Nearly two years after Woman’s Missionary Union of North
Carolina (WMU-NC) relocated its offices from the Baptist State Convention staff
building, WMU-NC Director Ruby Fulbright says it was a good move.
After months of negotiations over WMU’s status as an
autonomous organization, or whether the Baptist State Convention executive
director-treasurer had final say over staff hiring in WMU as he does in every
other department and for every position that received a BSC pay check, WMU
asserted its independence, shouldered responsibility for its own operating
budget and moved into rented quarters 13 miles away in Raleigh.
“It’s been a good move,” Fulbright said during an interview
in her office Jan. 21. “I feel that, the board does and the staff does even
though for them it’s scary. We have peace that we did the right thing; that God
still has work for us to do.”
Fulbright said that in 2009 WMU started 149 new
organizations in 69 different churches, including two in cowboy churches,
“which is neat.”
Most are children’s mission education programs.
She credits that ongoing success in part to the positive
relationship WMU has with church planters who learn “WMU can be their very best
friend. They’ve seen the value of missions education being in the very DNA of
their church, beginning with their children.”
WMU also is enjoying “significant growth in Hispanic
congregations,” Fulbright said.
It has not been easy.
WMU’s 12 staff members went from being treated as employees
where the Baptist State Convention provided offices, computers, telephones and
vehicles with a value of about $1.2 million annually, to having to fund
They lost their place in the North Carolina State Missions
Offering, which provided primary funding and have re-instituted the Heck-Jones
Offering among churches to raise operating funds.
Their goal for the 2010 Heck-Jones Offering is $1.3 million,
or their entire budget. That offering is being promoted among churches in
It is unlikely WMU will raise that much through the
offering. The 2009 offering received $429,787 and the 2008 offering received
More than 500 churches support WMU regularly through their
budgets. WMU is in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina mission
A significantly higher fourth quarter contribution from
CBF-NC may indicate increased support from that organization.
Fulbright denied that WMU “left the BSC” to be the women’s
organization for CBFNC. She reiterated that the only thing that changed in
relationship to North Carolina Baptist churches is its address.
WMU-NC utilized $300,000 from reserves in 2009 to meet
operations and to finish an important unit building at their Camp Mundo Vista.
A unit building is a central meeting space for combined activities of the
campers in five cabins.
WMU-NC in effect assumed the burdens of a startup
organization to fund its operations.
Unlike a startup, it began with a full staff and program to
support — with no time to grow into it.
There have been no staff changes, although tight budgets
prompted the WMU board to stop making retirement contributions as a staff
benefit, and to lower reimbursement for business miles. Staff pays a higher
portion of their health insurance. The board adopted a 2010 budget 10.3 percent
The uncertain financial future has been for Fulbright a
“heavy burden, not only for the ministry we do, but for the people who work
“We’re going to have to figure out how to work
smarter; how to use volunteers more in the office,” Fulbright said. “We’re
doing more with technology. We don’t mail as much information; we email it or
put it on the website so they can download it themselves.”
Fulbright said that had WMU still been in the Baptist staff
building in Cary, they would have been subject to staff reduction determined by
persons other than the WMU leadership or board.
Additionally, she said, “We have the freedom to determine
who our partners will be without someone looking over our shoulder.”
“Our purpose is not to promote or support only one entity or
convention,” Fulbright said.
“We’re here to promote missions and to help churches know
the best ways to do that; to give them tools in the way of program structure if
they want that; to raise their awareness of issues in the world and needs and
give them opportunities to be involved.”
The landscape has changed, both for WMU and all
denominational entities. WMU intends to respond to requests of mission
educators from any entity, but admits “we’re still trying to figure out” what
such response would look like.
“It’s almost like going back to where we were in the
beginning, in 1886,” she said. “Nobody wanted us. The men didn’t want us then,
so the women just went about doing missions. And gradually as the churches saw
the value in what we were doing, we became closely aligned with Southern Baptist
Fulbright said WMU has always been a grassroots
organization, effective in missions but ineffective in telling its own story.
It failed to pay close attention to cultural shifts that
took younger women to work outside the home, limiting their willingness and
availability for traditional evening meetings and events.
But because WMU toots not its own horn, Fulbright said there
is missions action taking place all over the world that will go unrecognized,
but that occurs because women were made aware of needs and given the mandate to
do something about them.
“We’re learning what our new normal is,” Fulbright said.
“This has been in some sense a time of transition and survival. Going forward
is dreaming the dream and recalling the vision of who God wants us to be at
this point in time.”
There are 2,446 churches with a WMU director and many more
utilize some WMU programs, without having a director.
When Baptist State Convention staff, at the direction of the
Executive Committee, asked each church if they wanted to receive their mission
offering promotional materials from WMU-NC or from another source, both by
response or default 3,961 churches indicated they would work with WMU-NC.
During the discussions on WMU-NC’s relationship with the
BSC, Executive Director-treasurer Hollifield declared the BSC would have a
women’s ministry emanating from the Baptist staff building in Cary. If it was
not WMU, it would be something else.
When WMU-NC moved out, a task force recommended a women’s
ministry that became Embrace. Ashley Allen came Aug. 1, 2009 to lead that
While observers feared a competitive atmosphere between the
two women’s groups, Fulbright immediately invited Allen to lunch.
“Everything I’ve read that Ashley has said and everything
she’s said to me personally indicates WMU and Embrace ought to be able to
co-exist in North Carolina and find ways we can partner,” Fulbright said.
Although potential partnerships were considered in formal
understandings between WMU and the BSC, Fulbright has sensed that initial steps
toward specific partnerships show possibilities, and then collapse when the BSC
office they were working with later says “they cannot be partners with us.”
“We appreciate churches and individuals who support us with
prayers and gifts and who believe in what we do,” Fulbright said. “They show
faith not just in our history and heritage but in where we’re