Mary Morris, a resident of Iowa, has been to every United Methodist Women Assembly since 1986. Jennifer Rogers, from Detroit, was a first-timer.
Both women had the same response: “I will be back.”
“This is my first assembly and it certainly will not be my last,” Rogers said. “The speakers, the workshops, the fellowship--everything has just been wonderful I will never miss another one again. They can push me around in a wheelchair, I will always come back to the assembly.”
Morris was one of more than 600 women who came a day early to participate in the Ubuntu day of service. Pausing from her raking at St. Vincent de Paul, she said, “Assembly teaches me that United Methodist Women is not just a local unit; that what we start in the local unit goes beyond to the district, to the conference and to national and international units. It spreads out into the whole world to do God’s will.”
More than 7,000 women-- from as close as down the street to as far away as Japan-- merged in the hallways of the Kentucky Convention Center in Louisville April 25-27 for the 2014 Assembly experience. The assembly is a quadrennial gathering, offering opportunities for study, worship, fellowship and social action.
Veteran participants said fellowship is always the highlight of every assembly
“Just talking to the other women here has been a highlight for me,” said Patty MacFarland, a young adult from Kentucky. “It has been interesting to hear other people’s views and experience.”
Her mother, Laura MacFarland, said this would be especially memorable for her because she is seeing it through her daughter’s eyes. “She has been very interested in some of the sessions, especially the ones on human trafficking and domestic violence.”
The theme of the three-day event was “Make It Happen.” Participants heard about needs around the world and talked about ways to address them. They worshipped, marched for economic justice, and heard a special challenge from Hillary Rodham Clinton who addressed the gathering April 26.
“We need to wake up our world to what can and should be done,” Clinton said. United Methodist women have a great tradition of “rolling up our sleeves and taking the social gospel into the world.”
The biblical text for the 2014 Assembly was the story of the feeding of the multitude in Mark 6:30-44, in which Jesus instructs his disciples to organize the people into groups of 50 to feed them with five loaves of bread and two fish.
Throughout the event, participants grappled with Jesus’ instructions for his disciples to “give them something to eat.”
“The miracle of loaves and fish was the first great potluck supper,” Clinton said, noting that Jesus responded by serving the community.
“It is what women do every day: We feed the multitudes.”
Maternal health partnership
Donna Akuamoah, UMW executive for international ministries, and Shannon Trilli, director of global health for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, announced a joint initiative on maternal health during the April 26 evening plenary.
Participants learned that a quarter of a million women around the world die each year during pregnancy and childbirth because they lack access to proper health facilities or to health workers, or even because they have no say in their own reproductive health, Akuamoah said.
Town Hall meetings
United Methodist Bill McKibben, founder of the global climate change movement 350.org, spoke via video conference at one of three town-hall meetings.
“UMW has always stood for ‘you must work’” McKibben said. “That is what we need to do.”
Affirming the Gospel's call to love our neighbors, McKibben said activists must take risks and speak truth to power by pressing policy makers to take urgent action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Saru Jayaraman, author of Behind the Kitchen Door, asked the women during her town hall meeting, “Do you eat ethically?”
Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of ROCUNITED, Restaurant Opportunies Centers United, told heartbreaking stories about the abuse suffered by the people who serve as waiters, cooks and kitchen staff.
“When you leave a tip, you are paying their wage,” she said. “Ninety percent of restaurant workers don’t have paid sick leave, they are serving your food while they are sick because they cannot afford to take a day off.”
At $2.13 an hour, restaurant workers have the lowest paid jobs in America. She said 70 percent of the tip workers are women.
“That means the women who put food on your table can’t afford to put food on their own tables.”
She asked the participants to become educated about the restaurants they frequent and to ask owners and managers if they are paying their workers a livable wage, giving them paid sick leave and opportunities to be promoted to higher paying jobs.
Megan Waddle, Rebbeca Procter, Arial Murphy and Lyda Barr lead a discussion on “Charting a New Course: Letting Younger Women Lead,” at the first town hall meeting of the assembly.
Waddle said the average age of a United Methodist Women in the U.S. is 67. Outside of the U.S. the average age is 28.
“We have a lot of work to do in the U.S.,” she said.
Young women and mentors celebrated two years of organizing for mission in their conferences at a pre-Assembly reunion of United Methodist Women’s 2012 Limitless: Redefine Tomorrow participants.
The reunion was an opportunity for the women to reflect on their experiences, successes, challenges and to explore ways to move forward in introducing yet another generation to UMW. It was also an opportunity to affirm themselves as UMW leaders.
The final worship service on Sunday included consecrating 26 women from 18 conferences as United Methodist deaconesses.
“This is our biggest consecration of deaconesses in many years,” said Harriet Jane Olson, UMW’s top staff executive.
All during the event, the first-ever all-woman band kept the participants on their feet with moving music from jazz to rock to gospel.
As the event wound down, Olson told the participants, “Enlist people into the work and there will be enough and maybe even a few basket-fulls left over.”
Earlier, as she rolled up her sleeves and mopped, chopped and participated in the Ubuntu day of service, Olson had a prediction about the gathering that seemed to come true for most of the participants.
“I think by the time assembly is over we will be excited; we will be filled up; we will be perplexed about some of the things we have learned and about some of the things going on in the world, and we will be exhausted!”
*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615)742-5470 or [email protected].