Since the United Methodist Women formed 150 years ago, it has been about breaking boundaries and filling needed missionary roles.
In the past, women routinely were kept from leadership positions in the church, but that began to change when the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society organized in Boston in 1869. It was an attempt to address women’s health issues in India, and the missionary field has never been the same since.
It wasn’t easy, though.
|UMW members celebrated their history in September at the Life Enrichment Center.|
UMW members had to overcome the rules of society and the limits imposed by their own national and racial identities to assume vital leadership roles. They have been ever fearless, daring to be outrageous and even unladylike, if necessary, to fulfill their role in God’s plan for transformation.
In the 1880s, Christian women affirmed the importance of being in mission, organizing to raise funds and offering themselves as volunteers. They found that to be active in missions, they had to overcome unfair social restrictions put on them because of their gender.
A study of that struggle was the focus of the United Methodist Women of the Florida Conference at its spiritual enrichment retreat on Sept. 7 at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park.
The experience took participants back in time by focusing on their heritage. They began their travels in 1869 with women portraying Isabella Thoburn and Clara Swain taking the stage. They were the first women to be sent in mission by the new Women’s Foreign Missionary Society. They traveled to India, where a college and hospital now bear their names.
Anna Hall, the first African-American deaconess, visited the ladies when she was on her way to Angola in 1901.
The 1920s brought about much change in how women dressed and presented themselves.
The portrayal of Marian Layng Gibson noted that the photos of the societies’ founders “would provoke a smile” when viewing the antiquated costumes of earlier times in comparison with the prevailing dress of the roaring 20s.
The 1940s brought the publication of “The Methodist Woman” and “World Outlook.”
|Video - Celebrating United Methodist Women's 150th Anniversary - 2019|
Participants learned about Elida Garcia de Falcon, a UMW leader from 1943. She began translating the Program Book from English to Spanish, and her daughter carried on that legacy.
In 1952, women formulated the first of a series of Charters for Racial Justice. The language of the first charter was heavily influenced by the reality of segregation, both in the nation and the Methodist church.
The first female African-American Episcopal priest and co-founder of the National Organization for Women, the Rev. Pauli Murray, was commissioned by the Women’s Division to write an analysis of state laws governing segregated education.
The women of the Florida Conference were transported back in time to appreciate those who blazed the trail they walk today. Current UMW members are the latest links in that chain that goes back 150 years.
UMW remains committed to be bold, vibrant and vital, while carrying out God’s command to serve those in need, according to Shelley Davidson.
—Shelley Davidson is the UMW Conference Secretary for Program Resources.