Delegates approve UMW autonomy

By Yvette Moore, Special Contributor…

TAMPA, Fla.—By a vote of 889 to 20, General Conference delegates on May 1 made United Methodist Women an autonomous organization within the United Methodist Church. The historic vote separates the national policymaking body of women organized for mission within the denomination from the church’s mission agency for the first time in more than 70 years.

Harriett J. Olson, chief executive of United Methodist Women. A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin.

“This is great result for United Methodist Women and for the church and positions us for the next 143 years of mission,” said Harriett Jane Olson, chief executive of the national United Methodist Women organization.

General Conference also approved a series of recommendations from United Methodist Women that will structurally strengthen ties between local UMW members, their national structure and the ministries they support around the world. The actions will provide more flexibility to local, district, conference and jurisdictional United Methodist Women as they organize for mission in their respective communities.

In a separate vote, oversight of the denomination’s deaconess and home missioner programs was placed with the new national United Methodist Women organization.

“This restores the break that was made in 1964 and the relationship the office of deaconess has had with women organized for mission since it was created in 1888,” said Barbara Campbell, a deaconess and retired staff of the former Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries.

UMW members at General Conference were elated.

“This is good for everyone,” said Elsie Olson, spiritual growth mission coordinator for Florida Conference United Methodist Women. “The timing is right. The General Board of Global Ministries agrees. Everyone supports it!”

Carol Toney, a reserve delegate from the North Alabama Conference, agreed.

“This is what we wanted,” said Ms. Toney, president of her conference’s Northeast District United Methodist Women. “I’m excited about the opportunity this gives us to be more in service to our sisters and brothers around the world. This gives us the autonomy to put our faith, hope and love in to action!”

The national United Methodist Women organization will be governed by a 25-member board of directors with 20 elected by UMW members through jurisdictional channels and five through a nominations process to ensure diversity of age, race, language, physical ability and working status. The board will be responsible for managing the organization’s program policies, finances—including investments, budget, property, financial policies—and its chief executive staff person.

A 70- to 80-member Program Advisory Group will advise the board on matters related to program. Each annual conference will have representation in United Methodist Women’s national organization, thereby strengthening the connections between local women and their national policymaking body.

The Program Advisory Group will include:

• United Methodist Women’s 25-member board of directors.

• The five UMW jurisdictional presidents.

• A representative from each conference not already represented on the 25-member board.

• Representatives from United Methodist agencies, the deaconess and home missioner community, and, with voice but no vote, United Methodist Women regional missionaries and representatives of pan-Methodist women’s organizations related to the World Methodist Council.


Ms. Moore is editor of Response, the magazine of United Methodist Women.

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