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Reality Check

Women united

By David Ewart

I have never been a member of a United Church Women’s group, but throughout my ministry I have long admired and appreciated their work. Each unit had its own focus. Some emphasized support for world missions, some prayer, others study and still others local needs. All contributed to welcoming newcomers and building up friendships. And who could number all the teas, dinners and other fundraisers that supported the congregation financially and brought people together in community?

At its founding in 1962, the UCW had 260,000 members. This represented 30 percent of the denomination’s total membership at the time, making the UCW the largest adult organization within the United Church.

While membership has declined by 80 percent to 52,000, the UCW is still a significant presence. In 2012, 80 percent of pastoral charges had UCW groups. The average size of each group was 18, and the threshold to be among the largest 10 percent was 54. And together, these women raised $13.7 million for their congregations and $1.7 million for the Mission and Service Fund.

Over their 50 years, the total amount raised — adjusted for inflation — is $1.5 billion for congregations and $340 million for M&S. Wow. Wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow bring these women — the living and the dead — all together, all at once, and say thank you?

A study of the UCW would reveal much about how Canadian culture has affected the United Church. Those changes that opened greater opportunities for women are to be celebrated. Perhaps not so welcome are the changes that now require all adults to work where they can, when they can. What kind of world are we headed for when too many of us no longer have the time or energy to meet together to study, pray, change the world and form lifelong friendships? A church where 30 percent of its members still did this would rock the foundations of our world.

Rev. David Ewart is a United Church minister in Vancouver.

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