Q&A with United Methodist Women district presidents
Advocate chats with district leaders about hopes, issues, more
By Jessica Brodie
United Methodist Women is the largest denominational faith organization for women with approximately 800,000 members whose mission is fostering spiritual growth, developing leaders and advocating for justice.
Members raise up to $20 million each year for programs and projects related to women, children and youth in the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world. Their values include promoting the empowerment of women, children and youth; inclusion and equity; anti-racism and multiculturalism; fair labor practices; and economic and environmental stewardship and sustainability.
In South Carolina, United Methodist Women are extremely active, led by President Cathy Ford, Vice President Janice Eaddy, and a host of other officers, coordinators and volunteers who do their part to fulfill their call to foster faith, hope and love in action.
This year, United Methodist Women have six seasoned presidents in second or more years in office (in Anderson, Charleston, Greenwood, Hartsville, Orangeburg and Rock Hill districts) and six new presidents (in Columbia, Florence, Greenville, Marion, Spartanburg and Walterboro districts). Ford called these women a “group of dedicated, passionate officers.”
Here, we talk with the United Methodist Women district presidents about what they are looking forward to, what are the most pressing issues within the local churches, what they would like to look back on as successful a year from now, and a bit about their profession, hobbies or family life.
Questions with the United Methodist Women district presidents:
- What are you most looking forward to as your district’s United Methodist Women president?
- What do you think are our most pressing issues within the local churches?
- What is one thing a year from now you would like to look back and know was successful?
- Share a few things about your profession, hobbies, family, etc.
DeDee Clarey, Anderson District UMW President
- I am looking forward to meeting my UMW sisters in the Anderson District in person! It has been very difficult to since I started my term as president during COVID-19.
- One of the most pressing issues that I see in my church is the generation gap in membership of our circles at Bethesda. We are currently brainstorming ideas on how to attract younger women to become involved not only in our church but in the Anderson District. We just had our annual “day apart” on April 17 via Zoom, and this very topic is on everyone’s mind.
- A year from now, I want to be able to say that not even COVID-19 can stop the Anderson District United Methodist Women. We are women unbound for action. Nothing will stop us from doing our vision: Turning faith, hope and love into action on behalf of women, children and youth around the world.
- I have been employed with Reynolds Investment Management for 14 years as their Operations Administrator in Greenville. I have been married to Kevin Clarey for 27 years. We have been blessed with two children, Kristin (25) and Casey (22). I enjoy spending time with my family, reading and vacationing at the beach.
- Jeanette Alston, Charleston District UMW President
- I am excited and looking forward as the Charleston District UMW president to see all the UMW in person. I’m looking forward to making friends with new members. We never know who we’re going to meet that will change our life.
- I believe racism goes overlooked within the church. Therefore, it’s important to be contributing to Christians within the church that do not have an understanding of the church’s purpose.
- I would like to look back and know the executive committee and I were able to keep our district connected and active during the pandemic. We came together and help others overcome something we’ve never been through.
- I’m retired from the Charleston County Court System, and at my church I’m the administrative secretary. I’m married to a wonderful man, and we have 10 grandchildren. I enjoy reading, walking, traveling, crafting and being with my loving family.
Debra Schooler, Columbia UMW district president
- I hope that the Columbia District can fulfill and expand the purpose of our UMW by making a difference in our community, our state and world!
2. I believe that attracting and equipping new leaders and members, especially younger members, is a tough problem in our local churches.
3. I want to look back in a year and see an increase in our UMW members, younger and older!
4. I am retired and love traveling with my husband and visiting my family in the U.S. and abroad. I love working with my UMW sisters and members of my church.
Pernerva Thomas, Florence District UMW President
- I am looking forward to reaching out to those women who are rooted in The United Methodist Church but are not actively involved.
- Today’s churches are faced with many issues. Most importantly, our young people are dropping out of school at a high rate without any given thought to their future. The divorce rate is astronomical; about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. These are only a few of the pressing issues within the local churches.
- A year from now, I would like to look back and be able to see an advanced number of women has taken leadership roles within the church. I would be more than elated to witness these women coordinating events and being positive role models in the church and beyond.
- As a career orientated person, I serve my community as a Family Service Worker for Waccamaw EOC Head Start Program. I am been employed at Waccamaw EOC for 35 years. I have served my community as a veteran-certified firefighter in Williamsburg County for the past 35 years. I am a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., Kingstree Graduate Chapter. I enjoy taking vacations and participating in/coordinating community events and church activities. My family consists of my loving husband, the Hon. (retired) Rev. John P. Thomas, plus six sons, two daughters, 13 grandchildren and two great-grands.
Vickie Failor, Greenville District UMW President
1. I am looking forward to carrying on the purpose of the UMW. I am looking forward to continuing the mission of the UMW and hopefully mentoring young ladies to continue the UWW mission.
- We need to figure out how to grow and sustain our churches. If we cannot continue to grow, the local churches will slowly die. We need to bridge the gap between the young and old in the churches.
- A year from now, I would like to see that we have increased our footprint across the county. I hope that the creation of our district website and Facebook page helps us to reach younger demographics. I would like to look back a year from now and say we survived and thrived during this pandemic by learning to adjust and adapt to a new way of gathering and meeting.
Joyce Crouch, Greenwood District UMW President
- I am most looking forward to getting back to in-person meetings and events. After the past year with the COVID-19 virus, a lot of meetings and events had to be stopped, cancelled or held virtually. I look forward to being able to fellowship in-person with other United Methodist Women sisters-in-Christ.
- I think the most pressing issue within the local churches right now is that, because of COVID-19, so many churches stopped having in-person services and church members stopped sending in their tithes and offerings, which created a financial strain on our churches. Another pressing issue is social injustices. We need to love others as we love ourselves. If we do that, I believe we would have more peace and unity in our world.
