By Emily Ralph, first published in The Mennonite, May 2012.
SOUDERTON, Pa.—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.
Souderton’s Sister Care seminar was groundbreaking for Mennonite Women USA; it was the first time the seminar 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, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, First Mennonite Church of Brooklyn, and Mennonite Evangelistic Tabernacle, New York City.
Sister Care seminar materials were translated and contextualized by Wanda Gonzalez Coleman, New Holland, Pa. The Souderton seminar was translated by Chantelle Silverio.
“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. “Están tan animadas que estamos pensando en un retiro de mujeres y usar algunas dinámicas que nos ayudaron a poder expresar lo que hemos vivido, espero le sirva este mensaje [They are 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].”
“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 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.
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 Heggen. “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.”