UMW Assembly: Faith, hope, love in action
By Shari Goodwin,Contact Correspondent
For first-timer Michelle Gaddis of Oklahoma, the recent United Methodist Women’s global Assembly in St. Louis, Mo., was about connection—new friendships, shared vision, working shoulder-to-shoulder for good.
"I loved seeing all the women from so many places—all over the world," she said. "There was so much information, so many people, so much going on. Assembly helped me see that UMW exists for a much grander purpose than I had realized before."
Attendance totaled 6,500.
EvaMarie Campbell, attending her fourth Assembly, was surprised by a new perspective.
"This was my first time to go as a wife and mother," she explained. "I experienced the stories of women and children in a whole different way. Hearing about child trafficking and listening to OIMC’s Anita Phillips talk about abuse of young girls along the Trail of Tears made me want to rush home and hold my daughter.
"I wasn’t expecting that."
Both were touched to see, in person, results of UMW’s investment in missions.
"At one session, on the big screens, we learned about the Della Lamb House in St. Louis. Suddenly the lights came up, and the very children we had seen on those screens were standing before us, singing to us." Rev. Campbell said.
"We knew about our Cookson Hills Center near Tahlequah—but to hear Denise Rowell sing so beautifully and talk about her own pain of addiction and how she found God and a new beginning through Rev. Meri Whitaker and Cookson meant so much more. She was fantastic, and so brave.
"Those experiences, and others like them, put a real face on what United Methodist Women and The United Methodist Church are doing all over the world. It’s impressive."
Oklahoma Conference UMW members filled three charter buses for the trip to St. Louis. The travel itself brought new friendships as riders shared stories, impressions, and ideas.
"We’re much closer now," said Gaddis. "On the day Denise spoke, Oklahoma Conference members wore matching purple shirts and OIMC members had matching vests."
"Assembly was awesome!" agreed Rowell. "At our booth, we talked to lots of people about our cottage industries and about mission opportunities at Cookson, but I was nervous about singing and talking (on stage). I just told my story and told them never to give up on people who are fighting addictions. It took me five years after I started going to Meri’s church, but she never gave up on me and she kept welcoming and encouraging me.
"When I finished, some people were crying, and many wanted to talk about people they knew. Almost every family is touched by addiction in some way.
"God makes my life good now, and I love my work at Cookson. There’s nothing like United Methodists. They’re so forgiving and non-judgmental."
Assembly participants enjoyed a myriad of booths and exhibits in Experience Hall and found many helpful classes as well.
"In one class we experienced intercessory prayer through a Native American jingle-dress dancer," Campbell said. "The bells on her dress represented people.
"In another we explored advocacy through the M(other) Project and a Web group, http://mothersactingup.org. Another class, ‘Loving God and Loving Sexuality,’ was hilarious, and it integrated sexuality and spirituality in a way that put everyone at ease."
Gaddis said, "I really enjoyed the social networking class. Younger women were helping older ones with Facebook and UMW Online, and it was exciting to see the generations talking and working together.
"I felt a pull to get our own members more connected to each other. We talked about it on the way home, and we’re planning to offer a similar class for women in our unit. Sonia Caze in Norman is planning a similar class, so we can help each other. It was nice to exchange ideas with women from other churches." Caze leads a young women’s group at McFarlin UMC in Norman.
"It’s so easy to live in our own little bubble, our own day-to-day lives," Gaddis said. "When we take time to step outside of that, we get a bigger perspective of what’s going on in the world; we see a bigger vision."