UMW: A fresh wind blowing

S.C. hosts jurisdictional United Methodist Women meeting

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By Jessica Brodie

NORTH CHARLESTON—“A fresh wind is blowing, y’all—you either go with it or you miss it. You either go with it or you’re left behind. As Jesus said, you must be born again.”

That was the word from the Rev. Jasmine Smothers, preacher, teacher, author and coach, as she kicked off the opening message for the Southeastern Jurisdiction’s quadrennial United Methodist Women meeting June 3-5. Echoing the theme of the weekend, “A Fresh Wind Blowing,” Smothers brought a word on abandoning fear to seek out transformation and a passionate encounter with the Holy Spirit.

More than 700 people packed the North Charleston Convention Center for the event, which was the first time South Carolina had hosted an SEJ event for the group.

Smothers was one of several on the weekend’s lineup, including Harriett Jane Olson, chief executive officer of the national United Methodist Women; North Carolina Bishop Hope Morgan Ward; Dr. Robin Dease, Hartsville District superintendent; Yvette Richards, president of the national United Methodist Women; South Carolina’s own Bishop Jonathan Holston; and a host of others including leaders of a dozen focus groups on everything from racial justice to immigration to human trafficking. SEJ President Patty Strickland presided over the weekend’s events, which also included the election leaders for the next quadrennium and plenty of time for strong sisterly fellowship.

South Carolina United Methodist Women President Marlene Spencer said she was honored to stand at the podium and welcome such a crowd to her home state.

“There is a fresh wind blowing in South Carolina,” Spencer said. “As we gather this weekend, let the wind begin to blow and refresh your spirit.”

Olson took a moment to lift up the work that United Methodist Women do in their name of their risen savior.

“You pay attention, you get involved, you ask why things are the way they are, you make a difference—United Methodist Women, you are amazing!” Olson said to wild applause, noting their efforts are critical because there is so much to do from advocacy to hands-on help. “The world needs women in mission now more than it ever has.”

‘Risking a Fresh Encounter’

Smothers, associate director for congregational vitality in the North Georgia Conference, brought the opening message Friday night from John 3:1-8, using Jesus’ teaching of Nicodemus to illuminate ways United Methodist Women can transform their churches and the world today. In her sermon, “Risking a Fresh Encounter,” Smothers said that Nicodemus is one of her favorite people in the Bible, and he is not much different from church leaders today.

“Nicodemus’ whole life was about getting it right,” Smothers said—he studied, he judged, and he made it known there was only one way to live, the way of the Sanhedrin. But he was bound by fear, particularly of what people would think of him if he sought out wisdom from Jesus. Under the cover of night, Nicodemus went looking for Jesus to find answers to his questions. And he found was he was seeking.

Today, Smothers said, we know what Jesus wants us to do: love our neighbor better than ourselves. The question is whether we would prefer to admire Jesus from afar or truly follow Him.

“I think the whole thing is an issue of discipleship,” Smothers said, “of whether or not we are willing to be transformed, of whether or not we are willing to go and do and say what the Holy Spirit wants us to go and do and say.”

The people of God have questions just like Nicodemus had questions, she said.

“But we can’t have those answers if we’re fear-bound, if we’re just sitting on the sidelines being admirers,” Smothers said.

She said there are four key things this passage teaches us: to be intentional about finding the “living water” we so desperately need; to be inclusive and collaborative about leaving our comfort zones to do the sometimes difficult and scary work of Jesus; to be passionate about the important things of our faith; and to embrace a fresh encounter with the Holy Ghost.

The Holy Ghost is scary, Smothers said—you can’t control it, it might change you, it might mess up your faith and cause you to lose friends or question things, and most of all, it might transform our beliefs and priorities.

“But Jesus is saying doing everything right is not enough. You are required to be transformed,” Smothers said.

She urged the women to embrace a new encounter with the Spirit so it can take over and do amazing things in the world.

Officers, directors elected

Election of officers was the focus of Saturday’s business, though the day also featured wisdom from Dease, who led a Bible study on “From a Church-Goer to a Christ-Follower” (click here to read article about her study), plus a banquet featuring officer installation and entertainment by comedian and author Cathy Lee Phillips.

The United Methodist Women spent much of Saturday voting in new officers and directors for the next quadrennium.

Two South Carolinians were elected to serve in leadership positions. Deaconess Selena Ruth Smith was elected on the first ballot to serve as a national director for United Methodist Women, and Rebecca Eleazer was elected to serve as a member of the Committee on Nominations for the jurisdiction.

Betty Helms (Alabama-West Florida Conference) will be the new president of SEJ United Methodist Women, with Joy Lewter (Tennessee) as vice president, Gertrude Stewart (Florida) as secretary, Kay Phillips (Holston) as treasurer, Patsy J. Thomas (South Georgia) as Committee on Nominations chair, and Committee on Nominations members Eleazer along with Suzanne Boltz (Virginia), Linda Sanford (Kentucky) and Teresa Wynn (North Georgia).

The body also elected six directors to serve on the national United Methodist Women: South Carolina’s Smith along with Ann Davis (North Carolina Conference), Carol Toney (North Alabama), Sue Raymond (North Georgia), Miran Kim (Virginia) and Clara Ester (Alabama-West Florida).

Attendees also spent two hours on Saturday engaged in focus group in-depth studies.

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward brought the Sunday morning message, which culminated in a service of Holy Communion.

Holston, South Carolina’s bishop, called himself “a proud member of the United Methodist Women.”

He urged the crowd to be open to a spirit of transformation and new awareness about what they can do to help the world.

“Peace and love are not the absence of tension but the presence of justice,” Holston said. “My friends, often we have the tendency to close our eyes to the world around us and miss the opportunity to make a difference.”

He encouraged the women to dream big, even when it seems like an overwhelmingly huge leap of faith.

“Following God is simply deciding to go for it,” Holston said. “If we truly trust God, take a deep breath and go for it, we would be truly amazed by what God can do.”

‘A huge success’

Rounding out the weekend were a host of other events, from a mission project at Rural Mission (read the story here) to special worship dance performances by the Glorify Dance Company from North Charleston UMC, led by director Ruth Singletary.

Many said the three-day event was a huge success and could not have happened without the help of many who lent their time and talents. In addition to Strickland and the worship leaders, giving their expertise were focus group leaders including deaconess Carolyn Lawhorn (the church and people with disabilities), Ann Bryan (fresh spirit, body and mind), Rosemary Uebel (immigration), Kim Ford (elder abuse), Marissa Castellanos (human trafficking), deaconesses Emma Sampson and Selena Ruth Smith (going green), Dr. Bernice Duffy Johnson (racial justice), Linda Gadson (a mind for missions), Rebecca Rochester (line dancing), Ann Davis and Lynne Gilbert (rock the future) and Tammy Hauser (social impact issues).

Other program participants included Mary Johnson, song leader; Jeanette Westerfield, pianist; Charleston District Superintendent Patti Parris; Mary Lou Wurth; Paulette Monroe; Dianne Springer; Pat Boatwright; Charlotte Smith; Sue Owens; Janice Eaddy; Dr. Melba McCallum; and more.

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