By Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator, EDC/FMC Sistering Committee
On March 12, 2016, over 35 women met together for a Day Apart, held at Towamencin Mennonite Church. A large group came from Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a church located in South Philadelphia that is made up primarily of immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and Latin America; other attendees came from various Mennonite churches in Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences.
This gathering was a bilingual retreat that gave the opportunity 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 CAF and by Dorothy Beidler. A meditation was given by Ana Rosa Hernandez 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, Ligia Canavan, and Jenny Duskey – 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, and the spiritual, emotional and physical help they found along the way.
A 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. Pastor Letty Cortes 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. In this way we learned 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.
I 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.
Enough good cannot be said about Pastor Mike Clemmer and Towamencin Mennonite Church for allowing us to use their facility and giving so much help in bringing our event to fruition. And I want to thank the other members of the Sistering Committee for their wisdom and prayers and efforts: Pastor Marta Castella, Pastor Leticia Cortes, and Doris Diener.
Another Women’s Gathering will occur in a year. Keep watch for announcements about it![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 via email.]