By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—Lifting up ways we can all harvest the promises of the Lord, hundreds of United Methodist Women from across South Carolina gathered this fall to meet, connect, learn and engage in Christian mission and fellowship.
The women gathered at Union United Methodist Church Oct. 27-28 for their 45th annual meeting, which featured the Rev. Millie Nelson Smith as keynote speaker, the Rev. Cathy Jamieson as Bible study leader, the Rev. Jeri Katherine Sipes as evening worship preacher and a host of workshops and mission moments throughout.
Festivities kicked off Oct. 27 with a tour and mini work project at Sharing God’s Love, a Christian organization that helps families facing emergencies related to their basic living needs. It provides food, clothing and financial assistance. Limitless young United Methodist Women collected nonperishables, and donations were gathered for the United Methodist Women’s five South Carolina missions projects: Bethlehem Center Spartanburg, Columbia Bethlehem Community Center, Killingsworth Home, Rural Mission and Wallace Family Life Center.
More than $400,000 in total mission pledges were offered by every district in the state.
Women are ‘doing the work’
Marlene Spencer, president of the South Carolina Conference United Methodist Women, welcomed all to the meeting on opening day with greetings and an expression of gratitude.
“The harvest is plentiful,” Spencer said to applause. “God has promised us unconditional love, a seat at the table and hope for tomorrow.”
Evelyn Pauling, conference spiritual growth coordinator, led the room in prayer that God fill all gathered with a new abundant spiritual harvest.
“Help us break down all barriers that prevent us from receiving the harvest,” she prayed.
Rep. Chip Huggins, South Carolina House of Representatives District 85, brought greetings on behalf of the state house.
“We need you so badly,” Huggins said, noting United Methodist Women have a reputation for important advocacy, which is much-needed especially given the state’s opioid and domestic violence crises. “We need more of you in politics.”
Dr. Robin Dease, Hartsville District superintendent and United Methodist Women Cabinet representative, lifted up the women as the best United Methodist Women group in the nation.
“United Methodist Women are doing the work!” she said to cheers. “I keep telling people: The best man for the job is a woman.”
Jamieson: A better covenant
Next, Jamieson led all gathered in a Bible study focusing on Joshua and the promises of the Lord, particularly focusing on Joshua 21:45: “Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.”
Indeed, Jamieson taught, this message is echoed throughout Scripture, in Psalm 12:6, Romans 9:4, 2 Corinthians 1:19-20, Galatians 3:21, Hebrews 8:6, 2 Peter 1:2-4 and more.
A promise is one thing, she said, but a covenant is an even deeper promise.
God implemented His covenant, Jamieson said, and He continues to fulfill it in very real, concrete ways.
After all, she said, “God promised Noah he’d never again flood the earth. God promised Abraham and Sarah they’d bring about the birth of a great nation. God promised the Israelites the Promised Land.”
And God’s most amazing promise of all, Jamieson said, is in His son, Jesus Christ.
Christ, she said, is “A better covenant, better promises—all God’s promises in one.”
However, a promise is a two-way transaction, a mutual covenant—but the people are not always as faithful in holding up our promises to God as God is to us.
That must change, she said.
“To harvest God’s promises we must trust in Him and His promises and live in the present, not the past,” Jamieson said.
She said United Methodist Women are and must continue to be “the voice of justice in the world.”
Workshops and missions
Workshops came next, delving into a variety of topics: The Faith, Activity, Nutrition program; the Every Student Succeeds Act; Learning Your Leadership Story; Meet Your Three National Mission Projects; Meet Your Two South Carolina Mission Projects; Mission Conferences/Mission U Study; Sex Trafficking; Where Does the Money Go; and Who Are the Limitless Team.
After a dinner break, the gathering had time to hear in-depth about the five South Carolina mission projects, as well as from the Advocate. Wallace Family Life Center shared about their efforts to help serve people in their community, lifting up a woman who went to Wallace in the 1980s who is now an ordained United Methodist pastor and serves on their board. Bethlehem Center Spartanburg shared about their projects, including their afterschool program, boxing for older kids and an intergenerational sewing program. Columbia Bethlehem Center shared about their new efforts to grow and embrace a “comeback.” Rural Mission lifted up their 46 years of service, food, clothing, furnishings and spiritual guidance. And Killingsworth celebrated 70 years of serving women in transformation.
“Killingsworth loves those who’ve been shunned, accepts those who’ve been rejected and encourages those who’ve been shamed,” said Flo Johnson on behalf of the organization.
Sipes on ‘Kingdom Promises’
“Kingdom Promises” was the topic of Sipes’ Friday evening worship message.
“God’s promises are not the world’s promises,” Sipes preached. “They are higher and far more inclusive.”
She said Jesus said no again and again to self-glory, resisted repeatedly what she’s heard retired Bishop Will Willamon call “the holy trinity of me, myself and I.”
His hometown people—neighbors, friends—all thought Jesus’s words were empty promises, so much so that they wanted to silence him by pushing him off a cliff.
Today, Sipes said, Jesus calls us still: to advocate for fair minimum wage, to make space for refugees, to release the captives and those wrongfully convicted and trafficked, to walk alongside the addicts, to help people who can’t let go of old grudges and wounds and advocate for fair access to healthcare and a more-than-minimally-adequate education
“This is the year of Jubilee, you busy overscheduled creatures of production—‘be still and know that I am God,’” Sipes said to a chorus of amens. “Are you starting to feel like the Nazarenes that day, those wanting to silence him, push him off the cliff? Today, to whom are we sharing these promises? Are we allowing those promises to define God’s kingdom today?”
United Methodist Women come together to make sure the promises in Luke 4 are a reality for people in the world today, Sipes said.
“There is still work to be done. People still need to hear the good news, and captives are still waiting to be released,” Sipes said. “What are we waiting for? Let us work together to fulfill this Scripture today.”
Saturday business reconvened with informational moments, including an overview of the 2018 Mission u event, as well as an overview of the Washington, D.C. mission trip. Cynthia Williams gave an update on the Me to We quilt, a symbolic connectionalism project that United Methodist Women are helping with in every district in South Carolina.
Spencer spoke about the upcoming 2018 National United Methodist Women Assembly, set for May 18-20 in Columbus, Ohio. South Carolina has chartered a bus and hopes women will attend together. Cathy Ford lifted up the 150th anniversary of United Methodist Women, which will be held in 2019 but celebrated at the 2018 Assembly. A Legacy Fund has been set up to provide or the future of the organization.
After a memorial service, reports, presentation of pledges and adoption of the 2018 budget, Smith gave the closing keynote address, focusing on Joshua 14 and Numbers 14: 20-24.
Smith shared how, during the people’s journey to the Promised Land, spies were sent ahead to check on God’s promises; they returned with an unpleasant report of giants and other frightening things.
This faithlessness and disobedience, however, kindled God’s great anger, and He declared none would see the land except Caleb and his descendants. Caleb, after all, had faith and was fully obedient. And while we may fall short, Smith said, “God fulfills all of His promises.”
Giants exist today, Smith noted—hate, intolerance, bigotry and much more— but God equips us to face them with love, peace, hope and unity.
“The harvest is plentiful; the laborers are few,” Smith said. “What is God calling us to do?”
We still have a charge to keep!”
For more on South Carolina United Methodist Women, visit www.umcsc.org/umw. Jacquelyn Williams contributed to this story with information from Smith’s keynote speech.