response: July/August 2019 Issue

Responsively Yours: The Stories We Tell

Responsively Yours: The Stories We Tell
United Methodist Women General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson, in green, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, Kathy Schultz and Millie Grey.

We are all storytellers—all engaged, as the anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson puts it, in an “act of creation” of the “composition of our lives.” Yet unlike most stories we’ve heard, our lives don’t follow a predefined arc. Our identities and experiences are constantly shifting, and storytelling is how we make sense of it. By taking the disparate pieces of our lives and placing them together into a narrative, we create a unified whole that allows us to understand our lives as coherent — and coherence, psychologists say, is a key source of meaning.
—Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters

Stories are important.

In this our 150th year we’ve been researching, telling stories, writing and studying about our history. We will have a wonderful opportunity to do this at Mission u this summer. Of course, there are way too many stories to tell them all, so we are forced to choose stories that help us make sense of our history, just as we do when we tell personal and family stories.

We illustrate the dimensions of the women’s mission movement, of which United Methodist Women is a part. Rural and urban mission, foreign and home mission, ministries of compassion and justice, work that is nearby and work that is far away.

As we share the history, we also interpret it and frame why this organization and its work provides us with so much meaning. We choose whether we tell the stories in ways that show how the different aspects of our identity seem to be in tension or are mutually reinforcing. We choose whether we tell about the resistance that we have faced from our earliest days to the present time. We choose whether we address the struggles and the effort required to do the work or if we focus only on the achievements that resonate with our own experience.

Including the challenges as well as the successes in our storytelling is important. It tells us about our identity as a movement and shapes our understanding as we face challenges of our own.

While it seems inevitable to focus on the women whose names we know, this is also a choice. Granted, we may know the most about named leaders, about the women who were sent and those who built and continued substantial institutions. However, the membership of our movement is far larger than the number of women who are featured by name. These sisters are not nameless, but they are often unnamed. These unnamed women represent the movement too. They are the women who prayed, corresponded, gave of their funds and their service and invited other women to participate.

What if each of us connected our own stories with our unnamed predecessors as we tell the story? Just as we see ourselves in the unnamed women in the Bible, we can see ourselves in the unnamed women in our history. We stand on their shoulders as we press on in our own ways of working together: loving, serving, speaking up for women, children and youth and generous giving. Like them we can invite others to journey with us and to respond to the call of God in this time turning faith, hope and love into action on behalf of women, children and youth around the world.

Posted or updated: 6/21/2019 12:00:00 AM