New England UMW hosts annual meeting

Guest speaker was Julie Taylor, executive director of the National Farm Worker Ministry. See more photos at right.

October 30, 2018

The New England Conference United Methodist Women gathered for their annual meeting on Oct. 27, 2018 at Memorial UMC in Taunton, MA.

Along with conducting the business of electing officers and approving a budget, the women celebrated the history of the UMW, which began with a meeting of six women in Boston in March 1869.

By November of that year, the newly formed organization raised funds to send Isabella Thoburn, an educator, and Clara Swain, a physician, to India. UMW members Susan Carney and Amy Bruns did a short skit portraying Thoburn and Swain, respectively.

Ms. Thoburn began a school that eventually expanded to include Isabella Thoburn College, the first women’s college in Asia. Dr. Swain’s work resulted in the establishment of Asia’s first women’s hospital. Both of these institutions are still serving the people of India.

Those attending Saturday’s meeting were encouraged to support the UMW Legacy Fund, which provides the funding for the hospital, the college, and 100 other mission sites. Watch the video below:

UMW: First Missionaries from New England Conference UMC on Vimeo.

On March 23, 2019 the UMW will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding at Boston University. Watch the news for details.

Special guest speaker for this year’s gathering was Julie Taylor, executive director of the National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM). Taylor has led the organization since 2015; she came to NFWM in 2000 as a board member representing the UMW, which is one of NFWM’s 27 member organizations.

Taylor was invited to speak about NFWM’s work advocating with the nation’s 2 million farm workers, who are among the country’s lowest paid labor force, but she took some time to talk about the UMW too.

Speaking of the skit, Taylor said: “It makes me excited about UMW, because we’re still here. … There they [Swain and Thoburn] went, called by God, and those institutions still exist today … A school that women gave to and continue to give to over the years – women who would never see it or know much about it had a part in it. That’s what I love about UMW. We’re here today; we have a part in an organization that’s larger than us.”

And one of the UMW’s principles is a focus on economic justice. Taylor said it’s important to make the distinction as an advocate between standing up for someone and standing with someone.

The underpinning of the organization I’m part of is the church migrant ministries of the 1920s, Taylor said. Church people would visit migrant labor camps and bring Sunday school materials, communion, food for the workers, etc.

The migrant workers they met said “they wanted the fellowship, but not the charity,” Taylor said.

They were saying, ‘I appreciate what you’re giving me, but what I really want is a job or to make enough to purchase things myself,’” she said.

“We’re here to give each other something,” Taylor said. “That’s relationship. That’s what ‘standing with’ is all about.”
She described “standing with” as “being with a person when it’s not advantageous [to yourself] to do so.” She pointed to many examples in the Bible including Ruth and Naomi and Moses standing with the Hebrews.

“Jesus spent time with the poor, the hungry, children, prostitutes …,” Taylor said. “Jesus is our model; He stood with everybody.”

Taylor said that some 71 percent of America’s farm workers are immigrants – and most of those are from Mexico. The Department of Labor estimates that 59 percent of those immigrants are undocumented; many advocates believe the number is higher, she said.

Their immigration status, isolation in rural areas, and the fact that some don’t speak English or Spanish, but indigenous Mexican languages makes farm workers “vulnerable to exploitation,” Taylor said.

“Of the ones who are undocumented, over half have been in U.S. for more than 10 years,” she said. “A lot of our system has operated on the fact that they are here, and they’re a cheap form of labor.”

Farm workers have some of the lowest annual incomes of wage earners in the U.S. – averaging $16,000 a year. They are also one of only two classes of workers (the other is domestic workers) who are not entitled to overtime under the law despite often working 12- to 16-hour days.

“Food prices in the U.S. are lower than in most of the international community,” Taylor said, “and we benefit from the fact that we use very cheap labor to do a lot of the hand picking [of our produce].”

Taylor suggested ways that people can be advocates including calling elected officials, signing petitions, and by praying. She spoke about some of the NFWM’s current campaigns to support farm workers. Find more information about those efforts here.

Taylor cautioned that when it comes to “advocacy around issues related to poverty – things don’t happen quickly,” but encouraged people to keep at it. “Sometimes it’s simply persistence that makes something change,” she said.

On Saturday, the UMW also took time to honor some among its membership with Special Mission Recognition. This year, five women were honored: the Rev. Jill Colley Robinson, Vermont District Superintendent; Ruby Kelly, Connecticut/Western MA District; Sherry Anne Bryant, Central MA District; Young Hee Jun, Korean UMW, and Lynn Twitchell, Mid-Maine District.

Those retiring from their leadership roles were also recognized: Roberta Bragan, Esther Chung, Karen Ritz-Perkins, Carla Ganter, and Karen Berg.

Incoming officers are Betty Shippee, president; Sherry Culver, vice president; Nancy Merrick, treasurer, and Pam Mavrelion, secretary.