This weekend Melanie and I have been attending the 2012 Gathering of the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus in Indianapolis, Indiana. There is no other apt description for this event than holy ground. People have come here from around the U.S. to be to connect with others who are committed to Christian Feminism. Our theme this year is “Sharing Our Stories, Healing Our Lives.”
Even though this is only my second time to attend an EEWC Gathering I feel as if these people are long-time friends for there is a deep sense of knowing that by sharing our twin convictions of feminism and Christianity, we have likewise shared similar pain.
But make no mistake about it: people here may have struggled (and are continuing to struggle) with the church, with patriarchy, with sexism promoted by and supported by the structures who purport to be Christian. However, this is not a dour gathering. No, these women (and a couple of men) are downright comfortable, confident, and fun. In fact, even as I write this I can hear laughter emanating from a room down the hall where Melanie and a group of others are trying out laughter yoga. (I can hardly wait to hear about the experience!)
Of course the conference sessions are terrific, each providing excellent insight on a variety of topics. Yet, this conference is more than amassing bits of information; it is also about sharing our stories and learning from one another.
Friday night Jann Aldredge-Clanton invited us to share with one another stories from our childhoods, our faith journeys, our joys and our sorrows. Now, this isn’t the kind of thing I like to do. My introverted self quickly emerges and I look for just about any way to escape. But seeing none that night, I settled in for what appeared to be more than an hour of what I normally want to avoid.
As each person shared some part of her story in our small group of six, however, it was immediately apparent how connected we are. It was if we had all known each other for years especially as some shared things from their lives they had never told another group. Others graciously offered nuggets of insight or thoughtful questions. At one point we even stopped, all sensing a need to be quiet, to rest in the silence, to appreciate Her presence among us, in us, and surrounding us.
Late Saturday night after a very full day many gathered to sing hymns and songs from previous years, some calling out their favorites. It was very much an old-fashioned hymn sing, except for one crucial difference: there was no exclusive language, no male-centered language and images for God. We sang to Sophia celebrating her wisdom and presence. We thanked Our Mother for birthing, caring, and protecting Her kin. We asked Sister-Brother Spirit to be with us, to enable us to seek justice and peace.
Not being familiar with lyrics or tunes usually makes it difficult for me to enjoy singing. But as our voices joined together I started to realize why I was relishing the experience so much. I did not have to watch the lyrics to see what masculine name or image lurking in the next line would require me to change it the fly. The protective wall I create each time I walk into a church, the one that keeps me on guard prepared for the onslaught of God as male and men as primary, simply wasn’t necessary. I was free to be and to worship.
I’m disappointed that I can’t seem to find the words to convey what happens each year I gather with this group of wonderful people. But, I hope you will check out the EEWC website and return to it often. In the next few weeks there will be additional information from our 2012 Gathering including perhaps even a picture and a quote from the presentation Melanie and I gave. And, if you haven’t read anything by Letha Scanzoni or Nancy Hardesty or Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, I hope you will locate one of their books.
They and others of the EEWC have been and continue to be trailblazers for liberation, fellow travelers on The Way. Just like the Suffrage leaders of an earlier era, their wisdom and their courage have paved the way for us making it easier to explore and live out our convictions of being feminists and Christians.