“The Lord gives the word of power; the women who bear and publish the news are a great host.” – Psalms 68:11
The 2016 General Conference was good news indeed for women’s ministry in The United Methodist Church. Legislation developed by the Renew Network, the women’s arm of Good News, was adopted to allow ministries to women and men in addition to UMW and UMM.
For some, the addition to paragraph 256.7 opens the door for churches to welcome women’s ministry that meets the unique needs and gifts of their particular congregation and conference. No longer is women’s ministry “one size fits all,” nor is the United Methodist Women under the leadership of the New York office the only official women’s ministry outlet.
For others, the Book of Discipline now officially recognizes and encourages the vibrant work of women that has been taking place for decades. One such women’s ministry is Celebration Women’s Ministry, which began in the Texas Annual Conference and dates back to 1997.
Katy Kiser, team leader of the Renew Network, recently sat down and spoke with Judy Graham, president and co-founder of Celebration Women’s Ministry.
Judy, why did you and others feel there was a need for a women’s ministry like Celebration?
There were three founders of Celebration who saw women hungering for spiritual growth. We recognized everyone needs to experience the power of God; that was simply not happening in some of our ministries. We knew that the church cannot transform the world unless we individually have been healed and transformed.
Some needed the basic step of accepting salvation and the life that God intended through Jesus Christ. Others were seeking opportunities for spiritual growth and discipleship. Many women needed the healing touch that only Jesus can provide. And all women needed the sweet fellowship of one another and the power of each other’s prayers.
Many of our churches needed to develop women’s ministry that met these needs. But let me be clear, the founders, including myself, simply recognized a work that God was already doing and joined it. He led us to work within the UM Church and develop a structure by which women could connect to each other and reach out.
How did the Lord lead you to meet these needs?
In 1997, we approached Bishop Woodrow Hearn who gave us his support, as did our annual conference. At our first event, 65 women leaders from 22 churches in our conference committed to pray on a monthly basis for Celebration. We held a meeting at St. Luke’s UM Church in Houston where over 500 women attended. Not long after this, another 55 women from 16 churches met in East Texas and enthusiastically embraced our vision. Subsequently, at the invitation of pastors and lay women, Celebration was started.
Over the next year and a half, Celebration became a foundation and a covering for women’s ministries in which the focus was on salvation, healing, and equipping based on Luke 4:18-19. By providing speakers and studies in these three areas, Celebration met and continues to meet a full range of women’s needs including praise, worship, prayer, personal witness, Bible study, and fellowship. Today in the Texas Conference we have 21 chapters and new chapters are still being added.
You mention that prayer played a role very early on in starting this ministry. Does that continue to be the case for the organization?
We believe that all beginnings should be birthed in prayer. In fact, we ask women interested in having Celebration at their church to pray for several months and receive God’s vision before becoming a chapter. We also ask that each chapter keep their church, its leadership, and their pastor in prayer as well as our ministry.
The National Board has developed “Guidelines for Intercessory Prayer.” Praying key scriptures is just one tool we encourage along with prayer for renewal, revival, and unity. We also pray for one another. We want women to expect God to answer their prayers: for the church, this ministry, and their personal needs. Prayer teams that meet regularly and email prayer teams operate between chapter meetings. We also maintain a prayer room at the Texas Annual Conference each year. Bishop Janice Huie wrote to us, “Thank you for the beautiful prayer chapel your team provides during the Texas Annual Conference. Your oasis helps us strengthen ourselves for ministry decisions.”
Has Celebration been limited to the Texas Conference or the UM Church for that matter?
2017 marks eighteen years of service for Celebration Women’s Ministry. In that time we have begun chapters in Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico. Celebration is seeing walls come down when women come together to worship Jesus. In our meetings are women of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds.
This ministry is not limited to the UM Church; we work across denominational lines, because regardless of denominational affiliations, women need Jesus and women need each other. The Celebration chapter in Appomattox, Virginia, is one example.
Our National Board is particularly excited about the adoption of Renew Network’s legislation by the 2016 General Conference that gives denominational approval to women’s ministries like ours. While we have always had official approval from our conference and local churches, we expect this action will have a big effect on the expansion of Celebration in other UM conferences not to mention other vital ministries.
Of course, expansion is meaningless unless the lives of women are being freed to heal from sin, grow in Christ, and become equipped to share what God is doing in their personal lives and the life of the church.
Can you share one of those testimonies?
Over the years, we have received thousands of testimonies of lives that were changed by our ministry. One of our members wrote after a Celebration National Conference: “I was a broken child of God. The conference was such a blessing. The main message couldn’t have been more relevant to what I needed. 2 Timothy 1:7: ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love, and self-control.’ I am now, finally, living for God and it feels so great.”
What would be your advice to women who want to begin alternative ministries in their church?
Prayer should be first; it is essential, as well as working with your pastor and church leaders. If your ministry grows beyond your local church, I also would advise working with your bishop and conference leaders. For those who wish to begin a Celebration chapter, all the principles, steps, and requirements are on our website. We have a leadership team that personally guides new chapters and trains their leaders.
Judy, what are your general thoughts about the UM Church and the state of women’s ministry?
Like Renew and Good News, I realize our church is in a crisis over human sexuality, and I would not want to discount that in any way. But at the same time, I see God moving in a mighty way. For years, many of us have been praying and working for renewal. Much of what happened at General Conference indicates that is happening. I contacted Renew when I heard that the GC had adopted legislation officially recognizing a variety of women’s ministries. I felt this was monumental. We need to move where God is moving. Praise God that is happening. In my mind, another huge indicator is the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA).
Since 2017 marks eighteen years of ministry to women, what will Celebration do to celebrate?
Our celebration begins at our National Conference – the theme is “Covered” – and will continue in our chapter meetings throughout the year. Our theme is taken from Psalms 91:4: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
We are praying that the Holy Spirit will join us and stir our hearts and minds to heed His word.
If you would like to learn more about Celebration Women’s Ministries or Renew Network, please visit their websites: http://celebrationministries.org and http://renewnetwork.