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Women’s agency hits refresh, expands welcome (UM News)

March 17, 2022

The name change that’s transformed “United Methodist Women” into “United Women in Faith” was announced the same day word came that General Conference was being delayed again, this time until 2024.

That timing overshadowed the changes to this 153-year-old organization, which go deeper than a new name.

“Changing the name was not our starting place,” said Sally Vonner, transformation officer of United Women in Faith. “The research process was more about our own self-examination. How do we present to women in the church and even women beyond the church? It was always about being inclusive.”

Vonner and Harriett Jane Olson, top executive of the agency that works to connect and nurture women to inspire and impact their communities, answered questions about the changes during a Zoom meeting with United Methodist News. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Does General Conference have to approve your new name before it becomes official?

Olson: No. We’re going to remain United Methodist Women as our corporate name. United Women in Faith will be a doing-business-as name. We’re not changing the purpose or how the deaconesses act or our governing structure, and those are the things for us that are in the (Book of) Discipline. There’s no necessary disciplinary changes to effectuate this.

Does the deletion of “Methodist” from the agency name indicate you will be trying to attract women who aren’t United Methodist, similar to ecumenical organizations like Church Women United?

Olson: That was not the intention. I will say, though, that the bylaws have always allowed persons outside the church to be members. We have a handful of Roman Catholic members and women from other Protestant traditions. … There are churches that don’t have women’s organizations, so for women who are looking to connect with other faithful women, deepen their faith and put their faith into action, United Women in Faith will be available.

Recruiting members is one of your stated priorities. Is that driving a lot of these changes?

Olson: That’s very foundational. We want to make sure that women in the church really do feel invited. That’s missional for us. On a parallel track, as the conversations (about the future of the church took place), we had inquiries from women who were in settings where their churches were talking about leaving, both progressive women and women in places that might be called traditional. “We want to stay connected and how would that work?” What would change in the church mean for them?