Through the various stages of my life, my participation in Women of the ELCA has ebbed and flowed. I joined a circle and participated in making crafts for the fall bazaar when my children were young. In a time of flow as older participants stepped back, I moved into leadership roles. After becoming overcommitted, I stepped back to let others take the lead. This was a time of ebb.
The last fifteen months has once again been a time of flow. I had decided to learn more about our organization at the synodical level, so I attended the convention in Waco. I sent in my registration. I received a phone call asking that I consider a nomination to the SWO board. As I was the only one from my congregation attending the business meeting, I became the delegate. Before I knew it, I was at my first board meeting. 2017 was quite a learning experience.
I have met a number of amazing women who are excited about ministry in and through this thing we call W-ELCA. Actions taken and words spoken at the congregational, synodical and even church-wide levels have caused me to reflect on where we have been, where we are and what our future looks like.
Martin Luther shook up the world 500 years ago, and almost from the start of this thing we call the Lutheran church, there have been bold women of faith in ministry. At the fall retreat, we learned more about Katharina von Bora, better known as Katie, and the work she did at Luther’s side. Throughout the history of the church, women have been there, whether or not their exact roles have been recorded. Like Katie, they helped to provide welcoming and comfortable places for the men of the church to discuss, learn and teach. They supported and taught each other, raised the next generation in faith through their examples, and led the way in outreach ministry as teachers, nurses and missionaries.
Our past is full of strong women active in ministry. From the history page of Women of the ELCA website:
“Lutheran women in the United States have been gathering in mission since the 1800s, and we owe much to our foremothers who responded to God’s call, created a place and lived out a purpose when women had no voice in the church.”
When women were mostly homemakers, they would gather in home and churches for Bible study and ministry projects. Those who felt a special call to ministry but were excluded for the seminary and pulpit, directed their energy into leadership roles of the women’s organizations. They made quilts and kits, fed people, led studies and classes for women and raised money for community and global outreach.
Our present situation has come about over the last fifty or so years. The model of homemakers doing lay ministry, while it does still exist, is falling apart. More women have jobs and careers than don’t. More and more women answer the call to ministry through seminary and ordination since they have been welcomed to the pulpit. Their children are busy in multiple activities that require parents, usually moms, to be driving to multiple locations each afternoon, evening and weekend. Ask a 30 something woman to come to a retreat for a whole weekend, and you won’t get much interest. They are too busy, too tired and too stressed. They don’t want another thing added to their schedule. As the average of our organization participants is beyond retirement age, what does the future look like for W-ELCA?
Looking to the future of this organization, I went to the next generation and asked questions. Specifically, I asked my 31- and 26-year old daughters. They watched my activity in the church as they grew up. It gave them an example of service, but their lives are different from mine. They are single with careers, where I was married and staying home with children. I asked them what the biggest hurdles are to their involvement. Their answer is scheduling. They want to be involved at church, and specifically W-ELCA, but they are having a difficult time finding church homes that offer Bible study, ministry, and fellowship opportunities that mesh with their work week. I asked about synodical events. They wanted more ministry work and less lectures. For example, if we have someone from Lutheran World Relief speak, we could build kits or tie quilts as well. Our activities at the retreat in 2015 are a good example as well.
Look at your church calendar. Are there circles that meet in the evenings? What about quilting or kit making on the weekends? I am aware of the catch-22 here. We can’t have a program that meets the needs of younger women without younger women, and we won’t get younger women involved without a program that meets their needs. While many of us raise money for community outreach, how often do we step off church grounds and help put those funds to work? I know I am guilty of just writing a check. My younger daughter pointed out that her generation wants to be actively involved, to do more than get together to talk and raise money. I don’t have the answer to what our future will be, but if we don’t make changes that get the next generation involved, there won’t be an organized Women of the ELCA for them to join.
First Lutheran, Longview, TX