I can honestly say that God has changed my life through church ladies.
I really don’t remember having many positive role models when I was a young girl. My mother was a cook with a second grade education. I remember being embarrassed if she came to school, dressed in her white cook’s uniform. It wasn’t until years later that I came to appreciate her work ethic and her dedication to raising me and my sisters on the wages of a cook, without our father.
I grew up in a non-Christian home but one of the best memories of my childhood was walking with my little sister to Vacation Bible School at the church down the road. Those nice church ladies gave us lunch and told us stories about Jesus. Many a Christmas would not have been the same without the wonderful baskets of food delivered to our house by other church ladies. In some way, I suppose these women were the first of my role models.
Years later, I became one of those church ladies. I taught children’s Sunday school, Vacation Bible School and led a few youth groups. God had placed a passion in my heart that every child should know Jesus. Over the next forty years, I continued to be involved with children’s Christian education in one way or another and at one point helped start a bus ministry to pick up neighborhood children for Sunday School.
As I grow older God has help me understand the struggles my mother faced as a single parent and the abuse she had faced most of her life. She raised three daughters, encouraging each of us to get an education, work hard and always do the right thing. After much prayer and talking with my pastor, I drove to Nashville, Tenn., talked with my mother about Jesus and she was baptized at the age of 95.
This July, my fourteen-year-old granddaughter will be joining me at our triennial gathering. She is excited about coming; but nowhere near as excited as I am to be able to share with her this gathering of women who have so enriched my life. I pray that she will continue to carry the long tradition of the church ladies and that someday that she will have a daughter who will do the same.
Patti Austin, of Decatur, Georgia, serves on the churchwide executive board.
Delegates to the Eighth Triennial Convention (2011) of Women of the ELCA–definite “church ladies”– are pictured above. The Ninth Triennial Convention takes place this coming July, immediately prior to of many generations, the Ninth Triennial Gathering.