By: Kay DeMoss (Michigan Area) and Christa Meland
Elections happen every four years in the church and in the nation. All United Methodists know that. There’s campaigning and balloting for bishops, senators, and representatives. But there are other elections that are just as significant though not as high profile.
Folks in all five jurisdictions in the U.S gathered in recent weeks to elect directors to the national United Methodist Women. The quadrennial meeting for the North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ) took place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 24-26, 2016.
Out of 20 nominated, four women were elected as directors. They were, in order of election: Ruby Anderson (Detroit Conference); Cindy Saufferer (Minnesota); Shannon Priddy (Indiana); and Jane Benner (West Ohio). The upcoming four-year term will be Saufferer’s second.
Two-hundred fifty people were in attendance at the gathering, 59 of whom were voting delegates. Those who held the electronic keypads used in the tabulation included three delegates from each of the jurisdiction’s 11 annual conferences and the seven bishops who were present in Grand Rapids for the event—including Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough.
The four women elected by the NCJ will join 21 other new directors in Houston for training in August. All will attend their first board meeting in October. The UMW board meets every fall and spring.
“I am completely humbled to be lifted up for this job,” said Saufferer, a member of Blooming Grove UMC in Morristown. “The women I have met through UMW are all so incredibly dedicated and competent. They’ve been part of my journey—mentoring me and teaching me and leading me. I hope that I can serve them well.”
Saufferer served the UMW at the district, conference, and jurisdictional levels prior to becoming a national director four years ago. National directors are responsible for everything from budgeting to strategic planning, she said. During her first term, she served as the UMW representative on the Global Ministries board and was part of a UMW act of repentance working group that’s exploring ways to heal relationships with indigenous people.
“UMW lifts women up, it gives them tools to go out into the world and to be leaders in their communities, their workplaces, and their churches,” said Saufferer. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it hadn’t been for someone seeing something within me and helping me to discover my voice…UMW helps women find their voice and go out in the world to advocate for justice in God’s mission field.”
By equipping women, the global United Methodist Church is better able to fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, she said.
Nichea Ver Veer Guy, who is finishing a term as director, said she was pleased with the newly elected slate. “This will bring a young presence and energy,” she said. Former Director Jackie Euper pointed out that high energy is indeed important as the total number of UMW directors has decreased from 50 to 25. “I am glad we elected a diverse group with good balance,” she said.
Throughout the gathering, funds were raised for the Legacy Fund—a permanent endowment dedicated to strengthening United Methodist Women. UMW will be celebrating 150 years of mission in 2019. The Legacy Fund represents a continuation of wise financial planning begun by the fore mothers and will be used to pay the administrative costs of the organization.
Building on a challenge started in the Northeast Jurisdiction by Bishop John Schol, the NCJ bishops were presented with a $5,000 target for giving. Before the morning was over, all nine episcopal leaders contributed $500 each. Added to the women’s donations, the total to the Legacy Fund by mid-afternoon on Saturday was $13,053. “The Bishops showed up and shelled out,” said Shannon Priddy, who was cheerleading for the Legacy Fund.
Asked to comment about the importance of The United Methodist Women in today’s world, Bishop Ough praised the UMW as the “driving force of mission” for The United Methodist Church and said, “We need to ask God to empower us like that today.” He expressed delight over Saufferer’s election.
Bishop Gregory Palmer of the West Ohio Conference also affirmed The United Methodist Women’s consistent commitment “decade after decade after decade in standing up for the vulnerable, the left out, and the locked out.” Recalling the women’s rich history with settlement houses and outreach to immigrants, Palmer concluded, “I say, ‘Go, UMW!’”
Individual women and UMW units in churches large and small are all engaged in Faith, Hope, and Love in Action. So what sets a director apart? “The work is most important and most visible at the grassroots level,” said Priddy. “As a director, I can help make sure information from the top gets to the bottom. Today it is not enough to say, ‘I am a United Methodist Woman.’ We now need to be able to say, ‘I am an empowered United Methodist Woman making a difference in the world around me.’”
What makes an organization endure for 150 years? Whether the focus is fellowship circles or large scale advocacy efforts, perhaps Priddy’s observation says it simply and best: “No one should walk the world alone.”
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church