Kathy Bilderback, board chair for Mennonite Women USA, reflects on Mennonite Church USA Conference 2017 in Orlando.
As I walked from hotel to classroom to booth to ballroom and exhibit or meal hall, I observed others. I smiled to strangers, hugged friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and walked alongside new friends. But it was the ribbons on nametags that I kept noticing. The sight played out in my mind, “oh, that person is an Executive Board Member, that woman is a Mennonite college alum, and look there is another purple Mennonite Women USA ribbon.”
In our Mennonite Women USA booth, we had purple ribbons that we not only gave out to whomever wanted them, but we chose to tear the strip off the back to seal the deal on their name tag so they could be identified as affiliated with Mennonite Women USA. I was delighted to add the identifier to anyone who came by, even men, who allowed me to tack it to their nametag.
I was thrilled that we were able to give our identifier to so many people. That is the way it is for Mennonite Women USA across the country, but not everyone knows it! All women in the Mennonite Church can identify and be affiliated with Mennonite Women USA just because they are a woman and they attend a Mennonite Church. No strings attached!
Kathy Bilderback shares a blessing at the end of Mennonite Women USA’s Centennial Celebration in Orlando.
Some women still don’t think they are a part of Mennonite Women USA. They say, “I don’t belong to a women’s group”, “my grandma keeps me informed”, or “we don’t have an organized women’s group in our church”. However, as a woman in the Mennonite Church you are already part of our tribe of Mennonite Women USA. You have been tagged with purple, a royal identity, carrying the love of God. I wish every woman could proudly say, “I’m a Mennonite Woman” without hesitation so that we could join together to empower, nurture and listen to one another and study, share gifts and engage in mission and service together.
I am ingrained into Mennonite Women USA as the board chair, so I am caught off guard when other women have not heard about our organization or have not seen any of our resources, such as the annual Bible study guides or the quarterly magazine we publish. Sometimes they tell me that their mom was in the sewing circle but they don’t attend. While I embrace the history of sewing circles, we don’t have to belong to a sewing circle to belong to one another. We are a royalty in God’s church.
Why is it important to cling to the joy of the purple ribbon identifier of Mennonite Women USA? It’s important because we still have to learn how to change our behavior to claim gender equality for ourselves. Shifts in attitudes and cultures are still necessary in the church so that a woman’s voice and thoughts are valued and considered vital to the life of society and church.
I heard the word persistence throughout our MW USA Centennial celebration Wednesday evening in Orlando. Women have persisted throughout the years and have proven that it is women and men together, not men by themselves, who can change the world. It was women who Jesus released, healed, and empowered.
So I invite all women to boldly claim the purple royalty of belonging to Mennonite Women USA. Our vision is to reach across generations, cultures, and places to share and honor our stories, care for each other, and express our prophetic voice. We need each of you to become an integral part of our ministry so that our voices can grow, our stories can be shared widely and proudly as we care for each other. By enlarging our circle of sisterhood we can live into the prophetic change in our church to destroy the alienating structures, walls and boundaries that seek to silence or strip our worth.
So join with me to become an integral part of Mennonite Women USA. Log onto our website and add your name to receive our email newsletter “Grapevine.” Subscribe to our blog and respond to the writings you read. Purchase a Bible study guide. This year’s guide is entitled “Live Your Call” and explores embracing God’s mission. Make a donation to support our ministries that reach women around the world. Purchase and happily wear one of our T-shirts. Order our centennial history book Circles of Sisterhood and begin a book club with other women to find out how persistent women are important for the health of our communities. Host a Sister Care seminar or use our DVD and facilitator guide to join with other women in your community, even those outside our church.
Send an email to our office to let us know how you are part of this royal tribe of Mennonite Women USA. We welcome each of you and glad to be able to claim you as one of our own. God is doing marvelous things among women and we want you to be part of this ministry.
I look forward to our next 100 years of persistence!