Under the theme "Renew, Respond, Rejoice," nearly 2,000 women gathered July 14-17 in Spokane, Wash., for the Women of the ELCA Triennial Gathering. Those four days had it all: Spirit-filled worship, Bible study, speakers, dozens of workshops, service projects and even Zumba. Women discerned their spiritual gifts, practiced yoga, walked a prayer labyrinth and learned about detoxing their homes.
Yet there could almost have been a fourth "R" in the theme: "Reaching" more generations of Lutheran women at the event.
Many existing Women of the ELCA units generally consist of women 55 and older. This year, they and the organization's leaders intentionally offered registration incentives and a variety of communication tools to encourage attendance by women in their 30s, 20s and even teenage years.
A "Chocolate Lounge" meet-and-greet the first evening was one of many welcoming entry points. Over chocolate and fresh fruit, the under-40 set discussed faith perspectives and generational concerns, along with older women drawn by similar interests.
Elizabeth Luiten, a Moses Lake, Wash., youth director, and Emily Davila, Bonn, Germany, juggled adult conversation and infant daughters in baby carriers. Sara Tembe, a Seattle-area maternity nurse, spoke to others about her appreciation for podcasts of Café, the Women of the ELCA's online magazine for young adult women, as well as other initiatives she'd like see.
|Leymah Gbowee (left), a Liberian activist and peacemaker; Twila Schock, ELCA director for global mission support; Christine Mangale, assistant to the director of the N.Y.-based Lutheran Office for World Community; and ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson respond to questions from Women of the ELCA Triennial Gathering participants.|
Throughout the triennial, women of multiple generations and diverse ethnic backgrounds were front-and-center in key leadership roles. In an attempt to reach this "wider, more inclusive audience" of women of all ages, Lutheran Woman Today was renamed Gather, said editor Kate Sprutta Elliott. And hundreds of women aged 20 to 70-something attended a workshop on creative, multigenerational approaches to draw and include newcomers.
At the workshop, participants shared what made them join Women of the ELCA units: a move to a new community, a personal invitation, a wedding or baby shower, and wanting to study the Bible with other women.
They also shared what they see keeping newcomers away: scheduling events at times employed women or moms can't attend, limiting publicity to the church bulletin, insincere invitations, stereotypes, cliques, not being open to change, and wanting newcomers to do the work but have no say.
Workshop leader Elizabeth McBride, Women of the ELCA director for intergenerational programs and editor of Café, advised meeting young women and newcomers "where they are." For example, a congregational or community "Chocolate Lounge" isn't a hard sell. "But we also don't pretend we're anything other than Women of the ELCA," she said.
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