When the Women of the ELCA executive board met via Zoom Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, the mood was hopeful, after two difficult years. During the pandemic, income to the organization decreased as many groups did not meet in person to take physical offerings. The decrease, coupled with declining offerings over many years, created significant challenges for the churchwide organization and led to staff reductions in 2021.
Women of the ELCA Treasurer Raeann Purcell (Deland, Fla., Florida-Bahamas Synodical Women’s Organization) said she was feeling hopeful about revenue expectations, despite the pandemic. “If you look at unrestricted revenue for this year, even though regular offerings are down, we have other offerings that are up,” Purcell said. “And historically, most offerings come during the fourth quarter (November-January).”
Hopeful for the future
The board received an interim report on a feasibility study being conducted that looks to the organization’s capacity to mount a major campaign. Those interviewed in the study expressed support for a campaign and looked to grow the organization. The feasibility study, conducted by Rebecca Sundquist Fundraising, was authorized at the June 23, 2021, meeting of the executive board. The study and accompanying recommendations will come before the board at a specially called meeting on November 7, 2021.
When looking to the future, executive director Linda Post Bushkofsky said, “I’m very hopeful and positive.” She told board members that “hopefulness” came through in recent stakeholder interviews and surveys. “Few want to retreat to what we used to be,” she said. “Women are excited [about] the future. It’s just so encouraging to see the openness to where God is leading us. Of course, that [openness is] what we prayed for when we had our All Anew theme in 2017. I don’t think any of us could have imagined then where we’d be now in 2021. But the God who was with us then, is the same God who is with us now.”
“It’s been interesting to have someone from outside take a good look at the organization with the capital campaign feasibility study and the survey work. We have lots on our plate because we’re looking at new things and new ways of being. …The survey is one of the big pieces as far as helping us figure out what we need to do.”
Bushkofsky said the intent of an initial October 2021 open-response survey was to learn “what it is that women are needing from the organization, because [that’s] most likely different today than it was a couple years ago.” The survey went to a sampling of churchwide and synodical women’s leaders, as well as some Facebook followers.
Women were asked about their usage of Women of the ELCA resources and publications (for example: welca.org, Gather magazine, Daily Grace devotions, Bold Café), where they were participating, how the pandemic impacted their unit’s ministries, how the organization could better provide them with resources and more.
Bushkofsky said those who participated in the first survey were most interested in getting more women involved and building stronger communication between the synodical women’s organization and the unit. They also embraced digital technology as a ministry tool.
An expanded survey is planned for November based on the initial survey and will involve large numbers of women. Responses to the upcoming survey will assist staff as they implement the three anti-racism foci that the board adopted at its June 23, 2021, meeting.
Encouraging more Spanish-language resources
Board members approved two measures recommended by the Program & Communications committee to grow Spanish-language outreach. First, the board asked the executive director to research and implement ways to draw attention to the availability of Spanish language resources on the Women of the ELCA website. Second, the board encouraged the executive director “to explore developing original Spanish language resources by diverse Latina authors who are native Spanish speakers.”
“One of the reasons we don’t have [all of our resources] available in Spanish is simply the cost of translation, plus difficulties that come with [translating regional dialects],” said Program & Communications committee chair Lorie Garcia (Corpus Christi, Texas, Southwestern Texas Synodical Women’s Organization). Most of the organization’s Spanish-language resources were first written in English, Garcia said. However, because the language and culture of the author makes a big difference in their outlook, Garcia said, “the idea would be to explore more utilization of Latina authors who are native Spanish speakers… We’d get diverse materials, and on the economic side, it would be cheaper since more people are available in our current structure to review the English version.”
In other action, the executive board:
- Reviewed the actions taken at the Eleventh Triennial Convention (2021), including those relating to human trafficking, Thursdays in Black, immigration reform, school violence and mass shootings, and the #metoo movement.
- Elected three board members: Lynette Todd (Baltimore, Md., Delaware-Maryland Synodical Women’s Organization), Lorie Garcia (Corpus Christi, Texas, Southwestern Texas Synodical Women’s Organization), and Laura Krueger (Avondale, Ariz., Grand Canyon Synodical Women’s Organization), to serve on the executive committee together with the four Women of the ELCA churchwide officers.
- Heard from staff that: Bold Café recently celebrated one year of online dinners with authors. Learnings from in-person and online synodical events will help with plans for future leadership training. Nationwide paper shortages, postal delays, and cost increases are requiring creative workarounds from Gather magazine staff. Applications for Raising Up Healthy Women and Girls grants are now being received.
- Instructed the executive director to explore further developing the administration of the Katharina von Bora Luther Endowment Fund and to bring a related report and recommendations to the board’s April 2022 meeting.
- Created a task force to explore future racial justice education for the board.
- Heard reports from the Office of the Presiding Bishop, Conference of Bishops, and Lutheran Men in Mission.