by Julia R. Tulloch and Jorge R. Obando*
United Methodist Women has always been at the forefront of innovation and the use of technology. This year is no exception!
The October 2005 Board of Directors meeting authorized the Women's Division to launch the first, official UMW Online Community. The primary purpose is to enhance the ways our members communicate with each other. By harnessing the power of new technologies, it will be possible for women around the world to participate in online Bible studies, to share knowledge, experiences, ideas, reflections, and much more. Now, United Methodist Women (UMW) will have a common platform from which to move beyond the traditional limitations of time and space, as they dialogue and learn from shared experiences as well as best practices.
The first Online Community is being tested for a pilot period of several months. Then, before the Assembly (May 2006), it will become available to all UMW members. The last stage of this new ministry will provide access to friends of UMW and other partners early in 2007.
Jan Love, Chief Executive of the Women's Division, said, "Through this ministry, women from all across the country and the world will share testimonies of faith, creative approaches to mission, models for effective education, and any ideas they find helpful to participating in Christ's mission with women, children and youth." Noting the capacity of the internet for building supportive networks, Ms. Love stated, "The On-Line Community will be a genuinely democratic platform that facilitates communication across cultures, generations and geographic borders."
Members of the Online Community will share with each other through tools such as chat rooms, posting boards, electronic newsletters, shared files, event calendars, and other state-of-the-art features. Dynamic, enriching conversations will lead to new and enhanced relationships among United Methodist Women and their counterparts in mission around the world.
The Online Community will also allow the Women's Division to distribute materials for spiritual growth, mission education and advocacy to UMW members in more efficient ways. It will also facilitate the work of groups such as the Green Team, Ubuntu Explorers, leaders for Schools of Christian Mission, and others.
"Our membership needs a new and more effective way to communicate," said Cheryl Trent, Assistant General Secretary for Membership and Organizational Development of the Women's Division. "The realities of our women have changed and the realities of the generation of young women we want to reach are different from those of previous generations. We need to speak in their terms and make technology work for them in order to encourage a continuous interest and commitment to our organization."
Young women -- the ones in school, the young professionals and the new moms -- have limited time for face to face meetings. Many women are juggling their families, their education, and their jobs. At the same time, they have interest in and need for deepening their spiritual lives and engagement in mission, but a local unit meeting on Wednesday morning or evening is simply impossible.
Through the Online Community, such women will be able to stay connected with their local units while keeping up with the news of the organization. Also, they will be able get information about subjects that are close to their hearts, while contributing their thoughts and ideas if they desire.
In addition, the Online Community will provide opportunities for life-long members of United Methodist Women, no longer able to attend meetings because of health or mobility issues, to participate actively. Moreover, those living in other countries, and those who reside in the U.S., will be able to interact fully with other women around the world.
The Online Community will enhance the ways in which women will connect to each other and the ways they talk and think about local and global issues. It will provide women a space in which they can be themselves, have voice, and participate or simply observe. The use of such technology is not new, but it is in the pioneering stage in The United Methodist Church and across other denominations. It is now within reach of United Methodist Women.
The church has always used the communications technology of the day to spread the gospel. For Paul, it was the Roman road system; for Luther, it was the printing press; and for us, it is the Internet. The first two served to extend and enhance ministry into a global enterprise. Likewise, the Internet can extend and enhance the work of the church in our digital culture.
News about this upcoming UMW Online Community will be available at http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/ . As progress unfolds, the Women's Division will issue updates on how to use it and how it will extend United Methodist Women's reach across country, down the street, and around the world.
United Methodist Women is an organization with approximately one million members. The organization's purpose is to foster spiritual growth, develop leaders and advocate for justice. Members raise nearly $25 million each year for programs and projects related to women, children and youth in the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world.