Board Meeting: Fall 2017

Olson Says United Methodist Women Serves While Under Construction

Olson Says United Methodist Women Serves While Under Construction
Harriet Olson: Taken in the chapel at the Interchurch Center where the national office is located.

United Methodist Women is living in a construction zone, serving as it creates new ways to meet challenges, said Harriett Jane Olson in her chief executive address to the directors meeting in New York City, Oct. 6-8.

After 50 years United Methodist Women's national offices are being renovated, and Ms. Olson compared the experience to changes also underway within the organization.  

"There is packing and sorting and things moved offsite to make room," Ms. Olson said. "There's also dreaming about how the space will be used to serve members, the church and the women, children and youth that are the heart of United Methodist Women's mission.

"Some of us love this: It's creative. It helps us think differently. Some of us don't. We feel unsettled by moving the things around us. Yet, comfortable or not, all of us are in a construction zone. Each new stage of completion allows us to see the vision more clearly … It's a process."

Ms. Olson said the organization's strategic plan is likewise building membership, promoting United Methodist Women identity, strengthening relationships with partners and advancing work on the mission priorities. The mission priorities are Climate Justice, Economic Inequality, Maternal and Child Health, and Mass Incarceration and the Criminalization of Communities of Color.

Key to accomplishing the strategic plan will be positioning, or raising, the profile of United Methodist Women in the church and wider community, and engaging and mobilizing members, she said.

"We have a vision of women coming together to advocate and serve and grow in faith; women of various races, ethnicities, generations and language groups forming deep bonds with each other and powerfully engaged in their churches, communities and nations," she said. "Almost every time I am with United Methodist Women across the country or around the globe, I see the importance of this work."

Ms. Olson said members are reaching out to women in their local churches, organizing in their communities, and seeking ways to build relationships across language and cultural differences—and they are looking to district, conference and national leaders for support.

"The work that we are doing will help us to be more focused on hearing God's call, seeing the needs and the gifts of women, children and youth, and serving and speaking out to help them live as beloved children of God," she said.

And United Methodist Women is not alone living in the midst of construction. Ms. Olson cited Britain's withdrawal from the European Union and the denomination's work on LGBTQ inclusion through the Commission on the Way Forward as examples of how the world and church are in construction zones too.

"There is another area of construction I would like to mention tonight, and that is in our own United Methodist Church," she said. "All of us are keenly aware that the Commission on a Way Forward has been working on developing a vision for what the future of our denomination might look like. We have been praying for the Commission members as they go about their work."

Ms. Olson expressed hope for the process underway in the church.

"Like the construction in the office, the prospect of possible structural changes can make us uncomfortable or concerned, or it could spark creativity and a sense of following God's call," she said. "If the cares and concerns of someone with whom I have conflict become just as real to me as my own, we have the potential for a breakthrough."

Yvette Moore is director of communications for United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 10/12/2017 12:00:00 AM
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