This profile was last updated in 2005
The United Methodist Women (UMW) of the United Methodist Church recently celebrated its 135th anniversary. What began as a tiny missionary movement of women in 1869 has grown into one of the largest Protestant women’s organizations in the United States, with more than one million members who contribute more than $25 million annually. The organization is comprised of local congregational units that relate directly to their district, conference, and jurisdictional counterparts – each of which is referred to as “United Methodist Women.” At the national level, the Women’s Division functions as the policy-making body for UMW.
Today, the organization’s mission is “to work to build a supportive community among women; to be an advocate for the oppressed and dispossessed with special attention to the needs of women and children; and to engage in activities that foster growth in the Christian faith, mission, education, and Christian social involvement throughout the organization.” This mission is accomplished through a variety of ongoing programs; specific initiatives are developed on a quadrennial basis to guide the organization’s work and help participants strengthen their relationship with each other and with God. From leadership development for young women to election monitoring, the programmatic goals of UMW are comprehensive.
UMW has an incredibly strong history of international ministries, dating back to the organization’s earliest missions. Today, the International Committee on Women, Children and Youth of the Women’s Division is focused on leadership development, health issues, girls’ education, children of war, refugees, economic development, poverty, exploitation of women and children, conflict resolution, and the full participation of women in church and society. UMW is also well known for its social justice and advocacy ministries. Historically, UMW was instrumental in anti-lynching campaigns, in Brown vs. Board of Education, and in helping to build the Church Center at the United Nations. Such advocacy work continues today on “child labor and exploitation, the environment, women’s health, the banning of landmines, economic literacy, the rights of children, media monitoring, human rights, world peace,” debt relief, hate crimes, public education reform, and eradicating gender-based violence.
Membership is based solely on a personal commitment to the organization. Members are expected to give of themselves through prayer, participation, and leadership, as they are able. The financial offerings of members support all levels of the UMW ministry. Young women, newly-retired women, and women of diverse racial, cultural, and language groups are being actively recruited and developed as leaders.
Ultimately, the purpose of the United Methodist Women is 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.” The new Deputy General Secretary of the Women’s Division, Jan Love, reflected, “This purpose challenges us, and I fully expect it to continue to challenge the church. This is our calling. This is our mission.”