- One thing I would like to look back and know was successful is that our churches get back to holding in-person services, the people who stopped going to church during COVID came back, our financial givings have increased, we are again in fellowship with other believers, and we are sharing God’s love with those around us.
- For the past 11 years, I have been employed as a customer service representative at a local bank. For 30 years prior to that, I was a legal secretary for a local attorney. My hobbies are bird watching and gardening. My husband, Ronnie, and I have been married for 44 years and we have a daughter, Heather, who just turned 37 years of age. We are members of Sharon UMC in Kinards.
Jacquelyn Session, Hartsville District UMW President
- I am most looking forward to the meet and greet: in person meetings/events as we reunite through hugs, chats and fellowships with our sisters and brothers with sharing of ideas to enhance women, children and youth, as well as the church while uplifting the purpose of United Methodist Women.
- I currently think that communication utilizing technology to keep members connected is causing a decrease in attendance for worship, meetings, etc.
- One thing I would like to look back and know was successful is the manner in which we tried to remain connected in the midst of being cautious and uncertain to our abilities in utilizing Zoom, conference calls and telephone fellowship. Also remaining connected through our district newsletter “For the Record,” the SCCUMW “Mission Echo,” response Magazine, and the Advocate in keeping us informed as we put our faith, hope and love in action.
4. I am employed as the housing project coordinator for Santee Wateree Mental Health in Sumter. I assist individuals and families with mental illness with safe, decent, affordable permanent housing and services. I educate and advocate to expand access to permanent housing resources and to offset stigma within the community and provides skill building sessions and technical assistance to help tenants serve overcome obstacles related to finding and maintaining housing. I am an active member of St. Mark UMC in Sumter. I serve as the United Methodist Women President, Girl Scout Cadet Troop Leader and Girl Scout Troop Advisor and Sunday school teacher. I enjoy arts and crafts, decorating and making a difference in others’ lives for the betterment. I strive to provide the foundation of power, grace, wisdom, justice, hope and compassion. I am married to Sam James Session and blessed with a daughter, Samoria Jacquel. I am devoted to my family, offering nurturing day to day. My motto is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me.”
Sarah Woods, Marion District UMW President
- I am looking forward to learning more about UMW, working with a diverse group of women and being able to engage in the difference missions supported by the UMW.
- I know that our most important issues are engaging our younger population in the principles and teaching of the church and religion; involving those that are outside the church in our church community; and training our younger people to have compassion for others.
- One year from now I would like to know that our district did everything we could do to have a successful year during this COVID experience. I would like to know that we communicated with our membership, maintained contact with the members and were actively engaged in community, church and justice events.
- I am a helper. I work with people from every aspect of life and I enjoy what I do even with the stressors my career presents. My hobbies include reading, talking on the telephone, planning vacations, having social evenings with girlfriends, social family gatherings and crocheting. I am a member of a very large family, and “pre-COVID” it was not unusual to find at least 17 of my family members in my house for Sunday dinner. I love my family and I value the time that we spend together.
Sonya Shuler-Benjamin, Orangeburg District UMW President
- I look forward to working closely with courageous and God-fearing women who really believe in God and his command for us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. I also enjoy learning about the local missions or each local church UMW units.
2. The most pressing issues within the local churches are to get more people to take an active role in the life of their church because faith without work is dead. Also to promote and encourage children, youth and young adults to be more active in the church and the development and implementation of plans to prevent and provide support with racism.
3. In a year I want to know that the educational training, support and donations given helped children and youth to become active in the life of their church and there is a program or ministry in place that will ensure this is carried out from generations to generations.
4. I am married. I have two beautiful and talented children. I believe I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. All people can learn or improve for the best. We just have to meet them where they are and teach them to go beyond that. By profession, i am a special education teacher.
Crystal Barrs, Rock Hill District UMW President
- I’m looking forward to growing our UMW by sharing the love of our savior at all our events.
- Our most pressing issues are lack of communication, our youth and inclusiveness.
- A year from now I would like to look back and know we were successful in increasing our UMW numbers by sharing the loving flame of Christ within us.
- I have an administrative background, I do caregiving, I love music, choir, handbells, cross-stitching and getting pumped up from UMW events.
Lisa Caldwell Salters, Spartanburg District UMW President
- I look forward to working with all the women in the district as we continue our mission focus and sharing the excitement about all we do to stimulate membership growth
2. Our most pressing issues are staying connected and encouraged during the pandemic, and motivating congregations to move forward again without reservation, hesitancy and a little fear.
3. A year from now I would love to see our units reignited and excited. The pandemic took a big toll on all of us physically, emotionally and spiritually. This time next year I’m prayerful that we’ll all be in a better place to do the work God has for us to do.
4. I am a member of Florence Chapel UMC, Wellford. I work as a behavioral health social worker and am assigned on the gero-psychiatric unit at Spartanburg Medical Center-Mary Black Campus, Spartanburg. I enjoy reading, traveling and spending time with my family.
Sarah Sweers, Walterboro District UMW President
- I am most looking forward to building a strong relationship with all my units. I am working on a project to try to increase the number of members we have. I also am trying to help the units to find inventive ways of coming to gather and having activities.
- I think the most pressing issues are finding ways to come together safely. We are also trying to find ways to increase the size so that we can accomplish more.
- A year from now I would like to see that we have filled our officers’ needs and have grown in volume, as well as deeds and have increase our knowledge of God and his commandments.
- In my career I was a computer manager and consultant where I travel all over the world. My hobbies were ceramics, golf, softball and tennis. I am still active in God and some tennis and I do aerobics, weightlifting and I try to run at least a mile every other day. I have three children and six grandchildren. One child and two grandchildren live close to me. The other two are in Chicago and Texas.