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Area resident a leader among church women

September 08, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

In the late 1970s, a woman asked Sharon Leatherman whether she would give her a ride to a Church Women United meeting in Washington County.

That started Leatherman on a 25-year odyssey with the organization, and she has never looked back.

It was kind of the same way the organization got started in 1917, although it wasn't called Church Women United then. Still, the mission of prayer and peace remained at the core.

"The Interdenominational Mission Union met in Baltimore in 1918 with more than 700 in attendance," Leatherman said. "The group was organized for ministry and never looked back."

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In Washington County, the local group met at the Women's Club. The name was changed to Church Women United in 1941 in response to the outbreak of World War II. Its mission of peace never has wavered.

Church Women United is a national ecumenical movement of women to develop community, work for a just, peaceful and caring society, and share in Christian friendship, worship and prayer.

"Even today, our celebrations are about praying together, such as the World Day of Prayer, which is held the first Friday of March," Leatherman said. Housing also is a major effort of the group.

On Monday, Sept. 29, the state president of Church Women United, Nancy Dean of Westminster, Md., will be guest speaker at a dinner and program celebrating the 85th anniversary of the group and its mission.

A catered dinner at First Christian Church gets under way at 6 p.m. and the program begins at 7 p.m. A dialogue about the local group's history will punctuate the program, along with Dean's remarks.

Now treasurer of the group, Leatherman said she has served in many capacities over the years.

"Basically, we are a board of directors that meets four or five times a year to plan events," Leatherman said.

After the anniversary event, the next program will be the November luncheon meeting at Zion Baptist Church, Leatherman said.

A native of Pendleton County, W.Va., Leatherman, 59, came to Williamsport and joined the Williamsport United Methodist Church. The pastor at that time asked her to chair the church and society committee, and she agreed.

Her involvement with Church Women United was a natural evolution.

"One of the reasons I have stayed with the group is the interaction with women of other Christian communities," she said.

From that grew an interfaith outreach that manifests itself in events such as a panel in 2002 that brought together women from Islamic and Jewish communities, as well.

"I would like to see Church Women United be a catalyst for women of all religions," she said.

This summer, Leatherman taught an interfaith class in Hagerstown.

When she isn't volunteering with Church Women United, Leatherman is executive coordinator of the United Methodist Appalachian Ministry Network.

She is married to Eston "Tom" Leatherman. They have two daughters and four granddaughters.

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