The UTO is really a most ancient proposition, that the true mechanism for community is prayer, particularly acts of thanksgiving. (see UTO's booklet "A Theology of Thanksgiving") All the various means of transmitting that call to action - the famous BLUE BOX, the work of the Women of the Church to make the UTO offering a missionary act of thanksgiving, the power of both prayer and outpouring of offerings in the wider Anglican world - all have made this network an amazing effort to continuously reclaim the notion that Jesus was right. The widow and her mite represents a powerful force, the force of thanksgiving, a force not bounded by the particulars of social prejudice for white, male, economically powerful, priestly force, but by the power of the thankful heart that know no such boundaries.
I have had occasion these past few days to think on UTO once again in concrete terms. During the last triennium I was honored to be the chair of the UTO Study Committee which together with the UTO Board and Executive Council pulled together recommendations for changes in UTO's bylaws and for possible new direction for UTO itself. The UTO Board is off and running, with a new slogan, "our change changes lives." UTO is changing, and changing lives.
The UTO Board is at the core of a huge network of Episcopalians and Anglicans from provinces once part of The Episcopal Church. That network is familial, circular, open, caring, engaging.
Yesterday an old friend from the UTO network emailed me in Haiti where I now am to tell me that Ms. Sarita Redd, the UTO President had died last Saturday (January 26th). This morning a current board member asked me to phone her so that she might also convey the news too me.
Sarita Redd is and was a formidable woman. From the Diocese of Oklahoma, she has been involved in the life of The Episcopal Church on many levels. She has been on the UTO Committee since 2008 and on the UTO Board when it was formed in 2009. She was part of the INC055 Special Task Force-Ad Hoc Committee Member, and in the past
Diocesan and Parish UTO Coordinator. She was the ECW Distinguished Woman Oklahoma 2012, and ECW President in Oklahoma. In parish life she has been a Vestry Member
Senior Warden In Charge at a time when there was no Rector), and a Lay Eucharistic Minister.
She was a Human Relations Consultant on issues of Employee Benefits Law.
Sarita brought tremendous energy to the role of UTO Board President. She was an effective agent for the changes that were necessary in the life of the UTO central organization as it moved from being a committee to a board. She insisted on professionalism on the board and at the same time cultivated the familial "feel" of UTO on its most central committee.
This news came to me at just the time that the Episcopal Church in Haiti has had its annual UTO Ingathering Service at Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Yesterday, Sunday January 28th, women from almost all of the 140 mission stations and parishes came together to both offer thanks and gather in the Blue Box offerings. It was the 100th Anniversary of "l'Association des Dames" in Haiti.
There are, I am sure, other diocesan gatherings of women and diocesan Blue Box ingatherings, but in this, one of the largest of Episcopal Church dioceses, the ingathering was itself a major celebration of the life of the church in Haiti. This gathering was a chance for people who don't get to see each other that often to be a family and a force. And it was a chance for the church to feel that force in action.
The theme of the meeting was taken from Amos 4:12, not an easy passage, since it proceeded by a scathing commentary on resting on the laurels of making thank offerings. The sermon and a paper given the day before at the meeting of the women both stressed the need for UTO and the Women of the Church to look again at what they do and ask if they have in fact offered thanksgiving with the vigor needed in a church and society so much in need of new life. One of the challenge of the next years in the Church in Haiti is to be dissatisfied with "the new normal," and to take on the struggles for a Haiti that is both more just and more caring. The question is, what role will the Association des Dames have in building a new future for the church and society in Haiti.
In the midst of serious encounter with the Word and with the challenges of Haiti in these days, the "ceremonie de remise de boites bleues" was a simple and bright action in the midst of the offertory. (I've a video of the procession but somehow can't get it into the post...I'll work on it.)
The UTO network remains, it is not dependent on any given leader. The UTO ingathering in Haiti and elsewhere goes on, even as Sarita goes on to God, and the network lives because the faith lives on in the hearts and minds of those committed to this little engine that could, can and will do the prayers and thanksgiving each day.
May Sarita be with God and may all the rest of us know God's presence in our lives and get to work - to prayer and thanksgiving.