Cal-Nev UMW Has 'Joyful' Gathering

November 03, 2011

By Kat Teraji
Instant Connection contributor

"Joy for the Journey" was the theme at the women's celebration I attended last Saturday. Each fall, United Methodist women from throughout northern California and Nevada gather to learn together – and to celebrate the ways in which they have worked to transform the lives of women, children, and youth in their local communities and around the world, during the past year.
 
The 300 women gathered at First United Methodist Church of Modesto were thrilled and energized by the music of a Cambodian vocal ensemble, along with that of the Hallelujah Korean Drum Team from Oakland. 
 
Keynote speaker Marva Usher-Kerr journeyed from New York City to speak about her spiritual journey as a woman of faith. She serves as the Executive Secretary for Membership in the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries. As an evangelist, she serves on mission trips to Haiti, Africa, and South America. She also trains women in becoming lay officers, and in lay speaking and mission education.
 
"Methodist Women have a long history of being in mission," Usher-Kerr said, reminding the audience of their historic record of social action. "Some of us are getting tired; we've been in mission a long time. The richer we get, the less we want to give. But there are still a lot of women and children who need our help."
 
Usher-Kerr spoke of her visit to the Republic of South Sudan, the newest country on earth and the 54th country in Africa. Forty women made the journey by foot to hear her speak, some of them traveling for nearly two days to get there.
 
The women said, "We want to be just like you. But we can't read. Some of us are widows; we don't have homes of our own anymore."
 
"Mama Marva, I prayed every night that someone would come and help us," one African woman said during her visit. "No one in the world cares about women like us. But you've come to visit twice, so we know you care about us. We don't know what our journey will be, but we have faith in God, and we know there will be joy for the journey."
 
An offering was taken up to aid UMW programs such as those that assist the women of Sudan, and nearly $4,000 was collected on the spot.
 
Usher-Kerr spoke of the Methodist tradition of lay women holding roles of leadership, often being the trendsetters for the direction of mission in the denomination. Methodist women first collected their egg money in the fall of 1869 to send Clara Swain to India as the world's first qualified female medical missionary. By the end of her first five years there, she had built the Women's Hospital and Medical School – the first in all of Asia and still in existence today. Methodist women also commissioned the first female educator to start a school for girls in India, which is known today as Isabella Thoburn College. In 1878, Methodist women sent the first female missionary to China.
 
Methodist lay women were seated as delegates during elections at General Conference as early as 1892 and gained full voting rights in 1904, 16 years before women had the legal right to vote in elections across the U.S. Today, they labor at the forefront of current issues such as putting an end to poverty-caused diseases such as malaria, promoting peace in the Middle East, and stopping worker exploitation and human trafficking. A new office was established at this annual celebration to help conserve resources: former San Jose District president Betty Dickey will be in charge of helping California-Nevada "go green."
 
"What I really celebrate," UMW Conference President Connie Hunter [at left] said, "Is the sense of the Conference UMW coming together to transform from seven to four districts and to continue fulfilling our purpose – no matter what!" In a challenging economy and a year of streamlining and restructuring, a team of women worked throughout 2011 to redesign the district teams for the best possible representation of the newly configured four districts.
 
In a moving ceremony, District Superintendents Kristie Olah, Mariellen Yoshino, and Jerry Smith presided over the transformation ceremony in which the obsolete seven district flags were retired, and four new ones took their places as women carried them forward into the future of the work in mission.   
 
The tradition of United Methodist Women empowering women to have the freedom to discover who they really can be through Jesus, in a creative and supportive community of women, is a tradition that Helen Pulliam of the Cal-Nevada Conference knows a lot about. Pulliam [at left] was invited up on stage to be recognized at the celebration for her contributions as a coordinator of membership, nurture, and outreach in the Shasta District. Oh, did I mention that Helen is 99 years old?!
 
Wearing a bright red jacket with bold yellow lettering proclaiming, "Never Underestimate the Power of a United Methodist Woman," Pulliam epitomizes the best of the United Methodist Woman in a life well lived in service to others.
 
During district officer training the night before, when the Rev. Debra Brady, pastor of Modesto First, asked Pulliam why some churches struggle so much today to gain younger members, Pulliam pulled no punches: "Older people took over and the younger people dropped off," she critiqued. "We say, 'It's always been done this way.' It is discouraging to younger people. We need to listen more to their ideas."
 
As I was installed in the ceremony Saturday as one of the officers who will be serving on the 2012 CA-NV Conference Mission Team, I just kept thinking to myself, "Lord, please let me be Helen Pulliam when I grow up!"
 
Main photo and photo of Helen Pulliam by Kat Teraji. Photo of Connie Hunter, at 2010 ACS, by Paul "Spud" Hilton.