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Stereotypes of church women are not always accurate

Stereotypes of church women are not always accurate, especially when it comes to being a member of United Methodist Women

By Nancy Veglahn: Nancy Veglahn is a member of Sioux Falls First United Methodist Church and United Methodist Women in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  This article is reprinted from United Methodist Women News, Vol. 6., No. 4, 2013.

I’ve never liked those “church basement ladies” plays very much.  Oh, I laugh at the jokes and recognize silly situations I’ve seen and even been part of, but they always make me a bit uneasy too.  These plays make fun of our mothers and grandmothers who spent a lot of time in the church basement because that’s where the kitchen was.  They weren’t generally invited to be on boards and committees where important decisions were made, and they weren’t invited to serve as ushers or liturgists, let alone as – gasp! – pastors. 

My grandmother, a loyal member of Ladies Aid and then the Women’s Society of Christian Service, also marched in a suffragette parade and was the first women in her part of town to “bob” her hair.  Where did she get these uppity ideas?  From the church – especially from the women’s groups at the church that encouraged her to read and ask questions and think for herself. 

Perhaps narrow-minded “queens of the kitchen” existed and still exist, but they don’t represent the majority of the women I’ve known in my 60-plus years as a church lady.  The ones I remember best were leaders, learners, cutting-edge activist, Rosie the Riveter types who couldn’t wait to get out of the basement. 

I don’t want to make light of kitchen work in the life of the church; we probably bond more and minister to one another better over a good meal than we do sitting in row in the pews of Sunday mornings.  Some people are called to what work and bless the rest of us in the doing of it.  But they aren’t all women In my current church, men have pretty well taken over the kitchen.  The stereotype of the church basement lady has incorrectly attached itself to United Methodist Women, especially in the minds of those who aren’t involved in it. 

It was in the Women’s Society of Christian Service and United Methodist Women that I first encountered feminism.  My church lady friends read Betty Friedan and Gloria Stienem.  They got together in small groups and talked about change.  They asked the important questions:  Why, exactly, weren’t women allowed to be ordained as pastors?  Did “Rise Up O Men of God” include us or not?  The women’s groups in the churches I belonged encouraged their members to study current issues and take action in response to what they learned.  It’s no accident that our monthly magazine is called response.  The national organization sponsors the Reading Program, with new books added regularly.  Mission u is held each summer and fall featuring classes on topics of interest based on United Methodist Women mission studies.  I don’t remember ay sessions on cupcake decorating or how to have a successful bake sale.  The studies range from economics to social justice and the world religions to spiritual growth.  (And even United Methodist Women bake sales raise important funds for mission.)

One day when I was having coffee with some women from our church, someone told a funny story about her college days.  We started reminiscing about similar incidents a our various schools, and I noticed that my friend was uncharacteristically silent through this.  I blurted out a thoughtless question:  “Where did you go to college?”   She smiled, perfectly at ease.  “ My university was – and is – United Methodist Women.”  She is a bright, well-informed person, a respected church leader and a confident challenger or the status quo. 

The thing is, you never graduate from United Methodist Women.  You’re constantly urged to learn and grow.  I don’t fell any scorn for those “church basement ladies” of the past, nor do they seem laughable to me.  Just look at them now!


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