There are so many challenges that cause fear and anxiety in communities across the country. People are hurting and in need of hope. But at a time of increased clutter and content, not every voice can be trusted. For those searching for trusted leaders and uplifting content, consider Sally Vonner and United Women in Faith. With more than 800,000 members worldwide, United Women in Faith is the largest denominational organization for women in the nation. Recently, Vonner was elected as the organization’s new general secretary and CEO. Her office is in New York City, though the organization operates globally.
I had a chance to catch up with Sally when I interviewed her on the “Faith Talks” podcast, which I host for the organization every month. You may listen here. I also interviewed her for this piece. Read on to learn about this inspiring leader who is proving that powerful women defy the odds at every stage in life.
What do you want readers to know about United Women in Faith?
United Women in Faith is a sisterhood of women who just believe our love in action can change the world for good. We focus on service and advocacy to address the needs of women, children, and youth and providing women with opportunities for spiritual growth, leadership development, and transformative education about the world God so loves.
We support programs for women, children, youth, and families across the United States at more than 90 community centers, residences, and schools and internationally through partner organizations and our own “regional missionaries,” who are women leading empowerment programs for women and youth in their home and neighboring nations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.
We were founded in 1869, and today we are the largest denominational organization for women as part of The United Methodist Church. In 2022 we took a new name to reflect our desire to welcome and embrace all women interested in making a difference in their lives and the lives of others.
Tell us about your history with United Women in Faith?
I’m a longtime member of the organization on the local, district, conference, and national levels. Prior to becoming general secretary and CEO, I joined United Women in Faith’s national staff as assistant general secretary of membership and leadership development in 2010. I am only the second Black woman to be elected to lead United Women in Faith and its predecessors in the organization’s 154-year history. Theressa Hoover, who led from 1968 to 1990 was the first Black woman to lead the organization.
What does it mean to you to lead this organization and to do so now?
It is an incredible honor to helm an organization with such an established and impressive track record. Notable women —such as the great educator Mary McLeod Bethune, congressional trailblazer Shirley Chisholm, and suffragist Francis Willard —were members of United Women in Faith predecessor organizations, and I follow in these and many others’ steps. Women who decided that the status quo was unacceptable were affiliated with our organization, and I follow in their footsteps. At a time of so much strife and suffering, United Women in Faith aims to nurture and connect with women through Christian spiritual formation, leadership development, creative fellowship, and education so that they can inspire, influence and impact local and global communities.
How can readers join?
Readers can visit www.uwfaith.org to join. We welcome all women who embrace our mission, purpose and vision, regardless of denomination.
How long have you been associated with The United Methodist Church?
I have been United Methodist since 1983. I also have held several positions within The United Methodist Church, including jurisdictional conference delegate for the North Texas Annual Conference and alternate in 2008, 2016, and 2020. I was an organizer for the denomination’s work on immigration assistance, community development initiatives, and dismantling racism work. I was also commissioned as a U.S. missionary by the General Board of Global Ministries in 2000 to serve in the North Texas Annual Conference as the Communities of Shalom Coordinator. Additionally, I was fortunate to serve as the Associate Director of Connectional Ministries for the North Texas Annual Conference from 2005-2010.
In this new capacity, what will be your primary focus?
My primary focus is to continue to expand United Women in Faith’s mission and reach as we put our love and faith in action to change the world, and work to improve the lives of women, children, and youth around the world. My leadership style will be characterized by faith and trust in God, and inclusivity. I will draw upon the wisdom and ingenuity of our membership, the board of directors, the Program Advisory Group, and my colleagues.
What organizations are you connected with outside of United Women in Faith/the Methodist Church?
I serve on the board of The Wesley campus ministry at my alma mater Texas A&M Commerce. I am also vice president of New York Justice For Our Neighbors. I am a long-time member of Black Methodists for Church Renewal at the conference, jurisdiction, and national levels. Since 2021, I’ve been a part of the women’s leadership cohort with JP Morgan Chase’s Community and Business Development division. I am also an active member of the Bergen County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
Will there be an official ceremony or installation to kick off your leadership term?
Yes, there will be an installation service on July 29 in Dallas. Additional details are forthcoming.
Why are you being installed in Dallas versus New York City where United Women in Faith is headquartered?
While the organization is headquartered in New York, I wanted the ceremony to be held in Dallas where I am from and be accessible to more members, family and friends. It is important to me that my leadership be grounded in our members. I am sending a message that I will lead this organization with values of inclusivity, compassion, and innovation.
Can you talk more about your philosophy on leadership?
Regardless of the title one holds, leadership is a communal process. We rise and fall together. Great leaders seek counsel and that’s what I intend to do – center the wisdom and ingenuity of our membership and include their perspectives on matters great and small.
Where do you worship?
I am a long-time member of First United Methodist Church of Grand Prairie, Texas; and I regularly attend Teaneck United Methodist Church in New Jersey (and am a member of the local United Women in Faith group).
Jennifer R. Farmer is the author of “First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life,” and founder of Spotlight PR LLC. She is a consultant for United Women in Faith.
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