Questions From the Elephant in the Room :: Claire DeBerg on Mennonite Women USA

This article first appeared on the Mennonite Church USA website on the Women in Leadership blog on April 2013.

Claire_Davis headshotClaire DeBerg is at her most passionate as a mama, marathoner and Mennonite. Here’s how she makes those passions rock: she unschools her pre-teen daughter and chose to birth her son right in her very own home in the winter of 2012. Those choices are just a tasty morsel of how Claire approaches most of life: with creativity, trust, abandon and bravery. She’s run 7 marathons as well as qualified for and run the Boston Marathon, which she recently crossed off her bucket list. She is committed to social justice and peacemaking in her community, which she supports as the editor of Mennonite Women USA.

I write a lot of emails. Nearly all of their subject lines start with this: MW USA. It has become almost like a mantra in my head during work, or a chant, or sometimes a cheer. MW USA! MW USA! MW USA! (If only we had an athletic team of some kind…our cheer is readymade!) Of the nearly 500 emails I’ve written in my first two months as editor with Mennonite Women USA, I can safely say they are some of my favorite emails to write.

I’ve written to some of the most inspiring women humbly asking if they’d set aside time and energy to share their experiences, lives, regrets with other Mennonite sisters. I’ve written sincere thank you notes for the responses that say the tough stuff, that reveal a raw kind of sharing. I’ve written emails directing a design firm in how MW USA wants to be portrayed in look and feel in our upcoming website redesign. I’ve written emails with lots of questions: How do I contact this writer? When should I submit these forms? How will I say this in a better way? I’ve written one-word emails: “PERFECT!” “WOW!” “AGREED.”
But my role as editor is, of course, more than writing emails (grand and amazing though they may be). It is my honor to face my work with the mission of the organization at the forefront of my thinking since it aims, “to empower women and women’s groups as we nurture our life in Christ through studying the Bible, using our gifts, hearing each other, and engaging in mission and service.” Empower women with real hearing, deep listening. Empower women with the ways in which we choose to cultivate an authentic relationship with Jesus. Empower women with how we serve, and who we are, and how we’re being in this life as Mennonites.

Empowered women are fierce, beautiful, wonderful. Their energy is infectious. Their lives are worthy. Empowered women are liberated from systems that discourage authenticity. Mennonite Women USA is working to unshackle those deep roots of stagnancy in regards to recognizing the power of women. We’re for women. We’re rooting for their dreams of ministry with our International Women’s Fund scholarships. We’re supporting women who are taking a real stand against issues like sexism and abuse in their communities through our Sister Care Seminar series.

We’re cheering for this unique group. It spans the spectrum of Anabaptist women: from 15 year-olds texting with friends to 105 year-olds quilting with friends. The elephant in the room is asking this question: how can MW USA stay relevant to all these different women? How can MW USA offer influence and empowerment to both the 22 year-old Native American Mennonite woman in the middle of Montana as well as the 74 year-old white Mennonite woman in the middle of Pennsylvania? How about to the single women in their 40s, the teenager with divorced parents, the women serving overseas, the grandmother, the college grad, the stay-at-home mom, the wealthy, the dying?

It is a challenge within which we’re willing to invest our creative energy. It is this question that is in the forefront of our minds when we’re faced with redesigning the website, and redesigning our print magazine, Timbrel, and visioning where to focus our upcoming blog, and how to present ourselves at convention, and how to engage in the social media bubble, and, and, and.

I say it like this because I want to impart a simple notion: Mennonite Women USA is paying attention to Mennonite women in all their amazing diversity. We’re heeding the call to provide and bolster resources and conversations that nurture a real relationship with Jesus. Mennonite Women USA is a critical organization for our wider church since it celebrates the women who lead the way to where we are, it empowers the women of now and it inspires the Mennonite women to come.

We wonder, too, how do you experience Mennonite Women USA?

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