On April 14 approximately 80 women from across Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the annual Sister Care Gathering. The theme was “Darkness Unfolding as Light,” with the book of Ruth as the Biblical text. Cathy Spory, Elementary Principal at Johnstown Christian School, took on the character of Naomi and gave insightful first-person monologues. Marilyn Bender, one of four co-pastors at Ripple Church in Allentown and Rose Bender Cook, Marilyn’s sister-in-law and a bi-vocational pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church, shared their personal and Biblical reflections including speaking of the illness and loss of Marilyn’s husband John, Rose’s brother.
The women were invited to string beads, with knots representing the rough places and the iridescent beads representing those light-filled moments. There was time for conversation and prayer with each other at our tables, and an opportunity to experiment with different ways to pray including praying with color, walking prayer, healing prayer and anointing.
Pastor Letty Cortes from Centro de Alabanza led the women in activities to get to know one another. There was much singing together and the women enjoyed a delicious lunch including a wonderful cake gifted to them from MCUSA out-going Executive Director, Ervin Stutzman, from his retirement party the night before. It was bi-lingual day, with everything presented in English and Spanish, and was a deeply moving day, culminating in the women giving testimony as to where God had unfolded their darkness into light.
Many thanks to the planning committee: Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator; Pastor Donna Merow; Pastor Doris Diener; Pastor Letty Castro; and Pastor Marta Castillo. Special thanks to Pastor Marilyn Bender, Pastor Rose Bender Cook and Cathy Spory for all their energy and all they shared with the women of our Conferences.
La experiencia de sentarse, aprender, reír, llorar y compartir en un grupo de 30 líderes y pastoras de habla hispana es una experiencia que no tiene comparación. El Espíritu del Dios viviente fluía libremente y poderosamente, las voces se elevaban en ánimo, las oraciones se hablaban y las experiencias de vida fueran compartidas en alegría a través del dolor. Tuve el privilegio de ser incluida en la invitación y estoy agradecida de que la Conferencia de Franconia me apoyara, Pastora Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown Nueva Vida) y Pastora Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), en nuestro viaje a Oregón el mes pasado para participar en el taller Cuidándonos entre Mujeres en español. El entrenamiento trajo sanación y el encuentro de líderes de mujeres hispanas fuertes de todo Estados Unidos, incluyendo Florida, Texas, California, Iowa y Pennsylvania fue una fuente de inspiración.
Como dice el sitio web de Menonite Women USA, “los talleres proveen a las mujeres con herramientas para la sanación personal continua, el reconocimiento y la celebración de la gracia de Dios en sus vidas, y respondiendo con más confianza y efectividad a las necesidades de otros en sus familias, congregaciones y comunidades”. Se ha sido utilizado en todo el mundo y se ha traducido en varios idiomas, pero esta es la primera vez que se imparte el curso en español con la esperanza de llevar los materiales y habilidades a nuestras conferencias y congregaciones. La Pastora Leticia Cortes Castro y yo estamos comprometidas a compartir lo que hemos aprendido con otras mujeres en nuestras iglesias y en nuestra conferencia.
