Taking their cue from the prophet Isaiah to help repair, rebuild and restore the world around them, more than 2,300 women — 700 of whom were first-timers — gathered July 24-27 in Charlotte, N.C., for the Ninth Triennial of the Women of the ELCA.
The gathering theme, “Of many generations,” was inspired by Isaiah 58:12: “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”
Opening worship preacher Claire Burkat told the gathering: “We are living in a time in history [when] six generations are living at the same time.” Burkat, bishop of theSoutheastern Pennsylvania Synod, asked the women to raise their hands when they heard their generation: under 18 years of age, 18 to 35, 36 to 50, 51 to 68, 69 to 89 and, finally, over 90. The five women over 90 received a standing ovation.
“All of us together, as a gathering of powerful Lutheran women, [will] be challenged in seminars and inspired in worship and touched by one another’s stories and guided by the Holy Spirit this weekend,” she said. “When we leave, we will have ways and means to repair the breach wherever God sends us.”
Women lead, laugh
ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton thanked the Women of the ELCA and its predecessors for their leadership in making it possible for women to be ordained; their giving, including a gift of $84,000 to the ELCA Malaria Campaign; and their recent action to bring attention to human trafficking.
It’s not just ordained or elected women who lead the church, she said, adding, “You have to understand that you also are leaders. Sometimes I think we discount our leadership if we are not elected to positions.”
Part of that leadership, Eaton said, is to help the ELCA become an “alternative face of Christianity in this country” — a different face from popular media images of Christians as rigid, judgmental and not advocating for the most vulnerable in our society.
Become an “undercover force in your congregations,” Eaton encouraged the women. “[Working together] we’re a powerhouse. But you know what? We’re also Lutheran. So we don’t tell anybody [because] that would be boastful,” she quipped, eliciting knowing laughter from participants. “But how can people know where to get help if they don’t know what we do?”
It was one of many moments when Eaton had listeners laughing. That laughter continued when ex-attorney, Baptist pastor and stand-up comedian Susan Sparks took the stage to speak about the power of humor in repairing the breach referred to in Isaiah 58:12.
In this world “we can get beaten down pretty easily,” Sparks said. “Especially as women, we manage so much in our lives that sometimes we can lose perspective. … Big houses, fancy cars, money, titles … none of that matters because — you ready? — the size of our funeral will depend solely on the weather. Humor is probably one of God’s greatest gifts to us. If you can laugh at yourself, you can forgive yourself. And if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others.”
Bible study leader Diane Jacobson, who directs the ELCA Book of Faith initiative, said God calls women of many generations “to repair, rebuild and restore not only our relationships, but also the world around us.” She urged women to search Scripture for stories “that take us into this calling.”
Look at Mary and Elizabeth, women of two different generations who came together in mutual support, Jacobson said. That’s without the rivalry or jealousy seen in some other biblical relationships between women (Sarah vs. Hagar, Rachel vs. Leah, Hannah vs. Penniniah), she added.
Moreover, Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship was not just about them. “Even though this encounter is between two individual women, it is not a private affair,” Jacobson explained. “Their encounter is very much about the future of the whole world.”
Concern for our world
During exhibit and free time at the gathering, the six generations of women sewed quilts; gave blood; and donated tens of thousands of dollars in phone cards, socks, toiletry items and prayer shawls for women survivors of trafficking, female military veterans struggling with addiction or homelessness, and others.
Participants also attended workshops, such as the one on creating intergenerational spaces. In that workshop young adults and women in other generations experienced what it is like to participate in a Café group, an entry point for younger women to engage with existing Women of the ELCA groups. Workshop leader Rozella White, 33, ELCA program director for young adult ministry, encouraged existing women’s groups to consider two tough questions: Why do you want younger people in the church? Are you willing to be vulnerable in seeking out younger people?
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers