Women and the Ministry of Reconciliation Conference: Introduction
The 1980 Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC) national conference, the organization’s fourth, was held June 25-28, 1980, in Saratoga Springs, New York.
The conference Bible verse was II Cor. 5:17-18: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, s/he is a new creation; the old has gone, and the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
Conference coordinator was Letha Dawson Scanzoni, assisted by the members of the Albany Chapter. Attendance was approximately 450.
Special guests were Susan B. Anthony, III, and Catherine Booth Demerest.
The 1980 EWC Conference graphic symbolizes the reconciling power of the cross as well as women reuniting themselves. It was drawn by Lincoln Frederick, realist painter and draftsman, who resides in Sprakers, New York.
The conference included worship, presentations, workshops, informal times for sharing, Bible study, and was followed by an “EWC Action Day.”
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1980 Conference Presenters
- Virginia Mollenkott: “Becoming Reconciled to Love’s Justice”
- Motlalepula Chabaku: “Women through Jesus Can Change People and Nations”
- Susan B. Anthony II: “Aunt Susan and the Inner Light: The Spiritual Sources of Susan B. Anthony”
- Victoria Booth Demarest: “My Life Experience in the Ministry of Women”
- Ken Medema and Mary Naegeli Concert
- Stephen Mott: “A Biblical Basis for the ERA”
- David Scholer: “But What Does the Bible Say About the Role of Women?”
- Bette Evans Wells: “Divorce and Remarriage: Some Biblical, Personal, and Practical Issues”
- Richard and Catherine Kroeger: “The Cultural Context of 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy”
- Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen: “Some Psychic Roots of Men’s Fear of Women”
- Linda Mercadante: “Interpreting Scripture: Why Can’t We Agree?”
- Marchiene Vroon Rienstra: “Women As Church Leaders: The Challenge and Response”
- Catherine Kroeger: “Archeological Evidence of Feminine Leadership in the Early Church”
- Don and Joyce Mostrom: “Christian Community and the Affirming of Gifts”
- Motlalepula Chabaku: “What Can I Do to Make Life Different?”
- Letha Scanzoni, Virginia Mollenkott, Claire Wolterstorff, Diane Marshall: Panel on Homosexuality
- Carolyn Kitchin: “Women, Power, and Assertiveness”
- Sheryl Olsen: “Bridging Gaps: Race and Class”
- Ann Moor, Claire Wolterstorff: “Work: Career or Calling?”
- John Scanzoni: “Love and Negotiate: Creative Conflict in Marriage”
Communion service liturgy was written by Nancy Hardesty. The sermon was presented by Marchiene Vroon Rienstra, “God’s Paradigm for Women.”
Our 1980 Conference: Emphasis on Wholeness
In a world characterized by polarization, alienation, and fragmentation, Christian women face a special challenge – that of working for reconciliation, healing, and wholeness. This challenge will undergird EWC’s fourth national conference, “Women and the Ministry of Reconciliation,” scheduled for June 25- 28 in Saratoga Springs, New York. Some 750-1000 women and men from all parts of the United States and Canada are expected to attend, according to program chairperson Letha Scanzoni.
Conferees will have a chance to explore possibilities for reconciliation in seven different spheres: with God, with their own selves, with each other, between the sexes, with the environment, with the past, and with the world and its needs. Various conference activities will be keyed to each of these seven areas.
The conference will get off to a rousing start Wednesday night with a concert by popular pianist/ composer/ recording artist Ken Medema. Medema has composed some music especially for the conference and will also be leading the singing at plenary sessions.
Justice is the hallmark of the keynote addresses to be delivered Thursday morning by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, author of Women, Men, and the Bible, and Motlalepula Chabaku, a black South African Christian who has crusaded worldwide for women’s rights and against apartheid. Mollenkott’s topic is “Becoming Reconciled to Love’s Justice.” Chabaku will speak on “Women through Jesus Can Change People and Nations.”
Roberta Hestenes of Fuller Theological Seminary will lead Bible studies. Her subject is “Fullness of Life: Studies in Reconciliation from Colossians.”
On Thursday and Friday, conferencegoers will be able to choose from a variety of stimulating workshops. Topics run the gamut-from hermeneutics to ministering to the Third World to developing an egalitarian marriage in the middle years. A number of informal activities, including a multimedia presentation, round table luncheon discussions, and late night “suite talks,” are also on the agenda.
On Thursday night, conferees can step back in time by attending a festive banquet and program of feminist history. Two descendants of noted nineteenth century feminists – Susan B. Anthony II, grandniece of the great suffragist, and Victoria Booth Demarest, granddaughter of Salvation Army co-founder Catherine Booth, will be guest speakers at the banquet.
