2002 EEWC Conference: A View from Backstage and Beyond

by Alena Amato Ruggerio

I was too weepy with exultation and exhaustion after the Blessing Circle Sunday morning to really get a sense of how other people were feeling as they left the campus of Butler University after the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (EEWC) Biennial International Conference. If you are like me, you look back on the experience of July 11-14, 2002, (an unusually cool summer weekend for Indianapolis, Indiana, and in an unusually cool residence hall!) with beautiful memories of the plenary speakers, workshops, music, worship, and friendships.

Each of the approximately 80 participants has her or his own stories of the conference, and I’d like to share a few of mine with you. I had an interesting perspective on the event, being one of the eight conference planners, a member of Council, and a relative of two of the 11 first-time participants — all at the same time!

Did you know about the sleepover?

We didn’t exactly do each other’s hair while eating ice cream in our pajamas (although there was cheesecake), but the members of the conference planning committee stayed overnight at the home of Sharon and Bud Bowes the night before the conference began. In addition to sorting paperwork long into the night and loading five vehicles full of boxes, we gathered together in prayer. The conference was in God’s hands, as it had been for two years of planning.

Did you know about the stamping party?

One of the main goals of the conference was to make everyone feel especially welcomed. Conference planner Kay Nannet used her artistic talent to create the goodie bags each participant received at registration. We all got our fingers inky during one planning meeting decorating the bags with Kay’s stamp collection, but it was Kay herself who filled each bag with love and included a personal message based on the conference theme, “Wonderfully Made: Celebrating our Creation in the Image of God.” Kay was also responsible for producing the EEWC logo tote bags, although thankfully we didn’t have to hand stamp those.

Did you know that George plays with markers and little pom pom balls for a living?

Well, not quite, but it is true that conference planning co-chair Georgean “George” Johnson-Coffey runs her own business as a trainer of volunteers for nonprofit organizations. It was her professional expertise that gave us the wonderful opening activity Thursday evening, during which participants connected with each other by decorating “I am” cards based on the conference subthemes — Made with Purpose, Made in Diversity, and Made within Community.

Did you know that our plenary speakers are heroes?

We all admired the four plenary speakers so much for their lessons of biblical feminist theology and social justice that we had to negotiate which conference planner would introduce which plenary speaker! The message of Reta Halteman Finger entitled “Exiles in a Strange Land: When Scripture Doesn’t Apply to Us,” provided a fascinating feminist exegesis on the authority appeals of 1 Peter 1:3-3:7. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s address, “Fear and Wonder: Living the Paradox of Timelessness within Time,” challenged our understandings of the purpose of our lives as embodied creations of God. Dee Dee Risher moved us with themes of grief and loss in our struggles for racial, gendered, and environmental justice in her address, “Incarnation: Living into Hard Choices.” I was especially educated by Wilma Ann Bailey’s analysis of Eve in art through the ages during her discussion of Genesis 1-3 in, “When God Created Woman, She was Just Showing Off.”

Authors like Nancy Hardesty, Letha Scanzoni, Kari Sandhaas, and Nancy Crowe joined some of the plenary speakers in the Saturday evening book signing event.

Did you know there was a workshop held in England?

Kristin Aune, author of Single Women: Challenge to the Church? [to be reviewed in an upcoming issue of EEWC Update], is a doctoral student studying the British side of the Christian egalitarian movement. The EEWC conference planners approved her proposal for a workshop on the history and future of British biblical feminism , but unfortunately she was unable to make the trip to Indianapolis. Kristin will hold onto her information for a future EEWC conference; and in the meantime, she has been sharing her work with the British organization Men, Women, and God.

The workshop presenters who could attend the conference offered up such a variety of topics that it was difficult to choose just three. That’s why we were especially grateful for Fran Mayes (“Earth-dust and God-breath: The Wonder of our Bodies in God’s Image”) and Nancy Hardesty (“Women of Faith in a Pluralistic World”), who agreed to offer their workshops twice.

Three time slots for workshops just weren’t enough when we all wanted to sample Anne West Ramirez’s teaching on Celtic Christianity, explore the meaning of women’s work in a Christian context with Linda Bieze and Letha Dawson Scanzoni, and, find aspects of ourselves in Julie Keefer’s biblical archetypes, thrill to Nancy Eberhard’s story of personal transformation, learn from Jan Clark how to empower with validation messages, connect with the Divine in our midst with Lucy Edelbeck, gather strength from Lourene Bender’s creation of a women’s circle, relive Sue Horner’s narrative of EEWC herstory, honor the work of Reta Finger and Kari Sandhaas on Daughters of Sarah, and sing and dance with Kathryn Christian and Mary Bell.

Did you know about our spontaneous volunteers?

