Women ‘of many generations’ gather to share their faith

7/16/2014 8:45:00 AM

     CHICAGO (ELCA) — United in the common mission and purpose of acting boldly on their faith, about 2,000 women will gather in Charlotte, N.C., for the ninth Triennial Gathering of the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA), July 24-27, 2014. Under the theme, “of many generations,” women of all ages will share their faith experiences through worship, featured speakers, workshop sessions and more.
     “With the inspiration of the Spirit and a whole lot of good fun and great music thrown in, lives are changed at the triennial gatherings of Women of the ELCA,” said Linda Post Bushkofsky, executive director, Women of the ELCA. “The gathering can inspire new service in some, career changes in others and advocacy efforts for others. We build community when we gather, and it’s in that community that transformation begins and is sustained in the years to come.”
     “The Women of the ELCA Triennial Gathering represents (an) opportunity to embody my faith in a place where many others are striving to do the same,” said Maria Bouche, who will travel from her home in Oshkosh, Wis., to attend her second Triennial Gathering. “It means I can share what I have experienced at home with people I have never met, which means opportunity to grow. It represents womanhood, sisterhood and all the relationships and identities I have as a woman with a deep sense of faith,” she said.
     Bouche has invited her mother and mother-in-law to join her at the event hoping to “share an incredible experience. I want them to come away with a hands-on experience of what I experience as part of such a woven fabric of faith and women.”
     Featured speakers during the event will initiate morning “chat sessions” to help start conversations among attendees. Speakers include the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop; Diane Jacobson, director of the ELCA Book of Faith Initiative; Elaine Neuenfeldt, executive secretary for Women in Church and Society at The Lutheran World Federation, Geneva; Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest who serves as chaplain at St. Augustine’s chapel at Vanderbilt University, Nashville; and Susan Sparks, pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York, who is also a stand-up comedian.
     “Triennial Gathering speakers are always inspiring,” said Mikki Coles, a member of First Lutheran in San Marco, Texas, who is attending her fourth Triennial Gathering accompanied by her daughter and her mother.
     “The best part is feeling that nobody is a stranger – that you are welcome and accepted exactly as you are. It is an amazing feeling of worshipping and praising in community, and it always leaves me refreshed and ready for what’s next in life,” said Coles.
     For Coles’ mother, Eunice Hanson, the event means “the celebration of an organization of women sharing their faith as only women do.” Hanson, a member of First Lutheran in Vista, Calif., has served as president and treasurer of the ELCA Pacifica Synod women’s organization and is attending her fifth Triennial Gathering.
     “I have been in leadership on the synod level, so coming to this event also means seeing friends from all over the country. I enjoy that,” said Hanson.
     Coles’ daughter, Kylie Contreras, who is attending the Triennial Gathering for first time, said it represents “a chance to connect further with God in fellowship with other women. I keep hearing about how this (event) changed my mom's life, so I am wondering if it will change mine.”
     Service projects during the gathering include the collection of in-kind gifts such as socks and underwear, hygiene items, gift cards and quilt kits for distribution through Lutheran Social Services of the Carolinas and Lutheran World Relief; prayer shawls will be collected for distribution by ministries of the ELCA North Carolina Synod.
     A quilt challenge invited women to create quilts interpreting the ninth Triennial Gathering’s theme. Quilts will be displayed during the event and winners will be chosen.
     Underscoring a commitment to the Women of the ELCA’s health initiative, “Raising Up Healthy Women and Girls,” attendees are invited to participate in the Triennial Gathering’s fourth annual Run, Walk and Roll on July 26. Pledged funds will go toward the health initiative and will also help fund projects in ELCA congregations that focus on creating a positive impact on the emotional, physical and spiritual health of women and girls.
     “The gathering represents the celebration of God’s gifts to Women of the ELCA. We have been blessed with so many generations of women in our lives, in the past, biblical women and a hope for the future in young women and girls,” said Vickie Murph, an outgoing member of the churchwide Women of the ELCA executive board who attends Arise in Christ Lutheran in Donnelsville, Ohio.
     “As an executive board member, the Triennial Gatherings mean so much to me. I have had the opportunity to help shape the direction of this organization’s future. I can renew friendships, make new friends and live out my faith. It has been an honor to serve. I will never forget all of the people that were placed on my path,” said Murph.
     Preceding the Triennial Gathering is the Women of the ELCA Triennial Convention, July 22-24. The convention is the organization’s highest legislative authority with delegates elected by each of the 64 synodical women’s organizations. Significant actions at the convention include elections for president and members of the executive board. Featured speakers include Eaton; Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Baltimore; and Emily Fitchpatrick, founder and executive director of On Eagle’s Wings, a ministry for victims of domestic sex trafficking.
 Beth Wrenn, who attends Kure Memorial Lutheran in Kure Beach, N. C., and is immediate past president of Women of the ELCA’s churchwide executive board, said she looks forward to welcoming women to her home state.
     “I attended my first Triennial Convention and Gathering in 1993 in Washington, D.C., and I haven't missed one since. Generations of North Carolina faithful women are thrilled to be hosting this event. It will offer us the opportunity to share with many generations southern hospitality at its best,” she said.
     “The opportunity to meet women from all walks of life, to renew old friendships and to feel the Spirit move among us are some of the things that never change. Each gathering is energizing and renewing to my spirit. I am always reminded of the impact our organization has on the lives of others.” said Wrenn.
     For more information, visit http://www.welcatg.org/about
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God's work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
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Candice Hill Buchbinder
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