S.C. United Methodist Women gather in Summerville for annual meeting
By Susan A. Smith
At 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, at Bethany United Methodist Church in Summerville, processional music started, the sanctuary doors opened and a line of women entered with items in hand reflecting this year’s theme. “Growing in Blessedness.”
When all had processed, Marlene Spencer, president, gaveled to order the 44th Annual Meeting of the South Carolina Conference United Methodist Women. It was a time John Wesley would call “holy conferencing,” a time when the women of South Carolina came together to worship, praise, pray, sing, learn, share and make decisions that will lead and direct them for another year to fulfill their purpose as United Methodist Women.
The 349 delegates and attendees were greeted and welcomed to Summerville by Rep. Jenny A. Horne, South Carolina House of Representatives District 49 and Willey Johnson, mayor of Summerville. Also extending words of welcome were Betsy Meyers, president of Bethany UMW; Kathy Roys, president of the Charleston District UMW; the Rev. Mitch Houston, Bethany pastor; the Rev. Sandra Stevens-Poirel, Charleston District superintendent; and Dr. Robin Dease, Harstville District superintendent and UMW Cabinet Representative.
Over the course of the weekend, the women were blessed by three challenging and inspiring messages focused on the theme “Growing in Blessedness.”
First, Catherine Nelson, of Keepers of the Word: A Native Outreach Ministry, offered a quieting hymn played on Native American wooden flute, and then the Scripture lesson on the Beatitudes. “Being blessed is not a condition,” Nelson said. “It is a position. It is intentional and part of spiritual wellness, wholeness that transcends the spiritual to the physical realm.”
She reminded the women to “speak and declare your blessings with praise and thanksgiving to God. Hear yourself saying it. When you do, grace and blessings will pour out of heaven from everywhere.”
She closed with the following Navajo Blessing: “Before us it is blessed. Behind us it is blessed. Below us it is blessed. Above us it is blessed. Around us it is blessed as we set out with Him. Our words and speech are blessed as we set out for Him. With beauty before us, with beauty behind us, with beauty below us, with beauty above us and with beauty around us, we set out for a holy place indeed. Aho (amen).”
Second, the Rev. Adriane Burgess, associate pastor of Bethany UMC, spoke about the parable of the lost coin.
“A coin doesn’t wander off or lose its way. Somehow it has been cut off isolated from others,” Burgess told the crowd. “We don’t know how the woman lost or misplaced the coin. How we too at times find ourselves isolated or lost our direction. How is the coin to be found? How are we to be found? The women swept and cleaned to find the coin. God finds us even if we are in the wrong place. God pursues the lost. God’s love for the lost should be our love for the lost. Where can we sweep to search for those who are isolated and cut off, those who need encouragement of the Good News?”
Then, bringing the final words of inspiration, the Rev. Wendy Hudson-Jacoby, pastor of North Charleston UMC, North Charleston, spoke about three of the Beatitudes: mercy, being pure in heart and peacemakers. She talked of mercy “as being loving kindness and grace, where acts of mercy is an act of beauty. Of those who would be pure in heart goes to the very essence of our spirit, of our souls where our desire is the need to see God, the ability to see the power of God, to see the face of God in the world. And the peacemaker is one who extends the circle wide, to open to all. They bring hope and promise of inclusion, of welcoming.”
Also at the meeting, South Carolina Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston offered Holy Communion, a means in which we can experience and grow in blessedness. All sat silently reflective in a simple memorial service as each district was asked to stand and a representative walked forward to light a candle and a soft chime rang out to remember and honor the members who died. Then, from the somber and quiet to a celebration of their life, the sanctuary was filled with the rejoicing and vibrant sound of “I’ll Fly Away” by the musical group Long Term Survivors.
Workshop offered opportunities for growth and understanding with topics on climate justice, feeding the hungry, human trafficking, mass incarceration and domestic violence. Other workshops were “Where the Money Goes,” discussing how funds go from the local unit to the greater expanse of the mission and advocacy work of the UMW; “Gullah,” lifting up the culture, history and stories; and “Plarning,”on how to use plarn, or plastic yarn, to crochet mats for the homeless.
Also at the meeting, retiring officers were recognized and new officers were elected and installed, plus scholarships, reports, recognitions, presentations of the district pledges and adoption of the budget occurred. Gift cards were collected for “My Sister’s House” and for the five South Carolina UMW mission projects, as well as stamps, box tops and aluminum pull tabs for various projects. There were mission project displays and a resource room of books and UMW materials that help local units do program.
South Carolina United Methodist Women worshipped, prayed, sang, laughed, broke bread together, fellowshipped, acted on items of business and were generally inspired, encouraged and lifted up to continue the task of being “a community of women whose purpose is to know God, to develop a creative, supportive fellowship, and to expand concepts of mission.” Our holy conferencing ended on Saturday, Oct. 22, at 1:30 p.m. with the tap of the gavel and singing of “Here I Am Lord.”
Smith is outgoing president of the Greenville District United Methodist Women.