A “Best Kept Secret” for 75 Years

Church Women United – Diversity Is Our Strength

One of the best kept secrets in Roanoke is Church Women United in the Roanoke Valley (CWU), a racially, culturally and theologically inclusive ecumenical Christian women’s movement, celebrating unity in diversity and working for a world of peace and justice. In Roanoke, CWU meets five times a year for worship and fellowship. Breaking down barriers requires people to get to know each other. Attending a CWU meeting provides the opportunity to meet and interact with women from different denominations.

In 2018, as confirmed by CWU’s survey results, the chance to get to know diverse women holds the same importance as it did for women who were active in the organization in the 60’s.

One such member active during the 60’s excitedly shared “I will always be thankful to Church Women United: It was there that I learned that all mothers wanted the same thing for their children. That helped me see things differently.”

Although many women contributed to the vitality of the group, Janice Hale, a life member of Loudon Avenue Christian Church, is applauded for keeping CWU together for the past 12 years through her service as president for four 2-year terms.

The result of the research of Dyron Knicks (the Virginia Room, Roanoke City Public Libraries) was the discovery of two old articles which provide documentation of the charter date of CWU in Roanoke and the CWU’s 1970 action which led to the establishment of Bethany Hall, an addiction treatment facility for women. It is recorded in a November 5, 1943 article in the Roanoke World News that the Council of Church Women (the original name of Church Women United in the Roanoke Valley) was organized on November 4, 1943, at Saint Mark Lutheran Church, only 2 years after it was established at the National level.

As noted in the article by Mrs. E.E. Leiphart, the first president the group’s purpose was to spread the gospel of Christ and make Roanoke a better place in which to live. An article in the December 28, 1969 Roanoke Times documents CWU actions which led to the establishment of Bethany Hall. It is recorded that on January 1, 1970, CWU opened a halfway house for women recovering from alcoholism in a house donated by Christ Episcopal Church. Now in its 48th year, Bethany Hall is still a viable treatment option for women who are trying to overcome addictions. It is the only facility in this part of the state where women can bring their children up to age 2.

While CWU no longer operates Bethany Hall, it continues to support it through financial gifts and supplies. A check for $500 was presented to Bethany Hall at CWU’s September meeting. Saundra Butcher represents CWU on the ARCH Board, the governing board under which Bethany Hall now falls.

CWU deeply appreciates all of those who made 2018 sucha meaningful and spirit filled year.

Meetings are typically hosted by churches that have CWU members. Green Temple Holiness Church did not have any members or knew anything about the organization when its member Bernadette Brown (BJ) enthusiastically volunteered to host the March meeting, World Day of Prayer Celebration, at her home church. Since that time, Bernadette has become a member and has solicited support from her congregation on the World Service Blanket Project. Green Temple led the way in collective support for CWU this year. In addition to Green Temple, Cave Spring United Methodist, Thrasher Memorial, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME), and The Salvation Army hosted meetings this year and all received A+ for hospitality.

Three former presidents of CWU: Janice Hale, Eleanor Roller, and Dava Hensley.

This past year, those who attended CWU meetings enjoyed and learned from an array of marvelous speakers and devotional messages (Afira DeVries, United Way, Natalie Kline; Rescue Mission, Donna Hornsby- First Church of the Brethen, Kris Tilley-Lubbs-Casa Latino, Pastor Denise Bates; Cave Spring United Methodist Church, Becky Brandenberger; The Salvation Army, Khaliah Coursar, Bethany Hall). The programs for World Day of Prayer, May Friendship Day, and World Community Day, each celebrated nationally following the same theme and format, are coordinated by Regina Jones, a life member of Loudon Avenue Christian Church and a member of CWU for 30 plus years.

Gertrude Harris, member of Bethel AME Church and CWU member for over 30 years, is an intricate part of the programs who coordinates the music for CWU meetings.

“We are one in the Spirit”, introduced by Becky Brandenberger, The Salvation Army Mission Specialist and Board member, was adopted as the opening song and “Reach out and Touch Somebody’s Hand,” suggested by Dorothy Owsley, CWU vice president and founder and CEO of Transitional Options for Women, was adopted as the closing song. Both songs describe the CWU spirit and mission.

CWU membership is $5 and the budget is augmented through special offerings at meetings and monetary donations from churches. Phyllis Morrison, member of High Street Baptist Church and CWU treasurer, received donations from West Hampton Christian Church, Shiloh Baptist, Bethel AME, High Street Baptist Sunday School Class, and Green Temple to support CWU’s 2018 budget. Additionally, this year’s budget received a huge boost when Lana Stewart, manager for the Rescue Mission Ministries, Learning Centers, voluntarily assumed responsibility for copying the newsletters. This greatly reduced CWU’s expenses.

Please join in fellowship with the women of CWU for as many meetings as your schedule will allow in 2019 (January 25, March 1, May 3, September 27, and November 1).

In 2018, 92 women attended at least one meeting. Contact Betty Waldron, member of Shiloh Baptist Church and CWU Communications Coordinator (540-389-6113), or Donna Hornsby, First Church of the Brethren and Newsletter Editor (540-206-3331) or Barbara Pendergrass Richmond, Bethel AME Church and CWU President (540) 818-0520 for additional information.