Circles of Solidarity: Women Discuss Challenges in Church
On Thursday night, approximately 50 Mennonite leaders gathered to discuss opportunities for change within the church.
These leaders all had one thing in common: they were women.
Although men were also welcome to join with the group, the reception for Women in Leadership: Circles of Solidarity was intended to gather ideas for supporting women’s leadership in the church.
Giant sheets of paper hung on the wall reading “NEEDS” and “GOALS” in bright purple marker. Each of the tables in the room contained a topic label of key leadership issues, such as women and worship, women in bi-cultural leadership and inter-generational mentoring. Everyone in the room was invited to seat themselves at the table most reflecting their interests.
“You need to know stories to move on with issues,” said Beth Martin Birky, a Goshen College professor. “Listening is the first step.”
In her introduction to the session, Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, the new moderator-elect of Mennonite Church USA, encouraged the women to support emerging leadership of women. Reflecting on her own leadership journey, she observed that the church needs to affirm women’s gifts and intentionally name and mentor potential women leaders.
Once the women were seated, group leaders facilitated discussion with the goal of creating a space for women to hear each other and explore leadership issues.
Conversations were animated, with women nodding heads in agreement, with emotions and words conveying their similar experiences in church leadership.
“I’m interested in getting to the point where we could say ‘he’ and ’she’ [in worship] and no one would bat an eye,” said one woman at the women and worship table.
With a few minutes remaining, co-facilitator Janie Beck Kreider’s encouragement to wrap up was met with groans and laughter. Women still had much to share. One goal for the evening was to provide a model for conversations in their home communities.
Joanna Shenk, associate for interchurch relations and communication of Mennonite Church USA, indicated that church institutions can provide resources for women leaders. The 2010 women’s leadership audit, which was the inspiration behind this session, was only a first step.
People interested in hearing more can attend the “Women in Leadership” session at 10:30 a.m. in Room 323.