Celebrating unity in diversity and service to the community is the core mission of a religiously inclusive Christian women’s group that has been in Orangeburg since 1966.
Church Women United of Orangeburg is part of a national organization which was founded in 1941 as a grassroots movement of women who share a vision of Christian unity and prayerful action. It is organized into more than 1,000 local and state units in the United States.
The national office of the CWU, which is financially supported by its constituency and denominational women’s organizations, is located in New York City.
CWU of Orangeburg was founded more than 50 years ago, with Waltena Josie of St. Paul Episcopal Church serving as the group’s first president from 1966 to 1969.
The group consists of 14 churches whose denominations include Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, African Methodist Episcopal and Presbyterian. The Orangeburg unit is one of three active CWU units in the state, with other units in Sumter and Columbia.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended the local group's planned activities for the year, but the CWU holds four annual worship celebrations: World Day of Prayer, Human Rights Day, May Friendship Day and World Community Day. These ecumenical worship celebrations are the centerpiece of the group’s mission and serve to bolster Christian friendship and spiritual growth.
“We usually have a Bible study, or we’ll have a skit. We sing songs, take up a collection for the national movement and we also have a service project to complete,” said Cynthia M. Jamison, president of CWU of Orangeburg and a member of New Light UMC in Orangeburg.
Jamison said the pandemic forced the organization to halt its activities for the year. She plans on sending out a letter to group members and churches in November on what the group's future plans will be at that time.
"We'll prayerfully start everything back up in 2021. We have to reach out via telephone and call one another, check on one another. We're heartbroken because we really enjoy getting together, praising God and being in service to the community," she said.
The local group did not a get a chance to hold its first celebration, World Day of Prayer, in March at Andrew Chapel Baptist Church under the theme “Rise, Take Up Your Mat and Walk.”
It did, however, complete its service project which included contributions to the Orangeburg-Calhoun Free Medical Clinic, the Orangeburg County Council on Aging’s home-delivered meals program, the Orangeburg Area Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation and the Samaritan House homeless shelter.
The group’s Friendship Day which was to be held in June was also canceled, along with the local CWU group's World Community Day which was to be held in September. A Human Rights Celebration which was going to be hosted by North Orangeburg United Methodist Church this year was also cancelled.
“The Human Rights Celebration is to honor someone from your church or the community of your church that have done exceptionally well. The churches who are a part of our local unit will send a name in, and during the Human Rights Celebration, we celebrate those persons. That’s what we did every year,” said Sara Funderburk, who attends St. Luke Presbyterian Church and serves as vice president of CWU of Orangeburg.
“The person needs to be active within their church as well as their community, but it’s up to the church to identify those persons,” said Margaret Johnson, who’s been a CWU of Orangeburg member for 15 years.
Funderburk said the group’s primary purpose is to “bring people together from various denominations to give praise and worship to God as a unit.”
The 14 churches in that unit include: Andrew Chapel Baptist Church; Edisto Fork United Methodist Church; Gethsemane Baptist Church; Greater Faith Baptist Church; Holy Trinity Catholic Church; Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church; New Light United Methodist Church; New Mt. Zion Baptist Church; North Orangeburg United Methodist Church; St. John AME Church; St. Luke Presbyterian Church; St. Paul Baptist Church; Trinity United Methodist Church and Friendship Baptist Church.
“We do have churches we’re trying to get. We’ve had at one time about 20-something churches. I like the fellowship, meeting new people and listening to the word that’s being presented different ways by different people,” Funderburk said.
“You’re meeting people and you’re sharing. We share ideas, suggestions, friends and all of that is the process of sharing,” she said.
Jamison said, “I think we learn from one another in our fellowship, and I think we become a stronger unit that way. We’re all in fellowship serving God.”
Johnson said she especially enjoys the fellowship group member sharing.
“We're all believing in one God. It’s a spiritual event as well as the fellowship, and everybody has an opportunity to participate in some way because different ones do skits, different ones do prayer. Whatever is on that program for that month, you have the opportunity to volunteer,” Johnson said.
She added, “We just enjoy each other. It’s a good feeling to be with other ladies with a focus on growing spiritually. We could all use it, particularly at this era in our lives. We love and respect each other and care about what happens to each other. It’s special to me.”
Jamison said, “We’re affirming our faith and putting our faith in action with one another as we come together. In January, we had an organizational meeting to get together so I could give information about the celebrations coming up and ask the different churches who will volunteer to host. The focus is God.”
Johnson said, “The youth from different churches are involved to participate and help carry out activities. Sometimes they’re in the skits, sometimes they work as ushers, or sometimes they praise dance. We love it, and the young people seem to enjoy having that opportunity.”
The group visits its member churches to not only work to bring in more members but share its message. Individuals are invited to join the group throughout the year. Membership dues are $5 per year.
While the CWU was not able to hold its Quadrennial Assembly in June in Atlanta, Jamison said she is grateful to God that the local group is still viable after more than five decades.
“It’s by God’s grace and us being humble, working together and asking each other for help,” she said.
For more information on the CWU of Orangeburg, including becoming a member, contact Jamison at 803-937-9343.
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