Gathering of “sisters” provides training and care

by Emily Ralph,

Sister Care seminar
Over a hundred women gathered at Souderton Mennonite Church for the Sister Care seminar. Photo by Emily Ralph

One hundred and thirty women gathered for training and fellowship at Souderton Mennonite Church on March 23-24.  The Sister Care seminar, developed by Mennonite Women USA, was sponsored by Eastern District and Franconia Conferences as part of their continuing work to equip and train congregational leaders.

“The depth of the sharing and the tears move, inspire, and teach us that the female characteristics are God-given and that we, as God’s women, have much honesty and healing to bring to the world,” said event planner Anne Yoder, West Philadelphia congregation.  “I was most thrilled about the number of women who came from smaller churches and were able to connect with the larger church body.”

Sister Care was born out of a 2006 question to Mennonite women: How can congregations provide better care for women’s needs?  After two years of meeting with a focus group, Sister Care materials were developed.  Since 2008, Mennonite Women USA has been offering the seminar through conferences all over the country.

“Pastors are overwhelmed.  They don’t have time to do one-on-one counseling with individual parishioners,” said Sister Care co-presenter Carolyn Heggan.  “Women often have natural gifts of compassion and caregiving.  Sister Care, we hope, affirms the gifts they have and have been using and gives them some insights and confidence to see their caring relationships with others as important ministry.”

This empowerment and equipping becomes an important tool for church leaders, Heggan added.  “Pastors are thrilled if they are not the only one that people can turn to in the congregation.”

Vicki Cook “collapses” in frustration after Rhoda Keener fails to follow the principles of active listening. Photo by Gay Brunt Miller.

The two-day seminar included times of teaching, dramatic readings, singing, table conversation, individual reflection, congregational brainstorming, and symbolic action.  A highlight for many was co-presenter Rhoda Keener’s illustration of active listening by play-acting a conversation with friend Vicki Clark in which she repeatedly got distracted; Clark ended up falling to the ground in frustration.

In addition to teaching skills for listening and offering a healing presence, the seminar emphasized the need for self-care.  Without caring for self, people in ministry become run down and unable to help others.  “We, as Mennonites, may be more susceptible than others,” said Heggan.  “We equate being busy and doing good things with Christian virtue.  Sometimes we carry our busy schedules and being harassed with too much to do almost as a badge of courage.”

Souderton’s Sister Care seminar was groundbreaking for Mennonite Women USA—it was the first time they have used materials translated into Spanish; Spanish-speaking participants were also equipped with translation headsets.  As a result, the seminar was well-attended by Spanish-speaking members of Philadelphia Praise Center and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.

Sister Care
Leti Cortes (left) shares with her table during group conversation. Photo by Emily Ralph.

“Mi grupo de mujeres quedaron muy contentas en su primera experiencia y ya estamos planeando como pober en practica las herramientas que se nis dio en el taller [My group of women were very happy with their first experience and we are already planning how to put into practice the tools that we were given at the seminar],” said Leti Cortes, a pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center. “Estan tan animadas que estamos pensando en un retiro de mujeres y usar algunas dinamicas que nos ayudaron a poder expresar lo que hemos vivido,espero le sirva este mensaje [We were so encouraged that we are thinking about having a women’s retreat and using some of the group activities that help us to express what we have lived].”

For more information on Sister Care, visit Mennonite Women USA’s website.

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