Response: April 2009 Issue

Responsively Yours: Schools of Mission a Legacy of Women

Responsively Yours: Schools of Mission a Legacy of Women
Native American Celebration Night included dance at the 2008 Central Pennsylvania Conference School of Christian Mission in Lewisburg, Pa.

Why is it that United Methodist Women sponsors the Schools of Christian Mission in each Annual Conference in the United Methodist Church, working either alone or cooperatively with others in the conference? Why do we study a country, an issue and a spiritual growth topic each year?

Have you ever stopped to wonder?

Did you notice when the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries and the Women's Division started producing the mission studies previously prepared by the National Council of Churches' Friendship Press? Do you know that Women's Division now has taken the lead on development of these studies with input from our colleagues at Global Ministries?

It's a long story! As amazing as it was, the 1869 gathering of the women of the Methodist Episcopal Church on Tremont Street in Boston, Mass., was not an isolated incident. What happened there, in response to the dire picture of women's lives in India painted by Clementine Butler — wife of missionary William Butler who was home on furlough — was echoed in other denominations.

From the beginning of our mission story in the 1800s, the mission work of women to women has had ecumenical connections. From the missionary wives sent by church boards to single women sent by women's missionary societies, our foremothers were concerned both that the Gospel should be preached and that women and children around the world should be touched through education and health care. The physical and spiritual condition of women and children was beyond the reach of the male-dominated denominational boards, so the women's mission movement had much in common across denominational lines. They took up responsibilities that those in need could not have done for themselves — speaking in public, traveling unaccompanied, teaching that was nearly preaching, and of course, caring for the sick and for women in childbirth.

Women participating in the London Missionary Conference of 1888 organized the World's Missionary Committee. At their meeting in 1900 they formed a committee for united study to provide "reliable information about mission." The series provided a history of mission and contextual study about mission with women and girls. This focus on how Christian mission was being experienced "on the ground" was quite different than studies of mission that were available at the time. The study guides were designed to prompt reflection among the participants about thow they could take action to improve the situation of women and girls around the world. Eventually, the Federal Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches provided a structure within which this work took place. In 1998 all of Global Ministries and Women's Division shared this work, with Women's Division assuming a larger share of the responsibility in 2006.

Ecumenical Schools of Christian Mission in which teachers were to be prepared for the material that they would teach in the coming year began in 1904. The approach to mission of the women's societies didn't always match the approach of the denomination's mission boards. Similarly, the information that we receive in Schools of Christian Mission sometimes doesn't match what we learned in our own secondary or undergraduate study. Our view is not always the version of history told by the victors. Our interest is not quite so much in what leader emerged victorious from what battle, whether this is a battle of bullets or of words. We have much more interest in what was and is experienced by the real people for whom Jesus both lived and died.

No wonder that our Schools of Christian Mission authors sometimes surprise us with the positions they take! No wonder that the teacher and leaders of our schools still receive special training and additional information to help them!

In this year's geographic study, we look at Sudan. We look not only at Darfur, but we look as a whole nation. A nation that is both blessed with assets and at war with itself. This learning will inform us as citizens of the world and as sisters of the women of Sudan. It will also inform our planning and our giving — so we will take action as a result of our study.

Harriett Jane Olson
Women's Division
Deputy General Secretary 

Posted or updated: 4/8/2009 11:00:00 PM
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