United Methodist Assembly 2006 Closes with a Renewed Commitment to Further Mission Work
by Shanta Bryant Gyan
ANAHEIM – Four days of soul-stirring worship and workshops and exhibits on spiritual and justice issues at United Methodist Women’s Assembly came to a finale of music and praise Sunday, May 7. Nearly 7,000 women and some men then headed home from the once-every-four-year event in Anaheim, Calif., inspired to further their mission across the United States and around the world.
United Methodist Women’s Assembly is the largest gathering of United Methodist adults in the denomination.
Each day, the worship services illustrated the three components of the Assembly theme, “Rise! Shine! Glorify God!” through Scripture readings and sermons; music from various cultures, languages and traditions; dance; and even a light show.
Jan Love, chief executive of Women’s Division, at the closing worship service urged United Methodist Women members to take what they’ve learned at Assembly and create what the Book of Revelation calls a “vision of a new heaven and a new earth.”
To create the new vision, Ms. Love encouraged Assembly participants to:
Assembly participants gained insight into women’s struggles worldwide from international women leaders who spoke on the urgency of ending global poverty and fighting for the rights of workers worldwide.
Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize nominee Wahu Kaara challenged United Methodist Women to “stand up and speak to power” about economic injustices around the world, particularly its impact on women.
“The challenge here is to confess to be the voice of this monumental prophecy of our time as we are doing today and speak loudly to the early powers of our world today that are taking us to doom and material worship of what God has freely bestowed to us,” Ms. Kaara said. She is founder and coordinator of the Kenya Debt Relief Network.
During the May 5 worship service on the theme, “Shine,” Bolivian Minister of Justice Casimira Rodriguez Romero, testified about how her faith helped her to rise from being a domestic worker at 13, to becoming a leading advocate for workers’ rights and the country’s first indigenous minister of justice.
Rodriguez, a Methodist Quechua, was one of three “ordinary” women who shared inspiring stories of making a difference in the world. Other “Shine” testimonies came from Kim Hollowell, an activist against child labor, and Christy Tate Smith, an UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) worker who was part of recovery efforts in response to Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast states.
United Methodist Women members committed to pressing their senators and representatives to set aside sufficient funds in the federal budget for public education; the environment; and international assistance for women, children and youth, while ensuring defense and security.
Assembly participants signed a “money transfer request form” that asks the U.S. government to invest more resources in programs that would benefit women, children and youth in the United States and around the world. The forms will be sent to congressional leaders.
Throughout Assembly, music, dance and drama helped to make a connection between the arts and justice issues.
Award-winning actress Anna Deveare Smith performed a one-woman show of dramatic stories she has gathered from more than two decades of advocacy. Her dramatic vignettes were based on the voices and stories of thousands of people she has interviewed, including from racially charged incidents in Los Angeles, Calif., and Brooklyn, N.Y., where she examined the civil unrest after police acquittals in the Rodney King beating and the tensions between Blacks and Hasidic Jews in New York.
Sanctified Souljahz, a San Diego-based teen and young-adult dance group for children and grandchildren of ex-offenders, performed a liturgical dance demonstrating their pain and hope for the future.
The dance group was started by the teen children of women living at New Entra Casa, a transitional living community for formerly incarcerated women. The rehabilitation program is supported in part by United Methodist Women.
A fashion show, “Fashion Resistance to Militarism,” illustrated the subtle examples of militarism in popular culture, put a spotlight on how clothing sends powerful messages. Young people attending Assembly modeled outfits from three fashion lines: Militarism in Popular Culture; Gender, Race and Militarism; and Visions of a Culture of Peace.
The fashion show models wore clothing that symbolized women’s roles in a militarized society. A young woman wore a camouflage wedding dress and black veil to represent prejudice against brides from other cultures who marry U.S. military personnel.
Mission funds were raised for United Methodist Women’s programs, projects and advocacy related to women, children and youth in more than 100 countries around the world. More than 300 women participated in the “Walk for Mission” May 6, raising more than $30,000. The 5-kilometer walk started at the Anaheim Marriott and looped two times around the Convention Center area. In addition, participants gave $25,000 for mission programs through the World Thank Offering.
The exhibit area displayed included on display more than 2,000 handmade prayer shawls created by United Methodist Women members in conferences, districts, and local units and circles.
Women attending Assembly headed home with a new energy for mission with women, children and youth. Jean Rupp of the Central Pennsylvania Conference plans to take back the tools and skills gained at Assembly to get more children at her church engaged in mission work.
“I learned that we really need to get more children involved in mission,” Ms. Rupp said. “We let that area slide a bit, but I realized here that they are the ones who will continue the mission.”
Some participants attending focus groups said they planned to advocate to their state and national legislators on pressing issues such as public education.
“When I go back home, I know that I will work to get more people involved in advocating for public education,” said Luz Mireya Airas, a member of Juan Wesley United Methodist Church in Miami.
“I was given the tools to learn how to lobby and skills to prepare our churches.” Ms. Arias, who attended the Spanish-language focus group on public education, is the Hispanic coordinator for the Florida conference.
Anita Spann-Peeke, president of United Methodist Women at East Point-First Mallalieu United Methodist Church in East Point, Ga., said she gained a wealth of knowledge to help her unit expand their mission work. In fact, Ms. Spann-Peeke said she’s have to send back boxes of resources.
Others learned new worship styles and songs from the daily worship services.
Date posted: May 12, 2006