Selected Reflections from Black Mennonite Women ROCK by Rosalie Grove

submitted by Rosalie Grove

“Some white women were surprised at how black folks often attributed more positive characteristics to lighter skin.”

Friday evening at Camp Friedenswald began with “Celebration of Womanhood.” It was a time of praise to God led by emcee and retreat coordinator, Pastor Cyneatha Millsaps of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois. Gabrielle Stuckey read a poem by Ntozake Shange, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Lady in Brown.” Hyacinth Stevens, co-pastor with her husband, of King of Glory Tabernacle in the Bronx, N.Y., brought the message each day. Worship in song was led by Crystal Sellers Battle, Assistant Professor of Music at Bluffton University. Worship was followed by a time of praising God through line dancing, fellowship and snacks. The snacks were wonderful pizza bites and an excellent bean dip with chips. The evening ended at Mosquito Hollow, a traditional place for campfire singing and popcorn made by camp staff in a big iron kettle over the fire and distributed in huge washtubs.

Saturday began with short devotions—not in the traditional outdoor amphitheater because of rain, but in the Peaceful Grounds Coffee Shop. After a breakfast of baked oatmeal, eggs, bacon and a variety of cereals and go-withs we walked down to the chapel for worship.

Late morning there was a screening of “Dark Girls” which made many of us consider how we may have participated in some of the pain. We then separated into two groups to provide a safe place for discussion—for black women to be able to name their experiences and pain with honesty so they would not hurt their white sisters, and for white women to ponder a number of questions. Some white women were surprised at how black folks often attributed more positive characteristics to lighter skin.

Lunch consisted of fried rice, couscous, garbanzo beans in a tomato sauce, chicken strips, desserts…The afternoon was free time and one could choose a variety of activities. Three workshops were offered: “All Natural: healthy mind, body, and soul,” “Black and Ethnic Mennonite” and “Who do they say that I am?” Or one could choose pontoon rides, speedboat rides, trail wagon rides, nature hikes, Spirit Sing! We were encouraged to work on an Identity Quilt throughout the weekend. Each person was to complete one square of a quilt that would be assembled later. There were also books for browsing and purchase from the Faith & Life Bookstore.

The Saturday evening meal was an opportunity for dress-up time and we ate with candles and tablecloths. Two black women were honored as “Black Mennonite Women who Rock!” They were Sarah Thompson for her years of activism and now as Executive Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams based in Chicago and Ivorie Lowe, a long-time attender of Camp Friedenswald Women’s Retreats who has many achievements and has spent years encouraging black women. There was a time of worship and then we transitioned to the “Ebony Café,” an opportunity for folks to showcase their talents.

Sunday morning there was a continental breakfast, devotions, worship, communion, free time to connect with each other, and finally a wonderful brunch to send us on our way.

During Sunday morning devotions one black woman shared that she had felt safety, respect, and love at this weekend. This fits well with Cyneatha’s words printed on the back of our schedules: “We hope everyone is able to spend time enjoying black culture, learning through the lives and stories of black women, and celebrating the leadership gifts of black women in the Mennonite Church…We hope you will find time for both comfortable relaxation as well as opportunities for growth through new experiences. This weekend we hope to intentionally face head on difficult topics like race and discrimination, and hope that together we can do so with respect and love.” I believe these hopes were met.

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