Responsively Yours: Forward Is the Only Option

Responsively Yours: Forward Is the Only Option

Memories can be grounding and identity shaping. This season of celebrating our 150th anniversary and lifting up our legacy is an opportunity for just that. Our stories are grounding. They remind us of our organizational heritage and our deep roots in work for and with women, children and youth. They remind us of the boldness of our predecessors in following the call of Jesus. They remind us that the work of United Methodist Women has never been a solo enterprise. Though individual women offered themselves for mission service and gave their lives to the work, they were always surrounded by community, connected through various means and buoyed by giving of every variety.

Storytelling can also help us reexamine our history and move to a better understanding so that we can learn from our errors. Sometimes we received solid support from church bodies and leaders. Sometimes our way of working to resist patriarchy established a “matriarchy” instead. There were times when leader(s) fell prey to the temptation to lead from above rather than from within, relying on hierarchy to do the hard work of energizing a group of people to work toward a common purpose. Sometimes we ended up doing things for (or to) people that we thought they needed rather than working with people to empower their own leadership and moral agency. Boarding schools for Native American children is a stark example of this. Looking back, we can sometimes see a sort of maternalism that risks keeping already marginalized people in the margins by treating them as if they were children rather than independent and capable partners.

There are many reasons to share memories and to examine history, but all of them point to the future. We do not remember the past to foster nostalgia or as a wish to go back. The biblical narrative about Lot’s wife and the Hebrews talking about going back to Egypt while struggling through the arduous desert journey are a few examples that caution us against desire to go back.

The Bible also contains many calls to the people to “return.” The prophets call the people to return to the observance of God’s instructions and to follow in God’s way. John calls the church in Ephesus to return to its first love. John Wesley urged a return to primitive Christianity in his preaching and teaching. These were not calls to go back. These were calls to refresh the devotion, love and obedience of God that would lead to the reformation of heart and mind that was needed to do the work of the present. Wesley avidly read the science of his day and addressed the cultural issues in the world around him. He combined fervent devotion, wide reading, visiting with prisoners and poor people—leading to new kinds of service (literacy, advocating for the end of the slave trade, etc.).

We tell our stories, examine our ways of working and engage deeply with current needs to gain strength and wisdom for the work that lies before us now. We are not yearning to go backward, we are gathering the strength to go forward to work and to witness on behalf of the world that God so loves.

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women 

Posted or updated: 11/3/2017 12:00:00 AM