Response: June 2014 Issue

Room at the Table

Room at the Table
Women of all ages participate in the immigrant rights rally during United Methodist Women’s 2010 Assembly in St. Louis, Mo.

United Methodist Women’s sisterhood of grace should and can be multigenerational.

I recently attended a United Methodist Women district fall meeting, and, looking around the room, I found that there were only four other women who were around my age (38). The next weekend I attended our conference annual meeting and looked around the room. Where were the women in my age group? There were a few women ages 25-40, but it was apparent that this generation was missing out on the experience of United Methodist Women. Where is this lost generation?

I was blessed with the opportunity to attend Leadership Development Days in St. Louis, Mo., in 2012. During this weekend I realized I was not the only one looking for women under 40—I was being asked by more “seasoned” members: “How do we get more women like you involved?” It seemed like after every session, meal and fellowship time I was almost hunted down to give an explanation as to why I was involved in United Methodist Women and how I could help other units get more young women at their meetings.

Multigenerational endeavors have unique challenges but also great opportunities. “Seeing the Future in Our Midst,” a program in the 2012-2013 Program Book Living the Heart of God, and “Building and Experiencing Community in New Ways” in the 2010 Program Book Let’s Get Together address the dynamics of a multigenerational unit. Even if you are not (yet) a multigenerational group, these programs are a great starting point. Try them out!

But what else can we do? What entices— and what prohibits—under 40 women participation? What can older United Methodist Women members do to recruit and retain younger women?

Generationing X and Y

Women born from 1973-1988 are the “women under 40” group. This crosses two generational types: Generation X and Generation Y (or Millennials). Generation X comprises individuals born from the early 1960s to early 1980s, and Generation Y the early 1980s to early 2000s. Looking at characteristics of these two generations helps define some strengths and challenges of these groups.

Gen Xers tend to have the highest education levels of the generations currently— they are individual thinkers, technology adept, flexible and find value in a work/life balance. Millennials have been stereotyped as lazy, selfish, confident, self-expressive, upbeat and receptive to new ideas and ways of living.

The world has changed drastically in the past 40 years, and understanding these two generations can help in the recruitment and retention of younger United Methodist Women members. Just allow room for some growing pains.

A voice at the table

I recently asked fellow under-40 members Marcee Binder and Nicole A. Walker what would attract younger members to United Methodist Women.

“A place at the table,” Ms. Binder said. Ms. Binder is 37 years old and a member of the Great Plains Conference. She is assistant to the president of the conference’s United Methodist Women Mission Team and serves as a lay pastor at Angola and Valeda United Methodist Churches in Kansas. She also serves as a mentor on the conference’s Limitless team.

Ms. Walker is 30 and a member of Grace Corner Church in Macon, Ga. She currently serves as the membership, nurture and outreach coordinator for the South Georgia Conference United Methodist Women. She agreed with Ms. Binder. I started unpacking that statement, and the first image that popped into my head was a large traditional Thanksgiving dinner: Two tables, the grown-up table and the kids table.

I remember the first time I got to sit at the grown-up table. The general expectation for children at the adult table is for them to sit, behave, eat and remain quiet. They are not included in the conversation if spoken to at all. Is that the experience of under-40 women at United Methodist Women gatherings?

“You have some members who won’t change with the times, so they are essentially shutting us out,” Ms. Walker said. “Older members sometimes talk down to you because you’re new.”

In 2011 the three of us were privileged to have the opportunity to attend National Seminar in Birmingham, Ala. It was difficult for us to leave our families and jobs for five days to attend the event, but because of the support we received from our families and our United Methodist Women sisters we were able to make the trip. It is this support we need to continue in our local groups. We need to find ways we can support one another through our life experiences. A place at the table is indeed a blessing, but a voice at the table is most important.

Same mission, new methods

United Methodist Women is faith, hope, love in action, and we need to look at how we accomplish this both within our units and throughout the world. Our Purpose is constant and our commitment to women, youth and children is unchanging, but how we accomplish our goals must change if we are to survive and grow.

When I committed to becoming president of my local unit I knew I might have to shake up a few traditions. The unit was in flux, and we had nowhere to go but up. We had trouble recruiting younger women. I started asking what we needed to do to attract and retain members.

From these conversations I’ve developed a few suggestions for recruiting younger women:

Personal invitation

Don’t discount the sincere personal invitation. Find ways to personally invite women to attend gatherings. Going up to a young mother who is wrestling a toddler and holding an infant on Sunday morning and telling her about the upcoming unit meeting is probably not going to get the results you’d like. Call her and leave a voice mail about the upcoming gathering and what it will be about. Or send a personal e-mail about how you think your upcoming program might interest her and how you would love to see her there.

Child care

Begin investigating the possibility of child care. One district I was formerly connected with ensured child care at every event. They were willing to pay for child care regardless if one child or 10 showed up. Although I did not typically take my sons with me to events, the option was there. Consider working with your church’s youth director to have youth group members volunteer and be trained to provide child care during meetings and events. Perhaps other groups in your church could volunteer as child care providers. If you are able, hire trained child care providers. Be sure to offer some child-friendly outings and events as well!

Communicate

Communicate, communicate, communicate! Women of all ages need to have open minds when communicating about upcoming programs and meetings. Technology is just another tool for communication—not a replacement for current methods. We should use as many means of communication that we can! United Methodist Women groups are joining Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more. It’s through these avenues that we can connect with other members across the country in ways we have not been able to in the past. In addition to your newsletters, phone calls, snail mail and the like, consider using some of these new forms of technology as well.

Mentor

Commit to one another and to the growth of the organization. When in mission don’t forget opportunities for personal and spiritual growth that are unique to United Methodist Women. Are there ways to develop mentor relationships between members of different generations? Can you create prayer and/or accountability connections between members? United Methodist Women members can not only work in mission together but share wisdom, help one another through different stages in life. Some of my best discipline tricks have come from my adopted United Methodist Women grandmas! It’s about building relationships and working together to grow not only as an organization but as individuals.

Be a sisterhood of grace

All 800,000 members of United Methodist Women are leaders, all working for the same goal of making the world a better place for all women, children and youth. Our battles must be against poverty, hunger, lack of education, misogyny—not against one another. We need to encourage newlyweds, young families as they start new chapters in their lives, support the women with children on the verge of adulthood. Be a place for single women of all ages to thrive and grow as individuals, for retirees to find fulfillment. Our worldviews and personal life choices may not always line up, but our role is not to judge, whether a new member or old, young or elder.

To my fellow younger members, show compassion and patience as our fellow seasoned members begin to broaden our organization to welcome multiple generations. To my older sisters, please trust that we love this organization as much as you, and use our passion.

We all are valuable, we all are necessary to the success of United Methodist Women and we are all working for the glory of God. I encourage you to find ways to continue your spiritual growth within United Methodist Women and start looking for opportunities to share United Methodist Women through our words and actions with women in your congregation and communities so they too will find ways to seek justice for women, children and youth in your community and around the world.


Stephanie Greiner is president of United Methodist Women at Wesley United Methodist Church in Jefferson, Mo., and coordinator for social action for the Mid-State District of the Missouri Conference United Methodist Women. She works part time as the connections coordinator for her church and full time as e-learning curriculum design specialist for the Missouri Department of Corrections in Jefferson City.

 

Posted or updated: 5/31/2014 11:00:00 PM
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