“Spirited Lives of Women.” Speaker/preacher Jennifer Davis Sensenig. Women in Conversation Retreats. Mennonite Women USA partnership with Laurelville Mennonite Church Center. Two separate events, two separate worship/planning committees. Light snow in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania the weekend of March 21-23. Beautiful KS weather despite a small storm threat, April 25-27. Sixty-four spirited women in attendance at Laurelville; 69 spirited women in attendance at Crosswinds Conference Center, Hesston, KS. Numerous conference calls for planning; a plethora of emails confirming, consulting and contracting for these amazing events.
The 2014 bi-ennial Women in Conversation Retreats provided opportunity for women to come together for relaxation, for worship and fellowship, time alone and time together. Women left feeling rejuvenated, spiritually challenged, and invigorated for further Bible study.
Jennifer Davis Sensenig selected the theme of the retreat “The Spirited Lives of Women” from the book of Acts, a text rich with many “spirited” stories of women apostles. Davis Sensenig began by invoking the ancient prophesies of Moses and Joel that all flesh would receive the Spirit, prophesy and be fulfilled. Through our study of Acts, we began to see these prophesies coming to fruition as boundaries of gender and class are ignored by the Spirit’s abundant, transformative, creative power. The opening scenes of the book tell the story of Pentecost, the birth of the church, when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is experienced by all who are present and believe. In four sessions Davis Sensenig walked us through the stories of some of the first women apostles recorded in Acts: Mary, Sapphira, Rhoda and Lydia.
In the upper room, the place where the Spirit was poured out onto all the believers after Jesus’ anunciation, we encountered Mary–Jesus’ mother, church elder, bold prophet–named among the apostles present there. Through the gospels we learn that Mary, a woman with prophetic strength and a deep interior life is a woman of prayer who ‘ponders in her heart’ the things of the Spirit, proclaims God’s justice and delivers the Messiah into the world.
“In what ways are you aligned with Mary in a prophetic tradition of justice and peace in the kingdom of God?” asked Davis Sensenig. “When have you felt spiritually alive or awake to the Holy Spirit?”
“Certain women,” or rather certain unnamed women, were also present in the upper room with Mary and the other apostles at Pentecost. It is clear that these women were close followers of Jesus, present at the birth of the church and receptive to the Spirit being poured out. Yet we wonder, with frustration: Who were they? Why weren’t their names recorded or their stories preserved? Why wasn’t a woman chosen to replace Judas among the twelve?
In the story of Sapphira we hear the church going from a spiritual high of the Pentecost moment to a devastating blow. “Sapphira speaks one line in the text, and it is a lie,” which ends up costing Ananias and Sapphira their lives. Unpacking this difficult story comes with challenges, but Davis Sensenig pointed us to the ways it reveals our own temptations to hoard and deceive in order to achieve personal security and status in our communities.
A dramatic reenactment of Rhoda’s story, written by Davis Sensenig, illuminated the class dynamics at play in this text. As a servant in the household, Rhoda’s voice is overlooked and her witness dismissed, even though she alone recognizes the voice of Peter who had miraculously returned from prison. As women living in a patriarchal society, we were encouraged to share our own experiences of voicelessness as well as oppressive power dynamics at play in our lives, churches and ministries and on others who might also experience dehumanizing systems of power and domination, and those whose gifts are overlooked or dismissed as a result.
In Lydia’s story, the subject of the final session of the weekend, we discovered a strong example of an early church leader, and the first woman Paul is recorded to have worked with in his own ministry. Lydia, the first baptized believer in Europe, becomes the leader of the house church in Philippi. We reflected together on what characterizes us as a leader and shared about our own leadership experiences.
Davis Sensenig’s guidance through the challenging, painful, and empowering stories of Mary, Sapphira, Rhoda, and Lydia helped us reflect on how the Spirit is at work in our own lives. As Mennonite women coming together from different corners of the church for a weekend of retreat, we too were invited to gather expectantly in that “upper room,” joining the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, waiting for an outpouring of the Spirit to empower and enliven us, and supporting each other in the ways we have been called to proclaim the good news with integrity and lead our communities boldly.
The speaker powerful, the stories important, the respite welcome. Not only was Women in Conversation a time for engaging in theology but it was a time to connect with God. In an upper room of the retreat center in Kansas was the “Prayer Room” which comprised beautiful stations for women to learn new ways of being in communion with God. From Doodling Prayers to Bead Praying there were fully 10 different ways of engaging with the Spirit.
Here is a look at the practice of Praying the Scriptures:
Praying the Scripture is available in two different formats. One will involve choosing a scripture passage doodle that speaks to you. As you color the page, ask Jesus to manifest God’s word in your heart. (Scripture doodles created by Joanna Pinkerton. Additional Scripture doodles are available at Year of The Bible.) You are also invited to create your own Scripture doodle. Another way of Praying the Scriptures is known as Lectio Divina or sacred reading. If we devote ourselves to meditating on God’s word for a few minutes a day, we will gradually be changed; a new person will emerge who looks at life and humanity with a transformed attitude, a person who sees with the heart of Christ.
10 Different Approaches to Prayer
All the below are available from Laurelville’s online resource center…just click below and be inspired!
Women found community, they found solitude. They laughed out loud, they cried in quiet. They turned down the noise of everyday and they turned up their creativity.
Watch a short video of some of the music and teachings from the weekend.