When I joined my congregation I found Sunday school for my children, a group for older women for my mother and a youth group for my teenagers. There was a choir, a men’s group, a group to plan trips for younger adults, and a nursery program. There were groups running soup kitchens and adult forums. In short, there was a group for just about any interest imaginable.
What we did not have was a group for busy professional women looking for a way to express their spirituality as they balanced a hectic schedule that included family, job, and volunteer work.
A number of women with this concern discussed ideas at various times but we weren’t able to decide exactly what we were seeking. We knew we wanted something that dealt with our own personal and feminine spirituality. We decided that we needed a retreat of some sort.
Then came the decision to hold a “lock-in for women” at the church. We invited a liturgical director and a well-known church activist to join us. They agreed to speak on two issues: What is women’s spirituality? And how do we as busy women with crazy lives live out our spirituality. In the invitation we asked everyone to bring something that reminded them of their relationship with God. We asked our pastor to do a liturgy.
For a month we worried: Would anyone show up. Would it be a good experience? Would we look stupid? But it was a resounding success. At church on Sunday afterwards the fifteen women who had slept on the floor of the social hall hugged and smiled and laughed because we felt good.
From the retreat grew a prototype for future meetings and certain basic concepts: We meet once a month with a loose theme, usually suggested by group members. We often discuss the themes with our pastor before finalizing, but not always. Planning should be simple and uncomplicated. Theme titles have included: “Women’s Relationships with Women,” “Laughter and Spirituality,” and “Celebrate Your Spirituality.” We conducted a “Going Away to College” liturgy for one of our young members, with ideas lifted from The Lutheran. We are currently planning a liturgy for a woman about to have a baby.
The meetings include “temperature taking,” i.e. finding out where we all are in our lives since we met last. We share a liturgy every meeting, not necessarily planned by the pastor, always including communion. The group always seeks to welcome newcomers; we do not want to be exclusionary. And we have food to share both before and after the liturgy.
We all feel that there is a way women speak to one another that is different from the way we communicate with men. What we didn’t realize is that women need to celebrate their spiritual lives in a way that incorporates that different voice. We needed to address the feminine of God. We needed to feel that the God in women is just as important as the God in men we had been hearing about all our lives. We needed to hear the voice of God spoken through the words of women.
We needed to know that we had a place with God that we didn’t need to arrive at carrying a Sunday School lesson, coffee pot, or carefully ironed altar cloths. Women’s Group is the one place we meet to talk about and celebrate our spirituality using a feminine voice. We’re not organizing pot lucks or soup kitchens. We don’t have to express our spiritual selves as we so often do, by tending to others or providing a service.
In the weeks following the retreat that woman’s voice of God has crept into our sermons and our conversations. On Palm Sunday, the pastor raised her arms and said, “And didn’t She want to reach down Her arms from heaven and snatch Her beloved from the cross?” Every woman who had attended the retreat gasped and smiled. I had tears in my eyes. The idea of God as a mother losing a child was the most powerful and vivid image I have ever encountered. At coffee hour we talked: “Did she say ‘She’?” Yes. She said “She.” We heard our voice.
We seem to need this particular method to discuss these issues. Most of us are feminists but realists as well. We grew up in churches where the overwhelming image of God is as a male. We may have joked that we knew God was a man who never listens to His mother, but it never occurred to any of us that we might actually be able to change that image.
Our situation is unique, perhaps, because we have a female pastor who went along with our idea. Most of us attend this congregation specifically because the pastor is a woman. I don’t think this group would have become a reality if we weren’t already feeling that our voices were being heard. When the pastor talks about marriage or children or job stress, it rings true for us. She feels our pain! When she incorporates that into a sermon, it gives all the women in the church a voice that is so often unheard and ignored.
In July we celebrated laughter. One of our members is over seventy years old, and a passionate and vocal feminist. She play-acted Sarah overhearing the visitors telling Abraham that not only would she have “pleasure,” she would have a baby. We sat around the altar and discussed Sarah’s pregnancy, offered our support, discussed the pros and cons of sex and childbirth at ninety. The older woman told a newcomer that night: “I come to women’s group because it is where I speak to God using my own voice.”
Our group continues to grow. It is diverse in age and background. We remain loosely organized. We average ten women attending each meeting. The reviews have been good. A group of women who operated on the fringes of the congregation now share their lives with one another. We talk on the phone to each other more often, and send each other comics and articles in the mail. We support without trying to fix. We listen and laugh. We look for each other before and after services. We still take our turn at coffee hour, sing in the choir, teach Sunday School, sponsor youth group, and yell at the kids on the way to church.
The difference is that now we express ourselves in another, more personal arena. We speak in the voice God gave us, and we are confident that She hears us.
Women’s Gatherings in the Metro Chicago Area
Feminist-theological groups that meet frequently in this area include:
- The Lutheran Women’s Network. Contact Pastor Mary Anderson (1-847-475-3312 or 3403) to put your name on the mailing list.
- Women of the Word, formed by Chicago women who attended the Re-Imagining conference, meets for liturgy the first Saturday night of most months, at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church (925 West Diversey). Contact Pastor Bonnie Beckonchrist to put your name on the mailing list (312-528-6462).