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Ethel Born

Ethel Born

Ethel Born at a book signing for From Memory to Hope.

Ethel Born says, with a twinkle in her eye, "It was not in my plan."

Not in her plan to devote herself to decades of work with United Methodist Women and the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women? Not in her plan to become the chronicler of the World Federation? Not in her plan to become a well-respected leader in United Methodism? Perhaps not—but it was certainly in God's plan.

Growing up, Ms. Born and her family were active in the Methodist Protestant Church in Morgantown, W.Va., where she was baptized and joined the church on profession of faith at the age of 7. Ms. Born's transition from the youth department to participation in the young woman's circle at the church happened at about the time of the Methodist Church union in 1939.

At the age of 18, Ms. Born served as Fairmont District Treasurer of the Women's Society of Christian Service. "The women were so much older than I, my mother's age, and their spiritual depth deeply impressed me," she said. Ms. Born made posters, spoke at women's meetings and grew in love and commitment to the women's mission organization. After she married her husband Harry they moved to New York City briefly and then settled in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C.

Ms. Born became a member of the National League of American Pen Women and the National Association of Parliamentarians. She served as president of the Virginia Conference United Methodist Women, then as a director of the General Board of Global Ministries from 1976-1984. During those years she also served on the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Women's Division boards. From 1980 to 1984 she was vice president of the then-Women's Division, serving on the division's history committee for its 100th anniversary celebration. She later served on the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, the Interfaith Commission of the National Council of Churches of Christ, the Pan Methodist Commission on Cooperation and as North America Area President of the World Federation of Methodist Women. "The whole world had caught my attention," she says.

All the elements were now in place for one of her greatest legacies to Methodism. She had friends in many countries, was accustomed to traveling, was a gifted interviewer and storyteller, and was keenly interested in capturing the histories of World Federation leaders in the church, society and world. Ms. Born's third book, From Memory to Hope: A Narrative History of the Areas of the World Federation of Methodist Women, was the result of years of work criss-crossing the globe to collect 80 interviews with women in the nine areas of the World Federation of Methodist Women. "I think I was called to do this," Ms. Born said of her nine years as a volunteer archivist for the World Federation. The taped interviews and the printed materials she collected are catalogued and permanently stored in the World Federation archives at the World Methodist Council headquarters at Lake Junaluska, N.C. Had it not been for Ms. Born's work and the foresight of the World Federation leaders who asked her to undertake this project, these histories might have been lost.

Ms. Born's interest in the World Federation of Methodist Women began during her term as vice president of the Women's Division, as this organization was included in her work as ecumenical officer for the division. The women of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA) had just organized in 1980 and became part of the North America Area World Federation. Following her term on the Women's Division, Ms. Born served as president of the North America Area, and Wilhelmina Lawrence of the African Methodist Episcopal Church served as vice president. The two became very close, described by Ms. Born as "sisters-in-the-spirit."

"When Wilhelmina died unexpectedly of recurring cancer," said Ms. Born, "her love of the Caribbean women came to mind." The result was Ms. Born's planned gift to establish the Wilhelmina Lawrence World Federation of Methodist Women Caribbean Seminar Fund, a permanent fund with the United Methodist Women National Office. Every five years income from this fund helps underwrite the expenses of the seminar in perpetuity, bringing together Caribbean Methodist women of all denominations. Ms. Born's generosity leaves a legacy for others long after she is gone.

Fortunately for MCCA women, the World Federation, United Methodist Women and a host of other organizations, Ms. Born was open to God's plan. Her life of service and her permanent legacy for MCCA women bear witness to the faith, hope and love of this remarkable woman.

Until her death in March 2014, Ms. Born lived in Salem, Va., where she continued to write, serve as parliamentarian, lead an adult Sunday school class, weave, and gather response readers around her dining room table each month to expand concepts of mission as they read and discussed the current issue.


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