The traditional Communion service will climax the conference on Friday night. Nancy Hardesty, author and church historian, and VaCountess Johnson, a member of the ministerial team at Boston’s Twelfth Baptist Church, will lead the service. Marchiene Rienstra, founding pastor of the Port Sheldon (Mich.) Presbyterian Church, will preach on “God’s Paradigm for Women.” Following the Communion service there will be a “Family Gathering” where conferees can tie up loose ends and share informally what the conference has meant to them. Facilitator will be Penelope Tyndale, Anglican adult education specialist from Toronto.
Saturday has been set aside as EWC Action Day. EWC members are urged to stay and participate in the annual meeting, led by national chairperson Joyce Erickson. Liz Nordquist, former president of the Southwest chapter, will be keynoter.
© 1980 by the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, originally published in the EWC Update volume 4, number 1 (Winter 1980).
The Message of Saratoga: Love + Justice = Reconciliation
By Ann Ramsey Moor, EWC Update Editor
Attenders of EWC’s fourth plenary conference, “Women and the Ministry of Reconciliation,” heard a strong, repeated challenge to demonstrate their Christian faith by working for justice in a world filled with injustices.
The conference, held June 25-28 in Saratoga Springs, N. Y., drew some 450 women and men from at least thirty denominations and from all over the United States and Canada.
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, author of Women, Men, and the Bible, set the tone for the conference in her keynote address Thursday morning by challenging conventional notions about reconciliation.
“It would be easy,” stated Mollenkott, “for us to conclude that being ministers of reconciliation means encouraging people to forget about justice and simply bury the hatchet in order to achieve peace at any price. But the concept of peace at any price, involving as it does a law and order that just shoves human suffering out of sight, is not peace. It’s repression. The price of genuine peace in this world is the doing of justice by overturning unjust systems and empowering the poor and oppressed.”
To show that reconciliation means more than having “sentimental good feelings about one another,” Mollenkott turned to the conference text (2 Corinthians 5: 18-19) and pointed out that the Greek word translated “to reconcile” connotes thorough change. Building on the biblical feminist understanding that being new creations in Christ rules out domination and makes mutuality a must in interpersonal relationships. Mollenkott urged her audience to go a step further and press for mutuality on the national and international levels.
“Love and justice,” she concluded, “are not opposites. Love and justice are the complements of each other.”
Motlalepula Chabaku’s keynote address Friday morning brought conferees face to face with the systemic injustice of apartheid. Chabaku, a black South African who got an M.Div. last year from Lancaster (Pa.) Theological Seminary and presently works in the United States, spoke forcefully but guardedly about conditions in her motherland.
As a minor for life (the legal status; of all black women in South Africa), she cannot vote or own property. She cannot even lodge a complaint with the police or sign her own documents (she must get a sixteen-year-old boy to do these things). If she talks freely about how South African businesses exploit blacks, she could be charged with economic sabotage—which is punishable by death.
Chabaku’s reaction to such outrages at the hands of an ostensibly Christian government was straightforward: “It is we human beings who have made pigmentation to be a leprosy in our lives instead of a gift that God has given us. We create the agonies. … God never creates agonies.”
Her comments on battling such odds—for her own sake and that of others—were just as direct: “I had to struggle all the way, but I have never taken ‘no’ for an answer.” Her family, she explained, taught her that her name, which means “one who comes with the rain,” empowers her to “always come with rain.”
Chabaku went on to tell women that they could be world-changers if they were willing to learn from Christ’s example. “Jesus Christ was not strong, not powerful,” she said. “There was power in his powerlessness. So we as women must move away from despising ourselves. We must begin to shout!”
At a feminist historical program and banquet Thursday night, ninety-year-old Victoria Booth Demarest, granddaughter of Salvation Army cofounders Catherine and William Booth, regaled conferees with stories of her experiences during a lifetime of ministry.
Alluding to her own name (originally Victoire) as something that had primed her to face difficult situations squarely, Demarest declared, “I thank my mother that that name ‘Victory’ did not allow me to be a quitter, did not allow me to be a coward, did not allow me to run away no matter what.”
While spurring women on to use their gifts in ministry, Demarest cautioned that “it is not what you can do, though you can do a great deal …, but it is what God does through you that counts most.”
Catholic theologian and alcoholism counselor Susan B. Anthony II told how her great-aunt’s Quaker upbringing had influenced her commitment to justice for women. In Aunt Susan, she asserted, there was a “reconciliation of the mystical and the prophetic.” The great suffragist, she said, used to state that “I pray every single second of my life—not on my knees, but with my work.”
Marchiene Vroon Rienstra, pastor of the Port Sheldon (Mich.) Presbyterian Church and a featured EWC conference speaker for the second year in a row, wrapped things up at Friday night’s Communion service by comparing the world’s paradigm for women (and the church’s modification of same) with God’s paradigm. She cited Deborah, Mary, and Priscilla as examples of the various aspects of this paradigm.
