Ten years ago I met two very special women for the first time. Ann Baarda, Kathleen Pearson and I had just been appointed as the next British Unit Officers for the World Federation of Methodist & Uniting Church Women and began shadowing our predecessors at a meeting in Warrington in October 2005. Since then the three of us have become close companions and friends – particularly when we discovered, a little later, that we were to be responsible for hosting the next European Seminar of WFM&UCW! This was a hugely steep learning curve for us all, culminating in a 4-day conference at the Erskine Bridge Hotel, Glasgow, with 210 women from 21 different European countries. That gave all of us a few grey hairs, as well as some lasting friendships and transformative encounters. Whilst in office we held meetings around the UK and also travelled to South Korea and South Africa for World Assemblies. More recently the three of us together led a residential event for Methodist women in Hungary, renewing friendships first made in 2009 at Erskine Bridge.
So when Kathleen suggested that we should mark this decade of friendship and working together, we all jumped at the idea. With two of us now living north of the border, Glasgow was the obvious venue. As Unit Correspondent, I presented the others with an agenda – not for this gathering, but the agenda from our first meeting ten years ago and we reminisced about the business that day and since.
WFM&UCW (the British Unit of which is now incorporated into Methodist Women in Britain) takes very seriously the empowerment of women around the world and much of what we did together involved raising awareness of the Millennium Development Goals and promoting activity in circuits and districts to “make a difference”, to change the world. It seemed fitting, therefore, to go together, on a wet afternoon in Glasgow, to watch “Suffragette” the new film about the activities of working class women who were caught up in the struggle for equality and justice a century ago. Perhaps I had expected to see our own efforts mirrored in the film as women came together to organise meetings, make banners, write pamphlets, promote activism… all of that Kathleen, Ann and I have done for the past decade and more. But the film took us much deeper and I was humbled to see these women sacrifice relationships, suffer physical brutality, survive force-feeding and, ultimately, surrender life to draw attention to their cause. We all came out inspired yes, but subdued too – the fight for justice is just that, a fight, as thousands around the world know to their cost every day. We wondered what Maud, Violet, Emily or Edith would have made of the world in which we live in 2015 – have we built upon their sacrifices as well as we might – or would they be horrified at the gender discrimination which is still rife in politics, business and the media? And what about the church?
I am thankful to God for Kathleen and Ann – for all they continue to do in their communities and churches, and for our friendship – a friendship in which we accept and support each other – warts and all! If we meet up again in 2025, what will the world be like then? Jill