By Jessica Connor
ROCK HILL—From Charleston to Aiken to Greenville and beyond, nearly 400 United Methodist Women from every district in South Carolina headed to St. John's United Methodist Church Oct. 26-27 for the 40th annual meeting of the conference UMW.
With a theme of Stir the Flame, the women came by carful and busful for two packed days of learning and laughing as they conducted the business of the group. Hundreds of women had the chance to deepen their knowledge and ignite their passion for social advocacy during Friday workshops on human trafficking, immigration, poverty, Native Americans and the UMC, peace in Sudan, and more. Saturday brought a Bible study from the Rev. Sheila Elliott on Don t Let the Fire Go Out, a keynote address from the Rev. Narcie Jeter, and reports and presentations from every group within the UMW.
I hope we can take what we learn here and stir the flames so we can go back and light a fire, said Mikki Cooper, board member for the national UMW organization, calling the women who comprise the group relentless and unreasonable in their call to do God s work in the world.
We are faith, hope and love in action, Cooper added.
Officers for the coming year also were elected at the meeting, and the women learned their mission goal for the coming year: $1 from every single UMW in the state.
Money helps our missions work, said S.C. UMW Conference Education and Interpretation Coordinator Susan Jones, encouraging every woman to donate to the UMW s five mission projects: Bethlehem Center-Spartanburg, Columbia Bethlehem Center, Killingsworth, Rural Mission and Wallace Family Life Center.
S.C. UMW President Linda DuRant said it was an exhilarating experience, from riveting speakers and informative workshops to the many skits and songs.
The entire weekend was filled with a warmth, and the flame that is within us was certainly stirred! DuRant said. We left Rock Hill fired up with enthusiasm for the coming year. We each carry gifts and graces that are from God, and as a community of women involved in a supportive sisterhood, we return to our individual churches ready to use those gifts in His service and to His glory.
New S.C. Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston and his wife, Felecia, attended the meeting. On Saturday morning, Holston spoke to the hundreds of women present, urging them to go back to their local churches, find a woman who is not yet in the UMW, and bring her into the fold. Be an agent of change, he urged the women. You are God s people and cannot be what God needs you to be unless you open up that door to somebody else.
Elliott: Keep That Fire
Drawing from Jeremiah 20:7-13 and 2 Timothy 1:2-15, Elliott led a Bible study Saturday morning on keeping the fire alive for the Lord.
We need to be bold witnesses for the Lord, Elliott urged the women, to hearty applause and whistles. Come on, this is God we re talking about!
Elliott talked about how critical it is to keep the flame alive in all we do for the Kingdom, whether worship, advocacy or evangelism “ no matter what is going on in our lives.
God has given us the Holy Spirit to deal with all the personal and corporate crises, Elliott reminded. We need to just remember how good God is.
She talked about how sometimes, when we feel the Spirit but others around us are just going through the motions or coming to church just to look good, it can be easy to let the feeling deflate within ourselves. She urged people to do what they can to combat that “ to have a praise party all by themselves, to let the Holy Spirit run amok.
If no one is on fire at the church, don t let them make you lose your fire, Elliott said to resounding applause.
Jeter: Be real
Drawing on Scripture from a Bible held in one hand and Christian lyrics read from a cell phone in her other hand, Jeter urged the women to catch on fire with faith and lead the world to change.
Reading Jeremiah 20:7-11, where the prophet denounces his persecutors, Jeter reminded the crowd, No matter how lost we may feel, there is still that presence, that burning fire, that cannot help but be let out.
She talked about how crucial it is that we be real and authentic Christians, even when it is scary and we are risking so much to be so candid. She said Jeremiah was giving us the hard truth “ not the sugarcoated stuff but the meat on the inside. And as he did so, God was there, alongside him every step of the way.
We, too, can take comfort that our God is a present God, alive within us, Jeter said.
She told about how, two years ago as she was struggling with having to endure brain surgery, she heard a song played during the memorial service at Annual Conference: In Christ Alone. That song spoke volumes to her, she recalled “ every word hit home.
In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song. This cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm, Jeter said, reciting the full lyrics to the song, which ends, No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand. ˜Til He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I ll stand.
Jeter said that notion of nothing ever standing in the way of her and God “ not brain surgery, not persecution, nothing “ is one of the hardest things for people to grasp.
We say, ˜God is good all the time; all the time God is good, but sometimes in the midst of all those voices, we feel the most alone, the most scared, the most unworthy, Jeter told the crowd. But the message God spoke through Jeremiah was one of power and might.
She said many ti
mes we just need to ask God for help, because that is what we need more than anything else.
Often when we re the most tired and stretched, we get so caught up in our own stuff, and that s when we need the community of faith ... to lift us up and say, ˜We will go with you. You are not in this alone. We will go with you, Jeter said.
That pain and hurt can also be helpful, because if we can set aside our pride and fear and be honest about our struggles, then others will look at us and know an authentic Christian isn t always happy and healthy.
What a world is hungry for is real people living their faith out loud in real ways, Jeter said. If we are real, who God created us to be...then the world will see that. If we catch on fire with our faith, then that leads the world to change. If the world can see and know and taste the love of God ... then that s a powerful, powerful thing.
For more on the S.C. UMW, visit www.umcsc.net/umw .