Catalyst. Advocate. Monitor. Thirty-plus years ago I was asked to start the first Committee on the Status and Role of Women in a local church (Fridley UMC) in the Minnesota Conference. How exciting it was! Fridley UMC COSROW became involved in such things as:
- Encouraging the signing of petitions for the Equal Rights Amendment [catalyst function];
- Helping relocate a woman and her five children from a women's shelter into a home, collecting furniture and befriending her. The local church COSROW paid for her glasses to be fixed so she didn't have to see the world through shattered lenses---a constant reminder of her batterer [advocate function]; and
- Raising consciousness about inclusive language [monitoring function]. We did this by handing the pastor a pink slip after worship services in which he used exclusive language. A white congratulatory note was given him for using inclusive language throughout the service.
Bold, audacious women!
When asked to co-chair COSROW for the Minnesota Conference in the early 1980s and then again in the 1990s, I jumped at the opportunity. Even though I had a full-time job and was working on a master's degree, COSROW fueled my passion. I relished the opportunity to grow and develop both as a feminist and as a United Methodist, all while deepening my faith.
Many years later and just a few days after I retired, I received a call to take a district office in the United Methodist Women. The UMW?! I explained that I had not been active in the UMW for decades. I was told, "That's why we're asking you. We need fresh ideas!" SOLD! After all, these are my sisters in faith! I became a district officer (education and interpretation and social action coordinator) and then president of the North Star District UMW of the Minnesota Conference.
When my four-year tenure as district president ended I was asked to be the COSROW representative to the MN Conference UMW. How perfect was that?! ' Combining these two UMC organizations that I had grown to love!
Here is what I have learned while having my feet planted many years in both UMW and COSROW:
- Heritage: We have the same mother! The UMW is the older sister of COSROW, having been born about 150 years ago. The Women's Division gave birth to COSROW about 41 years ago. Researching the UMW's past is fascinating! Bold, gutsy, forward-thinking women formed the first Methodist mission groups while their nay-saying husbands, brothers, and fathers tried to keep them quiet. No chance! Some of their early mission schools and hospitals are still providing health, wellness and education to the world's poorest of the poor. The early Methodist women wrote their own HERstory and it is alive and well today. COSROW was formed four decades ago by bold, gutsy, forward-thinking women who saw that women's voices were not being heard and women were not in decision-making positions within the UMC. There were very few clergywomen, even though they were given the right to be ordained more than 15 years earlier. No women were district superintendents and no women were bishops. COSROW was born to address these and many other issues affecting women. They had work to do!
- Purposes: UMW= Missions and Social Justice for women, children and youth; COSROW= Monitoring, catalyst, advocate---social justice for women and minorities.
- Social Action Concerns for both UMW and COSROW: Human Trafficking, Poverty, Immigration, Domestic Violence, and many other issues affecting women, children, youth and minorities.
- Funding Sources: UMW raises, budgets and allocates its own money; COSROW receives annual budgets through General Conference/annual conferences.
- Mandates: Both UMW & COSROW are mandated by the Book of Discipline.
Even though UMW and COSROW have distinct roles and purposes, they link together in very significant ways. I have found that there are amazing, courageous, gutsy, concerned women throughout both organizations. Both UMC organizations are focused on giving voice to women and helping to make their lives better. Both are committed to enriching, renewing and growing their Christian faith. They are sister organizations and sisters in faith, supporting each other's work and applauding each other's accomplishments.
Faye Christensen is a retired nursing home administrator for the state of Minnesota.