Organization hits 65th year of helping women around the world
by: Carole Archer, From left, Laura Sewell and Ann Richards of the Eastmont Chapter of Church Women United stand next to a banner representing 20 participating local churches at Trinity Lutheran Church on Friday, Dec 1.

Members of the Eastmont Chapter of Church Women United celebrated the 65th anniversary of their organization this month.

The had the usual celebratory birthday cake, but as they have done in recent years, the women brought offerings representative of the anniversary - whether that meant $0.65, $6.50 or $65 - to be sent to the national Church Women United board to help continue their ministry, said Ann Richards, chapter president.

Church Women United was founded in 1941 as a racially, culturally, theologically inclusive Christian women's movement, celebrating unity in diversity and working for a world of peace and justice.

Originally called the United Council of Church Women, the movement began when women of faith from three interdenominational groups representing 70 denominations met in December 1941 in Atlantic City.

Participants circulated a petition that was signed by 84,000 women urging the United States to sign the United Nations Charter.

Richards, a retired Presbyterian pastor, joined the Eastmont Chapter of Church Women United in 1996.

She had previously been a member of a chapter of Church Women United in Tacoma, Wash., and said she enjoys being part of the organization.

'I like the ecumenical flavor of it and the opportunity to meet women of different denominations,' Richards said.

For Laura Sewell, vice president and program director for the Eastmont Chapter, being a part of Church Women United has not only meant getting to know women of different denominations, but also different nationalities.

She lived in India for a number of years and worked for the Church of North India. While she was there, she helped translate the Church Women United programs into the language of the people she was working with.

One thing that sets the Eastmont Chapter apart from other Church Women United groups is that the members meet monthly rather than just quarterly for the organization's four big celebrations, Sewell said.

The number of denominations represented also makes the group somewhat unique, she said.

Each month, somewhere between 35 and 40 women attend the meetings.

They embody approximately 20 different religious traditions, each of which is symbolized by a personalized square on the chapter banner.

Although newsletters go out to all of the area churches, most new members find out about Church Women United by word of mouth - from a friend or a fellow parishioner, Richards said.

She sees a need to get more young people involved in Church Women United, a goal that is somewhat challenging because of the group's midday meeting times, she said.

There are no dues or membership fees in Church Women United, but members bring monthly offerings to the meetings, which are then distributed to various organizations that work to improve the lives of women.

Richards said she is always impressed with how much money the women bring in to support their chosen organizations.

They collectively pledge approximately $1,300 a year to the organization of their choice.

Through their offerings, the members of Church Women United support everything from Human Solutions, Snow-CAP and Zarephath Ministries to the Sandy Community Center and Clackamas Women's Service.

They also raise money for My Sister's House, Habitat for Humanity, Heifer Project and American Bible Society.

In addition, members of the group also make quilts for Snow-CAP.

Outside of the Church Women United group, Richards serves on the Snow-CAP board and volunteers at Daybreak Shelter in Portland.

Sewell tutors in local elementary schools through the OASIS program. She also serves as the state celebrations chair for Church Women United.

Like Richards and Sewell, most of the women in the Eastmont Chapter of Church Women United volunteer either on their own or through their respective churches, but generally do not do service projects as an organization.

'We don't seem to have any problems finding people to do things,' Richards said.

Church women united celebrations

• World Day of Prayer - Celebrated the first Friday in March. Women in 180 countries come together to observe a common day of prayer and worship.

• May Friendship Day - Celebrated the first weekend in May. Women examine their friendships with other women through Bible study and worship that is intended to build and strengthen relationships.

• World Community Day - Celebrated the first weekend in November. People of all faiths join together in this inclusive worship experience to affirm the organization's commitment to justice and peace among all peoples and nations.

• The Fellowship of the Least Coin - A worldwide ecumenical movement of prayer for peace and reconciliation. Participants commit to praying for those who are victims of jealously, hatred, violence and injustice.

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