Tag Archives: Sistering committee

Carrying Grandmother’s Purse

by Anne M. Yoder

On March 18, 2017, I had the privilege of meeting with a large group from area Mennonite churches at the 6th annual Eastern District and Franconia Conferences’ Women’s Gathering. Every year at this event I think about who will attend, what joys they will have experienced in the last year and what difficulties they may have encountered. I pray for us all that we may meet the Lord in and through each other when we gather. And each year I am again greatly heartened by being among so many sisters in Christ.

Once again the hard work of the planning committee and especially our miracle-working God made a way where there seemed to be no way, and we were able to enjoy a sacred day of fellowship, worship, and learning. We had the biggest group ever, with 80 registrants from 15 different churches. The largest contingent of over 20 women came from Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia.

The theme for the gathering was “Carrying Grandmother’s Purse”, a metaphor for the views and messages we often carry from our families and culture that may or may not help us to be the women God created us to be (see the meditation here for more on the metaphor). Our speaker was Pastor Tami Good from Swamp Mennonite Church, who led us in looking at several Biblical women who needed to hear new messages about themselves in order to live abundantly. First they had to shed some of the messages they had heard in the past about themselves, setting aside “Grandmother’s Purse,” as it were before they could accept the messages Christ had for them.

We were asked to reflect on three questions throughout the day: Who do they (culture, family, etc.) say that I am? Who do I say that I am? Who does God say that I am? Pastor Tami told about her own journey of letting go of some of Grandmother’s purse as she stepped into God’s calling on her life to be a pastor.

Probably the most moving for all of us was hearing stories from those who shared candidly about their struggles and their hopes for the future, and time spent praying in groups of two or more for each other. In the morning we had blue paper purses that we named as our grandmothers’, and in them we placed slips of paper on which we had written things we had heard about ourselves through our lives that we wanted to release. Part of our prayer time was taking those purses up front to a basket where they joined all the others to be discarded. In exchange for these “old” purses, we were given change purses on a keychain in which we had placed positive messages to remember in the future including scripture verses reminding us of God’s messages to us.

We were blessed by songs of worship led by women from Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia, expert translation between Spanish and English by several women, wonderful snacks donated by a dozen registrants, a delicious luncheon prepared by Marta Castillo, and by the faith witness of those who attended.

As one participant wrote, when asked what they found most meaningful about the Gathering: “Connecting with sisters of a different culture and learning from their examples – I noticed how many shared, and how they usually began with ‘God is good’ even as they described hardship in their lives.” Similarly, another wrote in answer to the same question: “Joining of all cultures, all sisters, seeing tears, prayer, and sincerity.”

All in all, it was a delightful and very meaningful day. We look forward to gathering together again next year.

Much gratitude goes to all who helped make the day possible, including Pastor Mike Clemmer for his generosity in helping to set up and clean up Towamencin Mennonite Church before and after our use of the facility, and the members of the Eastern District and Franconia Conference Sistering Committee who helped plan this year’s event: Pastor Letty Castro (Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia), Doris Diener, Pastor Tami Good (Swamp Mennonite Church), Pastor Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life), and Anne Yoder.

Women Meet to Tell Their Sacred Stories

By Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator, EDC/FMC Sistering Committee
On March 12, over 35 women met together for a Day Apart, held at Towamencin Mennonite Church. Attendees came from various Mennonite churches in Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences. A large group coming from Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a South Philadelphia congregation that is made up primarily of immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and Latin America.

This gathering was a bilingual retreat that gave the oSistering1pportunity to reflect on the theme “Sistering for Life.” The term “sistering” refers to a practice in carpentry in which structural repairs are made by attaching new wood beams to weak (sagging, cracked or twisted) joists to make the original stronger. All of us are strong at times and can help those who are weak; all of us find it difficult to make it on our own at times and need others to support us. Sistering is a gift that we embody as God’s women who are following Jesus throughout our lives.

The program’s theme was fleshed out in various ways. Songs were led in Spanish and English by a team from Centro de Alabanza and by Dorothy Beidler from Norristown New Life. A meditation was given by Ana Rosa Hernandez, a member at Centro de Alabanza, on Proverbs 17:17 (“A friend loves at all times, and a [sister] is born for a time of adversity.”) and Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”) Four women — Linda Esh, Dania Hernandez, and Ligia Canavan, from Centro de Alabanza, and Jenny Duskey of Ambler Mennonite – were designated to tell a story of being sistered. From them came accounts of loss, sexual abuse, stepping into unknown territory during a move, and finding faith in the midst of struggle, along with the spiritual, emotional and physical help they found along the way.

Sistering3A children’s story, “Four Feet, Two Sandals”, was read to illustrate how something as simple as sharing a pair of sandals at a refugee camp can build sisterhood. Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, led us in activities that required teamwork and seeing how we felt in each other’s shoes. A sandal was given to each participant to decorate and to write a message on; these were then exchanged with another woman, with whom a prayer and blessing were shared.

Throughout the day we sat in table groups getting to know six or seven other women in a deeper way as we reflected together on our experiences of being sistered by Jesus and by girls/women at different stages of our lives. Women who could interpret between Spanish and English were each assigned to a table so that all of us could understand each other.

Sistering4I felt great joy in spending time with the women who gathered on March 12th. Not knowing Spanish, I had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be in the minority for once, but also to listen to a beautifully expressive language. Hearing the stories of women often moved me to tears and to laughter, and I marveled at the deep, and often exuberant faith that has emerged in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult circumstances in their lives. Each year, this event challenges my faith journey and stretches my world-view. The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very evident as we meet. It is a privilege to take part in creating a holy space for this gathering to happen and to take part in it.

