Several women gathered in January to discuss how to best fulfill Women of the ELCA’s mission and purpose in a changing world.
An 11-woman exploratory committee met in St. Louis, Jan. 4-6, and centered its work on investigating the organization’s current business model. The committee was created at the behest of the churchwide executive board’s budget and finance committee at the board’s April 2018 meeting.
“On my flight home [from the meeting], I had some time to reflect over the course of the weekend and felt a full and grateful heart,” said Lisa Plorin, churchwide president for the 2017-2020 triennium. “It was inspiring to be in the presence of women from all corners of the United States who have the same passion for this organization as I do.”
Plorin said she is looking forward to seeing how the committee’s plans grow to ensure the life and vitality of the Women of the ELCA. Plorin supported the work of the committee in an ex officio capacity.
The committee began its work examining the organization’s governance structure, communication methods, constitutional structure and financial realities. Following a small group brainstorming session, the Rev. Leila Ortiz, chaplain for the committee and an assistant to the bishop in the Metro D.C. Synod, led a Bible study based on 2 Kings 5.
She reminded committee members that everyone is relevant to the issue. Ortiz asked, “Who is not at this table? Who could give the organization new life? Who has wisdom to share?” Like Naaman’s experience in the biblical passage, the process of bringing about new life will likely be messy, Ortiz said and may take several different approaches.
Ortiz offered the committee members a repeated question over their weekend meeting: What must die so Women of the ELCA can come alive again?
The many assets of Women of the ELCA
The committee listed the many assets of Women of the ELCA: people (participants, subscribers to Gather magazine, elected leaders, staff), publications (Gather, Interchange/Intercambio, Bold Connections, Daily Grace, Café, program resources, synodical newsletters); giving to annual budget, Katie’s Fund, restricted funds, synodical-held funds, congregational unit-held funds, expectation of planned gifts, intellectual property).
Over the next several months, the committee will engage participants in a variety of ways, asking questions and gathering data. The engagement begins in February at the annual Conference of Synodical Presidents. In advance of the conference, synodical women’s organization presidents will be asked to consider the following three questions:
- If you could make changes to our constitutions to encourage more participation in the organization, what would they be?
- The triennial convention costs approximately $2,400 per voting member. Annual revenue from offerings has been insufficient to pay for the convention over the past two triennium. How could your SWO assist with the costs?
- Why is this organization important to you? If this organization went away tomorrow, would you miss it? Would it matter? Why?
The committee broke into two sub-groups, one to examine constitutional issues and one to create assessment tools. Following this in-person meeting, the committee will continue its work by email and conference calls. The committee will offer an interim report to the churchwide executive board at its April 2019 meeting, with another report scheduled for its October 2019 meeting.
The following women are serving on the committee:
- Ms. Cindy Arnett, Sierra Pacific
- Ms. Desiree Cole, Metro Chicago
- Ms. Sheena Foster, Metro D.C.
- The Rev. Susan Haukaas, Eastern N.D.
- The Rev. Gwen King, Southeastern Pa.
- Ms. Laura Krueger, Grand Canyon and a member of the churchwide executive board, 2017-2020
- Ms. Sara Larson, Southwestern Minnesota and a member of the churchwide executive board, 2017-2020
- Ms. Raeann Purcell, Florida-Bahamas
- Ms. Phyllis Rude, Alaska
- Ms. Jody Smiley, Virginia, and chair of the committee
- Ms. Camille Trott, Metro D.C.
Linda Post Bushkofsky, executive director of Women of the ELCA, and Gabriela Contreras, director for meeting planning, also attended the meeting.
Photo, left to right, front row, Lisa Plorin, Susan Haukaas; second row, Sheena Foster, Cindy Arnett, Camille Trott, Jody Smiley; third row, Raeann Purcell, Gwen King, Laura Krueger, Phyllis Rude; back row: Sara Larson, Desiree Cole, Leila Ortiz
I understand why the Gathering and the Business meeting were separated but since I only attend the Gathering I have become oblivious to the working of the business meeting. As an observer it was fascinating to watch the election of the board and to see how the many resolutions were voted on, it made me feel very connected to a larger body of women. The Gathering connects me as a retreat would connect me to others but I have lost the awareness of the business aspect of WELCA.
At our church we moved from a Board of 11-13 to a committee of 3 plus treasurer. With less women being involved in decision process, there is less knowledge/interest in activities. I have not figured out how to get others to attend Gatherings, etc.
Support the large inspiring gatherings. smaller gatherings cannot support the well known speakers. As congregations become smaller, could women from several churches form a unit and meet together?
Sandy, you have a suggestion for a change worth looking at. I am in a small congregation where the women interested in WELCA is down to two. We two still try to collect LWR items and attend our Cluster events. To make Bible study more interesting, however, we have joined a circle in a sister congregation. (Note: we are a Parish of four congregations.) I can see where WELCA Units may become units that involve women from more than one congregation.
I have enjoyed triannual gatherings. However the majority of Women of the ELCA do not attend these. I suggest that we try something less expensive but more accessible such as having smaller gatherings in cities that are closer to the members. This would require significant “thinking out if the box.” I believe each gathering could be more relevant to the area and costs could be cut. Also, if each one had somewhat different focuses, those who wanted to travel outside of their area could, but the other option of a more local gathering would be within time and cost restraints of many of us Women of the ELCA.
All the Triennials that I have attended have been wonderful experiences that really uplifted me and my companions. We renewed and expanded our knowledge of all the various expressions of Women of the ELCA and were very proud of the work that we accomplish together. I understand that the cost of funding delegates in now a problem. Maybe we should cut back on the number of delegates but encourage more women to attend as observers. Maybe we should return to combined business sessions and The Gathering. I also think that we need to encourage participation from interested women who don’t have an active congregational unit in their local area.
Thank you, Susan, for sharing your thoughts. They’ll be passed along to the committee.
I have enjoyed the Triennials that I have attended and come home renewed and challenged. I am glad we are looking into this before our organizations dies. I like Susan’s thoughts.
I am in my second congregation which has no interest in being WELCA members. I would love to be able to participate more on my own with other like minded women.
Sally, thanks for sharing. We’ll pass your thoughts on to the committee.
This is an interesting thought. I think we should investigate it.
So excited to see this committee working for the future of our organization! I don’t have the constitution in front of me and I realize it takes time to make the changes but some thoughts I have.
-Open our selves to women who aren’t Lutheran. For our friends who don’t have a women’s group. Making full membership available so they can serve on boards and committees.
– Allowing more than one woman from a congregation to serve on synod boards.
-Keeping our conventions in the area of the country where our membership is concentrated
-Is it possible to participate in the triennial convention via Skype if travel isn’t affordable? Not ideal but if your synod cannot afford to send a full delegation?
– Making the meetings four years apart seems like a hardship for all those who are serving on boards and slows down the process of change too much in my opinion. I support keeping it every three years.
-Triennial Gatherings are the best thing going. The inspiration from speakers, the new ideas shared, just being a part of the whole for a few days is exciting. I have great memories from every one I’ve attended. Again opening ourselves to women of other faiths in the area. I know we have contact with other national women’s groups. Invite them to our gathering. If one of them had their gathering near me I might be interested. The opportunity to hear world class women speak and lead workshops is an excellent opportunity.
Thanks to the committee!
Thanks, Debbie, for your many ideas here. They will be shared with the committee.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree we need to try something new and creative to keep our organization alive.
As someone on the Exploratory Committee and a current Executive Board Member, I want to hear everyone’s ideas. This organization was in existence long before it meant something to me, but if we do not make changes it will not continue to exist for the next generation. Do not hesitate to post your comments or reach out to your synodical presidents. Now is the time to be heard. Changes will be forthcoming. What will the Women of the ELCA look like in five years? Could be AWESOME, but it will take your involvement, feedback and of course a dependable funding source!
All comments to this news article will be shared with the exploratory committee. Thanks to everyone for sharing their opinions.
Musings from St. Louis. When I retired I finally was able to attend a Triannual gathering in NC. Loved the comraderie and the programming. I attended the MN convention with my east coast friends. When I moved from an active WELCA group in 2014 to a state and congregation with a not so interested church in WELCA. This has been difficult. I started a bible study group which is wonderful as women expressed a need for bible study and fellowship. We use the Gather magazine which has improved. The newbies in our group are pleased as well. I am not committed to the The WELCA meetings as they are too far away in our Midwest area for me to attend. I am a busy grandma and volunteer for women who have been trafficked. Thank you Bishop Eaton and Becca Stevens for inspiring this service at the WELCA convention. Bless you all in your new challenge to inspire WELCA work as the current constitution seems a bit dated with some of the requirements.
That is something to consider but we will have to change our constitution to make that happen. Currently the constitution requires a convention every 3 years with the churchwide budget funding the convention. That means our offerings must pay the $2,400 per voting members from each synodical women’s organization (SWO)
Our church’s WELCA is dwindling and is struggling to meet obligations (like supporting our missionary) and yet we continue to support the central organization, sending a majority of our monthly offerings to it. Cutting back at the top is essential.
I believe existing conventions are a waste of money. Why not have smaller ones in smaller cities, using churches and local businesses for meetings, events and accommodations?