Not just a quilting society
Jennifer Michael, outgoing churchwide president of Women of the ELCA, pauses with delegates Melissa Holden, left, and Mary Ann Patterson, right.
By Jennifer S. Michael
What are you doing this week? For many of us, this week will be just another series of days in our summer. Big holidays have passed and there is still at least another month to enjoy those carefree afternoons. But for those of us who participate in Women of the ELCA, this week is the culmination of three years of work and fellowship. On Tuesday, July 22, 2014, we opened our Ninth Triennial Convention in Charlotte, N.C., and today, Thursday, our Ninth Triennial Gathering will begin with the theme “of many generations.”
This theme is taken from the passage in Isaiah 58:12, that says:
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.
I know that some of you might be thinking, “Women of the ELCA? Aren’t they the women who make those quilts and have coffee in the basement on the third Tuesday of the month?” It may seem incongruous to think of this group of women being the “repairers of the breach”… the ones to stand in the gap and promote healing and wholeness. But from my vantage point, as the outgoing churchwide president for Women of the ELCA, I am here to tell you that you need revisit your expectations for this community of women.
In many ELCA congregations, our organization is often viewed through the lens of the past – a group that has always existed in the church but one we don’t necessarily need anymore. Or we have church leadership that reduces our congregational units to just being the sum total of our dedicated activities (quilt-making, altar guild, etc.). To do this is a failure to look deeper and to understand the mission and purpose of Women of the ELCA – to understand that we are more than just a “ladies’ auxiliary” with no purpose beyond the work of our hands.
As I have served in leadership for Women of the ELCA, I recognize how this community is a living, breathing body of women who constantly seek to help each other live out the gospel in their everyday lives. This organization is not simply a quilting society. Nor are we something separate from the church. As an organization, we have long been advocates for social justice and gender equality. We have provided more than $500,000 in scholarships to women and girls and more than $3.5 million in grants, both here at home and internationally. We have co-sponsored federal legislation to fight for better health education for women. We have established seed grants for programs that promote health and wholeness for women and girls in our communities. And in the past 25 years, as an independent and totally self-funded organization, we have contributed more than $16 million toward the ongoing ministries of the ELCA. This is who we are as Women of the ELCA!
So, I stand with my sisters this week as a living witness that Women of the ELCA is a place in the church for women to discover and to receive the resources they need so that they can refine their gifts and equip themselves to be leaders of this church. Not only has being a part of this community of women provided me the unpressured space to discern my own call to ministry, but we have nurtured and developed many leaders that are a benefit to the wider church. The individual investment each woman has to this organization is a tangible testimony for our mission statement, “to mobilize women to act boldly on their faith in Jesus Christ.”
This week Women of the ELCA will gather together. The words of our Gathering Guide describe what this means to all of us: “We are real women and girls talking about our faith. About our doubts and challenges. About joy and what inspires us. We’ll experience simple conversations between friends – old and new – that will develop into a movement sweeping the church, inspired and infused with the Holy Spirit.”
Jennifer S. Michael is a second-year master of divinity student at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa; an ELCA Fund for Leaders scholarship recipient; and former churchwide president of Women of the ELCA (2011-2014).