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Local United Methodist Women to celebrate anniversary

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This photo, believed to be from 1909, depicts one of the earliest projects of the United Methodist Women, when it was known as the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society and functioned as part of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Dr. Clara Swain was one of the group’s first women missionaries to India. (Submitted photo)

A group of local Christian women meet every month to pray about and decide what type of help to offer disadvantaged women and children, and this Saturday they will mark the 150th anniversary of the international organization that gave rise to their efforts.

What is now the United Methodist Women started in 1869 as the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Service of the Methodist Episcopal Church based out of Boston. About eight women sought to help impoverished women and youth, especially those who lacked health care and education. Some of its first actions included the building of a school and a hospital in India.

Now the organization, operating autonomously since October 2012, has about 800,000 members and operates in all U.S. states and 110 countries, according to its website. Its members have raised more than $20 million and now are working on 120 projects that address such social issues as immigration justice, climate justice, economic inequality, human trafficking and peace building. 

In March 2013, a Roswell woman, Onita Ahlen, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church on South Union Street, decided to form a local group, what is known as a “cluster” unit because members from different Methodist churches in Roswell belong. But, she adds, women do not have to be Methodists to participate.

“My door is open to any woman who wants to be involved,” said Ahlen, a retired telephone company and American West airline employee who moved to Roswell in 2004.

The group will meet 9 a.m. Saturday at Peachtree Village, 1301 W. Country Club Road, to commemorate the international group’s anniversary, as well the local group’s sixth year. Ron Biggers, the founder of Main Thing First, which helps the families of the incarcerated, is scheduled as the speaker.

“It’s programs like that we like to get involved with, be more knowledgeable about and support if we can,” she said, “because those are the young people who are so vulnerable. So we need to reach out them and let them know they are important. We want them to have better lives and try to lead them to Christ.”

Ahlen said that she and about six other women regularly meet the fourth Saturday morning at Peachtree to discuss readings about various issues facing women and children, to pray and to decide what human steps to take to help meet the need.

Last year, the group donated $170 each to 10 different charities locally, nationally and internationally, having raised the money from donations, offerings and silent auctions held at events. But Ahlen said the work has more facets than donations alone.

“Our work is not just about service. It is about worship. It is about stepping up and stepping out where there is a need,” she said. “In other words, where there is a need, our prayers go with it first, and then we do what we can to enhance the work of another community that is working in the same direction we are.”