Membership agencies focus on advocacy, connections
The membership agencies of the denomination — United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women — are advocates on issues that include domestic violence, maternal and child health and environmental justice.
United Methodist Women will spend the next couple of years looking forward and back as the agency marks its 150th anniversary celebration.
“It’s amazing when you think about the duration and strength of this organization that started out with eight women organized to respond to a missionary wife’s expression of the needs in India,” said Harriett Jane Olson, the agency’s top executive.
“Almost 150 years later, we’ve had such long-term impact on women, children and youth in their education and their health, and certainly for members in our spirituality.”
Olson said the agency has spent the past year focusing on its core identity and diving deeper into United Methodist Women’s four social justice priorities: maternal and child health; criminalization of communities of color; economic inequality; and environmental justice.
The group launched its social justice priorities in 2015 and Olson said repeated reinforcement of that work is important.
“The more we focus, the clearer it becomes that growing in faith, finding ways to engage with the present needs of women, children and youth, and conducting the advocacy that it will take to change inequality and injustice — so that the generations coming behind us are not in the same spot — these are all what we have always done and they are the things that are at the heart of our mission today,” she said.
Issues the group will continue to focus on in 2018 include advocacy around the children’s health insurance program and living wage efforts, global migration and immigration, climate justice, and work aimed at interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline, Olson said.
The agency also remains dedicated to strengthening connections at the local level, providing leadership training and helping women grow on their faith journeys.
“We can be resourceful about the work and also have a clear sense of the way that these issues express the love of God working in us,” Olson said. She added that United Methodist Women can help people to “reflect on their faith and the impact we can have when we work together for women, children and youth in the world.”
In 2017, UMW worked with maternal child health advocates, in partnership with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, and hosted central conference training in Mozambique with women from 21 countries in Africa. Talking to the women in the central conferences about the issues that are important to them was a highlight for Olson, and she said UMW plans to implement similar training in the Philippines in 2018.
Another highlight for the agency this year will be its United Methodist Women Assembly, which will be held May 18-20 in Columbus, Ohio. The theme of the 19th quadrennial gathering is “The Power of Bold,” and Olson said the social justice priority issues will be well represented.
“It’s another layer of being able to equip and inform people to take action in their local place.”
United Methodist Women is a self-supporting agency. The budget for 2018 is $18.6 million, including more than $10 million for national mission institutions and programs, international ministries and scholarships, and membership development programs.
United Methodist Men
United Methodist Men kept busy in 2017 with two major events, a push to expand its reach at the conference level and a new initiative to help combat domestic violence.
The 12th National Gathering of United Methodist Men was held July 7-8 in Indianapolis, and top executive Gilbert C. Hanke said the event was a big success, with more than 600 men attending.
“If we measure (success) by saying, ‘What was the impact on guys that went back to local churches and felt inspired to do ministries and to grow in Christ?’ I think it was successful.”
He said the agency is continuing to use material from the gathering in new webinars that are available to help empower local men’s ministries.
United Methodist Men also had a role at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree in July. The agency had 15 United Methodist chaplains and 25 staff members on hand to engage with the youth. United Methodist Men is the second-largest sponsoring agency of Boy Scouts of America.
Hanke said scouting is a perfect fit with men’s ministry and the idea of growing principled Christian leaders.
“I want all the men of this denomination and all the youth that are with us in scouting to have an on-growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Not to just say they are a member. Not to say, ‘Yes, I believe in Jesus.’ But to have a weekly experience that makes them grow as a Christian, as a disciple,” he said. “There are some people who look at Methodist Men as a club. It’s not. This is a ministry.”
In an effort to extend its reach even further in 2017, United Methodist Men worked with episcopal leaders to fill leadership vacancies at several annual conferences. UMM also partnered with AMEND Together, an initiative dedicated to ending violence against women and girls. The partnership features an eight-week group series that is being piloted across the country. The curriculum will be ready to order by annual conferences, Hanke said.
United Methodist Men continued to expand on its class meetings over the past year. Hanke said many of the groups meet electronically and that helps men really focus on Wesleyan questions — Where have you seen Christ? How is your soul? — rather than local church issues.
New technology also will allow United Methodist Men to reach out globally in 2018. The agency will be using Facebook Workplace to communicate with leaders and members in central conferences.
Also coming up in 2018 is a meeting of UMM conference presidents in February. Hanke said it’s an important gathering as the denomination faces uncertainty around LGBTQ inclusion.
“A lot of churches and a lot of guys call and ask where we stand on this (issue) and I tell them the same thing: ‘I want every man to have an on-growing relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s where I’m standing and I’m not moving. … We have to keep the mission of this organization as the focus. If you can keep your eye on that mark, we’ll be fine. We’re going to get through this.”
United Methodist Men expects to have a $1.3 million budget in 2018, with about $300,000 coming from apportionments.
Next: Administrative agencies support ministry in myriad ways.
Dwyer is a writer and editor for United Methodist Communications. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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