UMW Celebrates 150 Years in Mission
If anything at Oklahoma’s Annual Conference could symbolize the state’s United Methodist Women, it would be the cookies.
Long before the second day of annual conference was scheduled to start, tables and tables of cookies were set up around the voting floor. Silver trays of individually wrapped confections were placed atop festive tablecloths with six or more trays displayed on each table. Classic flavors like chocolate chip, snickerdoodle, oatmeal raisin, and peanut butter were abundant, and sugar-free and gluten-free options were labeled and easy to find. As the tables were covered with white cloths to prevent early consumption, volunteers placed wrapped cookies on the tables for voting youth members. The countless hours United Methodist women spent baking, sorting, packaging, transporting and arranging cookies were summed up neatly on a chocolate chip cookie label from Okmulgee: “150 Years of United Methodist Women Showing a Heart for Service.”
United Methodists across the country are celebrating 150 years of Methodist women engaging in mission. What started as eight American women sending female missionaries to serve women in India has grown to include more than 800,000 members supporting missional and justice work in over 100 countries.
Oklahoma’s United Methodist women are also celebrating. More than 50 women attending the annual Spiritual Growth Retreat in March participated in a “Happy Birthday UMW” video message shared to the OKUMW Facebook Group. During Annual Conference, OKUMW leaders showed a video that shared the historic beginnings of the UMW and encouraged giving to the Legacy Fund. That evening the OKUMW gathered for a celebratory dinner that featured Oklahoma City University President Martha Burger as the guest speaker. The OKUMW will even incorporate the celebration into this year’s Mission u event by including a study on the book “Women United for Change: 150 Years in Mission” by Dr. Ellen Blue, History & United Methodist Studies professor at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa.
Though there is cause for celebration, the OKUMW keeps its eye on their purpose to “be a community of women whose purpose is to know God and to experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ; to develop a creative, supportive fellowship; and to expand concepts of mission through participation in the global ministries of the church.” This year, the OKUMW has included a tentative Social/Racial Justice Event in Oklahoma City in August. This event would be in addition to their annual Toole Tyme event at Cookson Hills Mission in November and Santa Operation at Neighborhood Services Organization (NSO) in December, making a busy end to a festive year.
One of the UMW’s most lasting legacies in Oklahoma is NSO, the only UMW National Mission Institute in Oklahoma.
NSO traces its roots to The Wesley Community House, founded by Methodist women in 1920. The mission focused on impacting post-WWI families in the Riverside neighborhood, at the time home to many immigrant families. The mission grew to include a public library, a music department, activity clubs for children, youth and mothers, and literary and citizenship classes. On average, staff members made an average of 2,500 connections with the community every month. In 1946, Wesley Community House helped found the Bethlehem Center in northeast Oklahoma City, and in 1969, both organizations joined Neighborhood Centers, Inc. to create the Neighborhood Services Organization.
Today, NSO continues to bring the love of Christ to the homeless and working poor and empowers them to break the cycle of poverty by offering housing solutions, dental care, a WIC clinic, and additional programs to some of the most vulnerable people in Oklahoma City. Stacey Ninness, president and CEO of NSO, said UMW groups she speaks with are always excited to hear NSO was started by Methodist women.
“The UMW are such a huge part of what we do at NSO,” Ninness said. “They provide to us financially, through volunteering, but most importantly they provide continual prayer for our ministry, and I know for a fact that is the major reason for our success at NSO!”
According to Ninness, NSO is the only National Mission Institute of the UMW’s national office. The non-profit is in a covenant agreement with the national office of the UMW, from whom they receive an apportionment. That agreement also calls for certain UMW leaders, such as the UMW presidents of the Crossroads and Heartland Districts and the UMW president for the Oklahoma Conference, to serve as ex-officio board members. Ninness said this ensures the UMW will continue to be a part of the strategic direction of the ministry.
“I am eager to share our history with the UMW; that group of women have always been bold and truly dedicated to serving women, youth and children, and that is exactly what we do,” Ninness said. “The UMW started NSO, and I always want to make sure they will always be an important part of what we do here.”
In Oklahoma, United Methodist women collect an estimated $10,000 in gift cards every year to help NSO provide needed items for their clients and residents. During the Christmas season, UMW members gather from across the state to host Neighborhood Santa Operations, an event to prepare festive items and decorate resident homes for the holidays. Ninness believes local UMW support is vital to the success of NSO’s ministry.
“The UMW do so much for each church in our district, and many times they are doing bake sales, garage sales, carnivals, and more, and that is all because they support local missions like NSO,” Ninness said. “Please remember to support your local UMW; they truly are the definition of what being bold in action looks like!”