The Church Street chapter of United Methodist Women is a vibrant community of more than 200 women from all walks of life. Whether at an annual Bake Sale or Call to Prayer, you’ve likely come into contact with a few members.
When the pandemic halted in person activities at Church Street last spring, UMW President Jana Davison wasn’t sure what would come next.
“I’d never heard of Zoom. I’d never watched YouTube,” Davison says. “When we realized this was long term, I mean, you can’t just stop this stuff. I don’t remember what I saw the first time on Zoom, but it occurred to me that we’ve got to get going again.”
So, after a brief pause, meetings and events continued virtually and have since without missing a beat.
“At first, I had a love/hate relationship with Zoom,” Davison says, “but it has been my lifeline.”
Cultivating community virtually
Meeting on Zoom hasn’t been a lifeline for just Davison. She has seen the UMW community grow to reach not just local members, but women across the nation.
“The really good thing is we have had people join us that never would have been with us otherwise,” Davison says. “It’s been wonderful.”
In addition to members that aren’t normally able to join because of work and other prior commitments, Davison says that younger people have joined that may not have joined because of school.
“I think we’ve done a really great job of trying to adapt to the situation,” organizer of book studies Susan Dominick says. “And in many ways, it couldn’t have been any better in person.”
During one recent book review, a member who is homebound joined one of the Zoom sessions thanks to the help of a staff member at her senior living community.
“My heart exploded,” Davison says. “We haven’t seen her in four years or so.”
Moments like this are what encourage members like Betty Craig to search for more ways to interact with the community, whether that’s in Knoxville or across the country in Oregon.
“Being able to reach people who can’t come means that Zoom has to continue,” Craig says. “When we’re back in person, we can record things and reach more people if they can’t participate at the time.”
A four-week study held in October on Zoom based on the book “Finding Peace in an Anxious World” reached up to 50 attendees each week. Led by Celia Ferguson, the timely education and conversation each week shared how the spiritual disciplines of scripture and prayer can help us with our anxiety.
“I had many people tell me ‘This is what I needed,’” Ferguson says. “It helped them find some grounding in their faith as well as gave them some tools.”
That conversation each week reached women outside of the normal UMW audience like younger women in Knoxville and Nashville, and women in Montana and Washington D.C.
“We would never dream of extending those boundaries,” Davison says. “It’s never been physically possible.”
Giving back to the community
In a typical year, UMW members find themselves very active in community service, whether that is through service projects at the church and for the church’s ministries and missions, or it extends to the East Tennessee community at large.
“If you want something done, ask United Methodist Women,” Davison says. “We send the plea out, and within minutes, my phone will blow up. That’s just how we roll.”
One plea last summer was for cloth masks to be made for Green Magnet Academy, Knox County School System’s only elementary STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) program. The school is located in a low-income area near the church.
Last summer, the school was in desperate need of masks before the start of the fall semester, and Davison shared the assistant principal’s plea for help with members. Knowing that the UMW had women of various craft backgrounds, Davison shared the plea with the unit.
Craig was one of the members to respond to the plea for 350 masks; the UMW surpassed what was needed by the school. When the plea rang out again in January, Craig crafted 98 of the 267 additional masks made by UMW members; while only 150 were needed by Green Magnet at the time, the Church Street UMW nearly doubled the number, giving the school a welcome surplus at the height of the pandemic in Knox County.
“It’s truly the most talented group of people I’ve ever been around. And that is counting some really, really great companies,” Davison says. “They just don’t work better together than this group of ladies.”
“Nobody cares to stick their hand[s] in and get them dirty,” Davison adds. “Nobody cares. It’s just amazing.”
And just as there was no hesitation to help provide masks for the children of Green Magnet Academy, there was no hesitation to help provide the church community with a resemblance of normalcy, by offering a drive-thru bake sale option at the start of the holidays.
The annual UMW Bake Sale is one of the most anticipated events at the church, as members race to the table to get the best goodies church members have to offer. And when the idea of a virtual bake sale was brought to the table during a virtual monthly meeting in 2020, it didn’t take long for UMW members Ann Reego, Dominick and Jean Galyon to say they’d lead the charge.
With the help of Communications Director Katie Strangis, a sign up platform for baked goods was identified and sent to the church community with an invitation to contribute baked goods for the sale. Within a few days, Reego says she knew it would be a success.
“The first two days, I was in tears,” Reego says. “We got so many submissions that I was drowning.”
Once baked goods were donated, church members were able to reserve and purchase baked goods they’d like online before coming to pick-up the weekend before Thanksgiving. In addition to baked goods, Tim Ward sold Messiah CDs from the Church Street Choir, , Rev. Jan Buxton Wade’s Table Graces Volume II was available, and the Service Circle of UMW made $800 in quilts, pillows and throws to contribute to the sale.
With over 100 donors and 75 buyers, the bake sale fell into place and the profit was almost the same as a pre-pandemic year.
“The Lord smiled on us, and it was a gorgeous day,” Reego says. “It was a Saturday morning with the sun shining and we just had everything dropped off and picked up.”
Davison says that although she was nervous about the turnout, she can’t imagine the bake sale going any better.
“If this were a corporation, if what we have done was a corporation or business, it gives me cold chills. I’d rate it higher than any business,” Davison says. “The commitment of the people is stronger than the commitment of any place I’ve worked in my career.”
“I just have never seen anything like it and I thought I’d seen it all,” Davison adds.
Because the fall bake sale was a resounding success, the UMW organized its Spring Gifts and Goodies Sale, just in time for Mother’s Day 2021. Again, the sale took place online, but this time it included handmade gifts from talented members of the Church Street family, including handmade cards, handcrafted wooden items, jewelry, and handmade garden decor, among others. On May 16, the UMW will lead the congregation in all worship services, in person and online, as the church celebrates the outreach and connection of this vital ministry in our community.
If you’d like to learn more about the United Methodist Women chapter at Church Street United Methodist Church, please contact President Jana Davison.