You probably saw our corps of volunteers introducing workshop presenters, working at the registration desk, and assisting authors during the book signing.

In addition to these wonderful official volunteers, there were even more conference participants who selflessly stepped in during emergencies, donated generously in times of financial need, and quietly took care of little details. For instance, when the director of the Indianapolis Women’s Chorus said, “Oh, and if you don’t already have a sound person, I have a great one to recommend,” we had no idea what a treasure we would be meeting in Marg Herder. It would have been enough that Marg served as our live sound engineer and CD recorder, doing her job with excellence, professionalism, and impeccable customer service. But she went well above and beyond the call of duty by helping us haul those five vehicles’ worth of boxes into the ResCo dorm, defying gravity by posting the EEWC banner across the windows of the Atherton Union Reilly Room, guarding the silent auction during meal breaks, and sharing with us the constant positivity of her stunning personality. Marg’s contribution is just one example of the way a gathering of women and men inspired by the Divine worked together to create a true community at the conference.

Did you know there were more than 90 items open for bids at the silent auction?

And folks kept adding items to the table each day! What caught your eye on the bidding tables – gorgeous artwork or whimsical crafts? The gift of chocolate, pizza, popcorn, or homemade jam? Attractively packaged theme baskets? Jewelry, t-shirts, or books? The response to the silent auction by both the donators and the bidders was overwhelming. The money we raised will help support the mission of Christian equality by providing seed money for the 2004 EEWC conference.

You couldn’t miss conference planning co-chair Barbara Crews keeping records and writing receipts at the close of the silent auction. Did you know that Barbara — who lovingly dedicated an immense amount of time and work to EEWC as the conference registrar, treasurer, and site liaison — had never attended a biblical feminist conference before? So don’t ever stop being an ambassador for EEWC to your friends, God might be nudging you to welcome the next gem of a new member into the organization.

Did you know the music of the Saturday evening concert was custom ordered?

Musician and composer Kathryn Christian graciously included “Who am I to Say No?” in her repertoire because of the way God used that song to inspire the volunteers who brought the conference to Indiana.

Pamela Blevins Hinkle prepared her Indianapolis Women’s Chorus to perform “There was Music in my Mother’s House” and “Adiemus” at the request of those of us who were so moved by those songs at the IWC Christmas concert.

The powerful drumming and chanting of the women of Sophia’s Portico, under the direction of Margaret Hoffelder, was so popular that we should have custom ordered more!

Did you know the sunshine streaming through the windows on Sunday was custom ordered?

Okay, this one’s not really true. But the unfolding of morning illuminated Helen Claire Ferguson with ethereal beauty as she delivered the worship message titled “Do You See this Woman?” about the wonder of God’s creating us as unique individuals, as shown in Psalm 139, and how the woman in Luke 7:36-50 drew closer to her Source by drawing away from community hatred and judgment. Claire Cruise helped with the celebration of eucharist and spoke as liturgist.

Did you know a series of little miracles led us to key conference support?

When we discovered that liturgical dancer Lindsay Huddleston would be in Europe with her family during the conference weekend, we were saved by the talents of Mary Bell, based at North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Mary’s choreography during the Sunday worship, along with the performances of pianist Janice Pope and the choir directed by Kathryn Christian glorified the God in whose image we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Those key moments, along with the Sunday morning Blessing Circle, were captured by Jan Clark, who amiably volunteered to serve on short notice as the conference photographer.

On Friday and Saturday, Julie Keefer led morning movement in the residence hall courtyard, and Claire Cruise encouraged contemplation with morning meditation on the balcony overlooking the residence hall atrium.

Did you know that Linda Bieze is a campaign manager?

EEWC Council has been working hard behind the scenes to support the organization in its day-to-day operation and in major projects. During the Council meeting after the conference, Coordinator Linda Bieze revealed her campaign to lead fundraising efforts for EEWC in the next year. Juggling the duties of Chief Fundraiser and Council Coordinator would be impossible, so yours truly agreed to hold down the fort next year as Coordinator. Needless to say, I wept with exultation and exhaustion.

Alena Amato Ruggerio has just begun her first year as Assistant Professor of Human Communication at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon.

Alena Amato Ruggerio
Alena Amato Ruggerio, Ph.D., is Professor of Communication Studies and Chair of Communication at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. She has served on SOU’s Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Council for fifteen years, and was the Interim Coordinator of Women’s Studies for one year. She also served for eleven years on the EEWC-Christian Feminism Today Council, and has delivered plenary addresses and workshops at several CFT conferences. Dr. Ruggerio is the editor of Media Depictions of Brides, Wives, and Mothers (Lexington Books), and a contributor to Talking Taboo: Christian Women Get Frank About Faith (White Cloud Press). She lives in the southwestern corner of Oregon with her husband Bradley and their two astonishingly adorable cats.

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