio United Methodist Women joined a March for Farm Workers with the National Farm Worker Ministry and Farm Labor Organizing Committee in August 2017.

Economic inequality is one of United Methodist Women's four priority issues, along with climate justice, criminalization of communities of color and mass incarceration, and maternal and child health. United Methodist Women is advocating states and municipalities adopt living wage policies to ensure that all people who work full-time can support their families.

In other actions, group members continued their work on United Methodist Women's strategic plan. The women separated into small groups for innovation sessions on United Methodist Women's programming and outreach. 

United Methodist Women Chief Executive Officer Harriett Jane Olson set the tone for the group's work in her address.

"God has loved and challenged United Methodist Women through structuring and restructurings, engaging the women of the church who have said 'yes' to represent God's love in some of the most neglected places, for the health and thriving of women, children and youth. Work that calls from heart to heart, and mind to mind, across the years.
God is still at it," Ms. Olson said.

"Through the strategic planning process, we have spent time lifting up and describing who we are, and whose we are through telling our own story and raising up the aspects of our work that form our identity. We are women formed and growing in faith. We are women who are still open, and even hungry to learn and develop. We are women who are willing to take leadership surrounded by training and support. And we are women who put faith, hope and love into action—through dedicated, persistent service and dogged advocacy for and with marginalized people," she said.

The Program Advisory Group counsels and serves as a liaison for conference, district and local United Methodist Women units. The advisory group includes at least one representative from every conference. United Methodist Women's 25-member board of directors is part of the 70-member Program Advisory Group.

Yvette Moore is director of communications for United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 3/7/2018 12:00:00 AM
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