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Advocates for change

Patti and Bishop“You are changing the lives of women and children in your communities and around the world,” Patti Austin told synodical women's presidents gathered in Chicago in February.

Austin said she is “constantly amazed” at the stories she hears about “the great things women are doing to make a difference.”  She gave her final speech to the group as Women of the ELCA executive board president.

Referring to Isaiah 58:12, Austin said participants Women of the ELCA have made great headway at “restoring our streets.”

Heeding memorials passed at the 2014 triennial convention, “we have addressed problems like poverty, hunger, human trafficking, child nutrition, violence against women and violence in our schools, to name a few.”

Of 64 synods, 63 presidents or their representatives were in Chicago for an annual Conference of President, Feb. 16-19. Six representatives from Women of the ELCA’s executive board also attended.

Participants attended workshops on leadership, stewardship and writing memorials. They heard from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. They learned how to hold conversations about a proposed ELCA social statement on women and justice. They participated in a Café event. And they made labyrinths for the Tenth Triennial Gathering.

Presidents gave $7,490 in offerings that were split three ways: Katie’s fund ($1,800); Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative ($1,800); and Women of the ELCA’s General Fund ($3,770). They also collected $4,540 in gift cards and cash that will go to Beacon, an interfaith collaborative of congregations ending homelessness through housing, shelter and advocacy based in Saint Paul, Minn.

Austin said Women of the ELCA is “an advocate for change,” despite its challenges.

“Our organization is facing challenges in membership and finances,” she said. “Yet we are living into a whole new future, and we must be listening and watching for God’s guidance.”

Connection, she said, is the key to growth, and communication creates a connection.

She asked presidents to visit congregations in their synods to “tell our story and build relationships.

“I have personally found that whenever I visit other churches, coffee time is a great time to visit, share and invite. Together we will have to redevelop the relationships with the women in our congregational units.”

Austin said whenever someone asks about the ministry of Women of the ELCA, leaders should tell them about:

“My hope and desire is that when you leave here determined to tell women across your synod about the great work God is doing in and through our organization,” Austin said.

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Photo by Sarah Carson: Patti Austin, left, and ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton