CHICAGO (ELCA) – Meeting under the theme “of many generations,” the Ninth Triennial Gathering of Women of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) brought more than 2,300 women of all ages to Charlotte, N.C., July 24-27 to share their faith through worship, featured speakers, workshop sessions and more.
“Our participants spanned six generations, from 10 months to 97 years old and in that range we find the beauty of inter-generational relationships,” said Linda Post Bushkofsky, executive director, Women of the ELCA. “It is in the community of women that our participants find support and creative ways in which to carry out the mission of our organization, mobilizing women to act boldly on their faith in Jesus Christ.”
Post Bushkofsky said the gathering “formed the space for inter-generational dialogue, and it is my prayer that the conversations begun in Charlotte will grow and expand across the church.”
In her sermon during the gathering’s opening worship, the Rev. Claire Shenot Burkat, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod (based in Philadelphia), said, “We will be honoring and remembering generations, the generations of women upon whose shoulders we stand. And we will be discerning ways to equip and raise up the next generation for word and witness and service in the world.
“It’s time to make the hope of reconciliation healing a reality to wherever we live and work and love and witness. It’s time to get to work in this generation, at this time, at this place, at this assembly, at this gathering on repairing the breach,” said Burkat, emphasizing Isaiah 58:12, the gathering’s Bible verse.
During the event’s closing worship, the Rev. Linda Norman, ELCA treasurer, offered thanksgiving for the generations of women who have helped transformed the lives of others. Norman recalled the parable of the woman whose small amount of yeast yielded a large batch of bread. “Yeast, starting as a small morsel, worked by the hands of this faithful woman, has its way and transforms everything, leavening the whole, creating a feast of bread. So with the morsel, God sets about leavening the world,” she said.
Norman spoke of “the testimony of women, through hardships and triumphs, from women of many generations, morsels filled with all the potential of heaven, worked by the hands of heaven and the creator together, ushering in the reign of God.”
“For all the women, told and untold, who have kneaded dough and planted seeds and worked in kitchens and started movements for mothers and sisters and daughters, keeping the faith, pursuing justice, protecting the children, providing for those in need. When we behold all of us together, it’s nothing short of the amazing spirit of God and the reign of God come near,” said Norman. “We celebrate today that in us, in them, God keeps bringing that treasure, what is new and what is old.”
Highlights of the Gathering included:
+ Featured speaker, the Rev. Susan Sparks, pastor, comedian and former attorney, told the participants that laughter can help repair and rebuild the breaches in life. “Humor is the most powerful gift that we have. I am a big believer that humor is probably one of God’s greatest gifts to us,” said Sparks, who added that one of her core messages is the ability to laugh at oneself. “If you can laugh at yourself, you can forgive yourself. And if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others.”
+ In her speech to the Gathering, the Rev. Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest who serves as chaplain at St. Augustine’s chapel at Vanderbilt University, talked about her work as founder of Magdalene and Thistle Farms based in Nashville, Tenn. She shared a message of healing and hope with women around the country. “Can you imagine if we bought into that idea that this faith can really change the world, that it can really restore and heal it, that we can take the worst and the most broken and we can come together in a beautiful and powerful way to preach that love heals?” she asked. The ELCA and The Episcopal Church are full communion partners.
+ Elaine Neuenfeldt, executive secretary for Women in the Church and Society at The Lutheran World Federation, based in Geneva, Switzerland, spoke to the gathering about the importance of passing along stories to future generations. “Telling stories is a way of engaging in our faith,” she said, emphasizing the power of stories in helping raise awareness of issues such as human trafficking. “Listening and telling is an exercise to keep hope in God. The next generation needs our stories of hope, and it is an important step in our church history, or in our church ‘her-story,’ to ensure that these little things that we are doing, that you are doing, are registered, are told in the memory of the next generations.” The Ninth Triennial Convention of Women of the ELCA, which preceded the Gathering, approved a memorial to raise awareness and prevention of human trafficking.
+ Workshop topics ranged from forming a better understanding of mental illness to creating unique giving plans for congregations; from building an inclusive church for people of all sexual orientations to learning tools to helping children who are being bullied.
+ Servant opportunities offered women a chance to learn and put into practice collective stewardship and discipleship. Activities, which were centered on the gathering’s Bible verse, included making quilts to be sent around the world via Lutheran World Relief; learning more about “Raising Up Healthy Women and Girls” – the Women of the ELCA’s Health Initiative; and hearing the stories of women in the military, creating safe havens for girls, learning more about the plight of women in the Congo, and community organizing.
+ Women attending the gathering contributed “in-kind” gifts to support local organizations striving to meet the needs of families experiencing poverty. During the Gathering, women contributed $14,785 in gift cards, 15,877 minutes in phone cards, 6,635 toilette items, 3,717 pairs of socks and underwear, 118 quilt kits, 116 quilts, and 1,508 prayer shawls. Agencies receiving Women of the ELCA in-kind gifts are: The Legacy Hall program of Florence Crittenton Services, The Journey Place program of The Relatives, Faith Farm of Lutheran Services Carolinas, Lutheran World Relief, and Lily Pad Haven.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God’s work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA’s roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.