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Finding ‘a new normal’: WMU-NC relocation good
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
January 25, 2010
7 MIN READ TIME

Finding ‘a new normal’: WMU-NC relocation good

Finding ‘a new normal’: WMU-NC relocation good
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
January 25, 2010

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.”

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Ruby Fulbright, left, works closely with Jan High and other Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina staff members to teach others about missions. View video.

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

operations themselves.

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

February.

It is unlikely WMU will raise that much through the

offering. The 2009 offering received $429,787 and the 2008 offering received

$431,281.

More than 500 churches support WMU regularly through their

budgets. WMU is in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina mission

resource plan.

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.

Startup organization

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

below 2009.

The uncertain financial future has been for Fulbright a

“heavy burden, not only for the ministry we do, but for the people who work

here.”

“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

churches.”

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.

Future

“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

ministry.

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

going.”