The Sistering Committee is working to hold annual gatherings like this and are planning for another one in 2017 Keep watch for announcements about it!

The Sistering Committee is especially grateful to Mike Clemmer and his team at Towamencin Mennonite Church for allowing us to use their facility and giving so much help in bringing our event to fruition. And I, Anne Yoder, want to thank the other members of the Sistering Committee for their wisdom and prayers and efforts: Marta Castillo, pastor at Norristown New Life, Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, and Doris Diener, of Franconia Mennonite Church.

The Sistering Committee represents Mennonite Women USA for eastern Pennsylvania (and the conferences’ outlying congregations) and looks forward to serving the women of our area. If you are interested in serving on the committee, please contact Anne Yoder at ayoder1@swarthmore.edu.

SisterCare Offered Time to Encounter God in Each Other in Spanish & English

By Marta Castillo, associate pastor Nueva Vida Norristown New Life & Franconia Conference board member

Marta CastilloMirror, mirror, what do you see?
Women made in the image of Thee
Woman, woman, what do you see?
I see You in me.

Rarely do I get a chance to see God orchestrating events in such a way as for the Women’s Gathering this spring  “Shattering our Mirrors, Reclaiming Ourselves”.  I imagine that the Sister Care planning committee faithfully and purposefully chose the theme, the location, the date, and carefully planned for speakers and program.  At some point in the process, the Holy Spirit began nudging them towards attempting to be more inclusive and intercultural.  It all began by the simple decision to send out the event information in Spanish.

Intercultural efforts and events have a way of stripping away our illusions of control and allowing us to “let go and let God.”  When the flier went out in Spanish, God moved quickly in a new direction and from my viewpoint, the planning committee with some uncertainty yet graciously followed the Spirit’s lead as their well organized plans went sideways.  Very quickly over 20 Spanish-speaking women had eagerly signed up but many of them could not attend without the provision of childcare during the event.  The committee had decided not to provide childcare during past events or even this year but willingly obedient to the flow of the Spirit, they agreed to try to provide childcare.  God provided people who volunteered to help care for the children but now they realized the original space was too small for all the children and a meeting place for the women.  Very close to the date of the gathering, the committee had to consider an alternative space that could accommodate everyone.

Reflecting2aAfter a visit and several conversations with me, the Sister Care Committee settled into moving the whole event to Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.  I couldn’t have been happier.  I could see that God was doing a new thing and I was honored to be a part of it.  For several years, I had carried a desire in my heart to see a repeat of the original event, in which Spanish-speaking women participated and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  I wanted to see an event that I could invite all the sisters of color in my church to participate in.

The nudging of God’s Spirit continued.  Since there were as many Spanish-speaking women signed up as English-speaking women, why not make it a fully bilingual event?  With translated documents, side-by-side translation, and sharing from everyone in Spanish and in English.  Why would more than half of the women sit there with ear buds waiting for the Spanish to come through while the English speakers talked on and on without pause?  Kudos to the committee members, speakers, and presenters who said “Yes”, they would be willing to try a new method.  Thanks be to God who provided translators!  One of the comments on the evaluation sheets expresses the importance of making languages equal.  “I liked everything because there were no divisions of languages because we are equal before the eyes of God and thank you for the word.”

TestimonyaOn the day of the event, women came early, with eager hearts and a hunger for time spent in the company of sisters in Christ.  From the greeting, to the worship, the meditations, the sharing, and the final prayer of blessings, English and Spanish words flowed back and forth like a beautiful dialogue.  Sandy Drescher Lehman talked about her calling as a pastor, shared her story of her beautiful skirt made from her father’s ties, and encouraged us to go down deep but to emerge in a new place.  Table groups talked and shared about the things that hinder them from knowing themselves and God and things that help them draw closer to God and know themselves better.

After a shared meal of tostadas, Christine Waanders walked us through a process of better getting to know ourselves and our personalities.  The culminating event of washing each others’ hands brought tears, hugs, love, prayer, and laughter to many women as well as the bittersweet feeling that a day of blessing, healing, and sisterhood was about to end.

Afterward, I received a card signed by 20 of our sisters in Philadelphia, thanking the committee again for the invitation, the experience, and expressing thanks to God.  “The time we spent together was glorious.  Thank you.”  As tears of joy sprung again to my eyes, I am amazed how God orchestrated the events as my faithful sisters chose to follow the leading of God’s Spirit.

Franconia Conference & Eastern District Women Gather  

by Doris Diener 

TestimonyaOn the morning of Saturday, March 7, approximately fifty women joined together at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation to “set the day apart” for worship, learning, and fellowship. The theme of the day was “Shattering Our Mirrors,” releasing the false image we see and embracing the image God sees when our Creator looks at us. Sandra Dresher-Lehman shared that God’s creativity in His creation of women may not always fit the mold the community has prepared for us and encouraged each to be authentic followers of Jesus. Christine Waanders challenged each to own her personality and to see positive possibilities in what may considered our downsides.

Reflecting2aOther speakers included Kristi Wile, Donna Merow, and Ana Giron. Thanks to Marta Castillo and Karisa Barlow who translated, everyone was able to understand. During the time together, the women learned to know new friends, made origami boats, sang, discussed, prayed, looked inside themselves and were challenged on their journeys of faith, washed hands together, and blessed each other. The women enjoyed a delicious lunch, provided by the congregation, over lots of chatter and laughter. What a refreshing, insightful, delightful day!WorshipDancea

The conference Sistering Committee is made up of Anne Yoder (chairperson), Donna Merow, Bobby Smisko, Kristi Wile, and Doris Diener. This event was the fourth Franconia/Eastern District Conference Women’s gathering since the 2012 Sister Care event.