La Pastora Leticia envió una nota a la Conferencia de Franconia para expresar su agradecimiento. Como miembros de la Conferencia de Franconia aquí están sus palabras para ustedes:
Para la Conferencia de Franconia:
Por este medio quiero agradecer todo el apoyo que se nos dio a Marta Castillo y su servidora, para viajar a Portland Oregon, y poder tomar el taller de “Cuidado de mujeres” que fue de gran bendición para nuestras vidas, en lo personal me siento fortalecida y animada para compartir con otras lo aprendido, los temas son de gran interés para nuestra comunidad Hispana, y pudimos identificar que muchos de los temas que se compartieron, son necesarios para ayudarnos entre nostras como mujeres, me toco la lectura bíblica de la samaritana, y algo paso en ese tiempo de compartir ese pasaje, fue algo especial para mí, me sentí tan identificada con la mujer samaritana, de sentir el perdón y amada directamente por el Mesías, otra parte del taller fue maravilloso porque los temas fueron en mi idioma, lo extraordinario fue que lo aprendido lo pude poner en práctica con una Hermana que se sentía mal espiritualmente, y pude compartir con ella y orar juntas, y sentimos como Dios uso ese momento para darle paz , y gozo en su vida, quedamos tan agradecidas con Dios, que vamos a continuar con nuestra hermandad y amistad a la distancia,
Gracias nuevamente, en Cristo Pastora Letty Cortes Castro Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia
by Marta Castillo
Sitting, learning, laughing, crying, and sharing in a group of 30 Spanish-speaking women leaders and pastors is an experience that is unrivaled. The Spirit of the living God flowed freely and powerfully, voices were raised in excitement, prayers were spoken, and life experiences shared in joy through the pain. I was privileged (as a white Spanish-speaking woman) to be included in the invitation and I am thankful that Franconia Conference supported myself, Pastor Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life), and Pastor Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), in our trip to Oregon last month to participate in the Sister Care Seminar in Spanish. Going through the training was healing and meeting strong Hispanic women leaders from all over the United States, including Florida, Texas, California, Iowa, and Pennsylvania was inspirational.
As the Mennonite Women USA website says, “seminars provide women with tools for ongoing personal healing, recognizing and celebrating God’s grace in their lives, and responding more confidently and effectively to the needs of others in their families, congregations and communities.” It has been used all over the world and been translated in several languages, but this is the first time that the training was held in Spanish with the hope that we would take the materials and skills to our conferences and congregations. Pastor Leticia Cortes Castro and I are committed to sharing what we have learned with other women in our churches and in our conference.
Pastor Leticia sent a note to Franconia Conference to express her appreciation. As members of Franconia Conference here are her words to you:
I want to thank all the support that was given to Marta Castillo and me, God’s servant, to travel to Portland, Oregon, and to be able to take the workshop “Sister Care” in Spanish. That was a great blessing for our lives. Personally, I feel strengthened and encouraged to share with others what I learned. The topics are of great interest to our Hispanic community and we were able to identify that many of the themes that were shared are necessary to help us as women. I shared a monologue of the biblical reading of the Samaritan woman and it touched me deeply. Something happened during that time that I shared that passage and it is very special for me. I identified with the Samaritan woman, feeling forgiveness and loved directly by the Messiah. Another part of the workshop that was wonderful was that the teaching was in my own Spanish language. The extraordinary thing was that what I learned I could put into practice immediately with a sister in Christ who felt bad spiritually and I could share with her and pray together. We felt like God used that moment to give her peace and joy in her life. We are so grateful to God for all the wonderful women that we met and that we will continue our sisterhood and friendship at a distance.
Thank you again, in Christ Pastor Letty Cortes Castro Centro de Alabanza
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.”
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.
“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.
Sister Care, a ministry designed for “Equipping Women for Caring Ministry,” is coming to Eastern Pennsylvania on March 23-24, 2012. Eastern District Conference and Franconia Mennonite Conference will sponsor this two-day event to be held at Souderton Mennonite Church.
Carolyn Holderread Heggen and Rhoda Keener will co-present this seminar, designed to validate women’s gifts of caring and equip women to respond more effectively and confidently to the needs of others in their lives and in the congregation. Topics include claiming identity as God’s beloved, caring for self and others, compassionate listening, and transforming loss and grief.
Heggen is a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery and serves on the board of Mennonite Women USA. Keener’s background is in teaching and mental health counseling. She has served as executive director of Mennonite Women USA since 2000.
Souderton Mennonite Church is located at 105 W. Chestnut Street, Souderton, PA 18964. The seminar runs Friday, 7:00-9:00 p.m. and Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The cost of the seminar is $40 and includes Saturday lunch and the program manual.