Women’s group celebrates past, present, future impact

April 29, 2024 |

At the United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, representatives of United Women in Faith captivated attendees with a dynamic presentation highlighting the organization’s substantial contributions to advocacy and education.

Dancers Annika Schneider (left) and Briana Hanson from United Methodist-related Pfeiffer University help introduce a report from United Women in Faith on April 29 during the United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, N.C.  Mike DuBose photo UM News.

The event began with a striking performance by three dancers from Pfeiffer University, a North Carolina university affiliated with The United Methodist Church. The women wore white T-shirts adorned with the organization’s newly rebranded logo.

Accompanying the dancers were four key figures of the organization: Darlene Alfred (Central Texas Conference lay leader), Sally Vonner (top executive), Karen McElfish (Advisory Board representative) and Bethany Amey Sutton (Executive Board secretary). Each presenter wore one of the United Women in Faith’s solid brand colors — red, yellow, green and blue — creating a vibrant visual unity on stage.

As the dancers moved gracefully across the stage, McElfish and Alfred declared their identity with conviction: “We are united! We are women! We act in faith!”

Vonner then took the stage, detailing the organization’s far-reaching impact.

“We support nearly 90 community centers across the U.S. and give millions to women’s projects around the world,” she said. “We train women leaders and transform through education. With United Methodist Communications, we surveyed many, many women. We listened. We learned. And we acted. We have a new online digital community, a new national membership model, new podcasts and webinars, and we changed our name.”

Vonner issued an invitation to join United Women in Faith’s largest gathering, Assembly, where thousands of women will convene in Indianapolis, Indiana, in May 2026.Sutton, who also heads the Greater New Jersey lay delegation, shared pivotal historical moments that have defined the organization.

“When the church formed the racist Central Jurisdiction,” she said, “we wrote the first Charter for Racial Justice. When the United Nations built its headquarters in New York, we built the Church Center for the United Nations right across the street. It is our headquarters today.”

Bethany Amey Sutton

Sutton also connected the group’s mission to significant educational and health initiatives, stating, “When enslaved people were being freed, we built colleges. We still support HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) Clark-Atlanta University and Bennett College.”

She concluded with a nod to recent advocacy victories. “When exposure to diesel exhaust made children sick,” Sutton said, “we advocated for electric school buses and better air quality in schools, and Congress dedicated over $5 billion to make it happen.”

McElfish and Alfred addressed the indispensable role of laywomen in the fabric of The United Methodist Church. “Laywomen are the backbone of the church,” McElfish said, drawing attention to the foundational role women play in church life.

Alfred, affirming the depth of commitment among the women, added, “As the laywomen’s organization of The United Methodist Church, our Methodist roots run deep.”

She emphasized the necessity for the church to reflect the makeup of its congregation in its leadership, noting that women are 58 percent of The United Methodist Church. “How different would our church be if we were also 58 percent of General Conference?”

The call for equitable representation and leadership was clear.

“We want a church that elects, hires, ordains and appoints women equitably. A church that is antiracist and multicultural,” Alfred said, envisioning a church that mirrors the community it serves.

From the podium, Vonner cast a vision for the future, rooted in the ethos of United Women in Faith.

“We believe in a bright future, and we believe that love in action can change the world.” She extended an invitation: “Join us.”

Main photo: Sally Vonner, United Women in Faith top executive, and Bethany Amey Sutton, secretary of the group’s Executive Board, join hands on stage at the United Methodist General Conference in Charlotte, N.C., on April 29. Bethany Amey, is coleader of the GNJ delegation. Corbin Payne photo