by Diane Bleam, Bally congregation
A lot has changed since I last attended a Women Doing Theology Conference in Bluffton, Ohio in 1994. I was excited to attend “Anabaptist Women Doing Theology Conference: All You Need is Love” in Leesburg, VA on February 20-22 for some theological stimulation as well as to observe how young women are experiencing theology in the church today.
The most refreshing aspect of this conference for me was sharing with women from other ethnic groups, hearing their experiences, joys, and struggles as women leaders in the church. As one of the older attendees, most of whom were young women, I was encouraged by the energy and competency of many women and by their ability to step out and take risks.
I found that racial and ethnic differences are still an issue, although the issues are sometimes more subtle as we have become more sensitized to the long-standing oppression of many women. I was reminded how very difficult it is to overcome historical assumptions, whether related to gender, ethnic, or sexuality biases.
The women I met were strong women, women willing to take risks, while at the same time giving and receiving affirmation and appreciation, as evidenced by many public expressions of thanks and praise of work well done. It reminded me of the difference between a gathering led by men, with brief acknowledgements of thanks (maybe), and a women’s banquet, where everyone gets flowers. Not that one is necessarily better than another, just different.
While I didn’t notice much anger, I did notice a lot of determination. There was also grief and joy; many of us shed tears at different times. There were calls for justice in the face of any kind of oppression, and calls for solidarity among women. While I was sometimes uncomfortable being with so many women because I’ve spent most of my public ministry working with men, it was refreshing to see women learning from one another and being strong supports to one another.
Women being created in the image of God inspired rich experiences of worship and rituals. God’s immanence was emphasized as we sought to find God’s presence within ourselves.
If the conference schedule was an indication, much is expected by and from women today. I returned from the Conference exhausted, missing my own youthfulness, while at the same time feeling that these young women are well-prepared to go beyond those who came before. I’m excited to see where they take us.