Referring to Deborah, Rienstra said, “God needs women who are willing to be voices of God’s will—women who are willing to step forward when no one else is and call the people of God to fight against oppression.”
A wide variety of workshops and informal sessions and the profoundly moving music of singer/composer/pianist Ken Medema pulled the conference together into a unified whole.
©1980 by the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, originally published in volume 4, number 2/3 (September 1980)
What Participants Said about the Conference
Here is a sampling of how the participants responded to the Saratoga conference.
“I learned my importance as a Christian and as a woman in dealing with the issues of our time; that I cannot stand on the sidelines of history but must dare to speak out and be God’s person.”
“A powerful, Spirit-filled conference.”
“I am refreshed and challenged by the scholarship of many of the women here. I salute you all. I know you must have paid a goodly price for the gift of scholarship.”
“I learned that my theological foundation is not shaky, that other women are with me in my struggle to serve God, and that intelligent men are a part of our struggle.”
“Such a well-organized conference, solid, committed, and affirming. I was probably the youngest one here, but I felt included and a valued participant.”
“As a recent M.Div. graduate who has already been rejected for pastoral ministry because of my sex, I found it good to get a renewed vision of what is happening in the church of Jesus Christ. I was especially impressed to see Marti Rienstra begin with the positive—what God has already done—and build on that. I needed to have my call reaffirmed in a supportive atmosphere.”
“I liked seeing babies and little ones.”
“The Scriptures have very much been opened up to me regarding the ‘women’s passages.’ I have always been hurt by them and uncertain about them.”
“This was my first encounter with Evangelical Women’s Caucus. How exciting to know that you exist!”
“The theme of reconciliation was meaningful to me because that is what I want to see happen between men and women in my own church. I feel challenged to raise the consciousness of our members. I now have many ideas for beginning points for people who have not yet recognized the extent of their own oppression.”
“I learned how much I love my sisters.”
“I came with a negative attitude because of the judgmentalism of the evangelicals I know, but my mind has been blown by a real wind of the Spirit. The conference has been refreshing. Thanks!”
“I received Communion from a woman for the first time. [Praise the Lord]!”
“This is my first involvement with EWC and feminism after being a Christian for 5½ years. I can’t tell you how overwhelmed and thoroughly blessed I am!! Thank you for all your hard work …. I’m on staff at a very large nondenominational church that is ultra, ultraconservative. I’ve been discriminated against because I’m a woman and have recently been going through a difficult time on my job. I’m encouraged and anxious to get home.”
“I most enjoyed hearing about the feminine images of God in the Bible. At some deep level this helped me see that it’s all right to be a woman! Thank you!”
“As a man, I am pleased to say that I heard nothing that I would disagree with.”
“I have been challenged as an evangelical woman and as a professional. I rejoiced to hear a call for justice—not just for women, but for all oppressed peoples! The music touched me deeply, as did the graciousness and godliness of each workshop leader and speaker.”
“Ken Medema’s music set the tone for the whole conference.”
“Such a joyous occasion—yet how sad to realize that it only happens once a year (or every two years). We could use some regional conferences on a regular basis.”
“The suite talks and round-table discussions were excellent in fostering friendships and breaking down barriers, especially for those of us who came alone. Please keep them.”
“It will take wild horses to keep me away from the next conference.”
“This was my first exposure to biblical feminism—I came at the invitation of a friend. It has been painful, but I believe God has brought me through a death and resurrection experience. I have had no peace all weekend as I’ve wrestled with what I’ve heard, and been forced to let go of my traditional views of ministry of and marriage. I had not felt oppressed before, but am now aware of my blindness to the oppression of others.”
“This has been like the latter rains, and God has spoken some very valuable things to me this week. Thank you — and thanks especially to Motlalepula Chabaku, who has become my role model.”
“As one of the few women I know of who became a Christian out of the secular feminist movement of the 1960s, I have always been afraid that EWC might become more feminist than Christian. But I was profoundly reassured on this point during the conference. … I fully expect … EWC as an organization to grow and deepen wonderfully in the months and years to come.”
“Hearing Victoria Booth Demarest and seeing the history acted out in the pageant was great. I now feel I know so much more about the movement.”
“It’s good to see happy feminists – not just those who feel mostly pain, anger, frustration, and hostility toward men; toward other women who don’t support feminism; and toward the church, which they see as the perpetrator of the present system. It’s good not to be forced into a certain mold, a certain way of viewing the problem; not to have to put solidarity above ethics or faith in Christ.”
“Virginia Mollenkott’s address was tremendously challenging.”
“I think its great to be part of a conference where people are told it’s okay to move at your pace and to feel guilty about it.”
“It has been a dream come true to attend this conference – the most edifying, enlightening, and encouraging experience I’ve ever had.”
“I’ve learned that the tradition of women in ministry and feminism do go together and that I am part of a stream, which is now swollen and flowing, overrunning the river bed. Praise God.”
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