“Welcome, daughters of Abigail, Sarah, Hannah, daughters of Huldah, Mary, Priscilla.”
So we began: Women and the Ministries of Christ, the conference cosponsored by the Evangelical Women’s Caucus and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, 14-16 June, 1978. The ballroom was 800 full. Song leader Betty Jo McPhee and Kathy Call, pianist, set the pace for dynamic, energized singing. “Shall We Learn to Be Friends,” a Ken Medema song was to become a conference hallmark.
Information-gathering was a valuable part of the conference, as was sharing in small groups, in conversations. Women talked of the relief of being with other women who are serving and trying to deliberately follow Jesus Christ. Many finally were able to share agonies that people in their lives at home did not understand—service denied, few opportunities to grow, trying to be Superwoman and still survive, husbands who laughed or left, loneliness after a divorce, getting old and less valued. Many women came from evangelical and/or fundamentalist homes and many were currently in evangelical churches where they were considered renegade and “liberal” at best. Often conversations were about the pain of being excluded from being fully human and being confined to boxes they didn’t fit. Others saw hope for their daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, that someday the church would not just permit but en-courage each, male and female, to develop as needed.
That was the tension, the high wire of the days—pain, defeat, a sense of death at the past and present, and hope and expectancy for the future. Realism fraught with hope, some call it.
Mornings, Roberta Hestenes, co-chair of conference program committee and head of Ministry Division of the School of Theology at Fuller, led the entire group in studying II Corinthians 4-6. In the passage Paul discusses how his ministry has not been well received and where he must defend his ministry. Hestenes was a refreshing teacher, noting the real barriers that keep women from fully answering the call God has given them.
Eleven study groups met three times during the conference focusing on a specific need—language, balancing priorities, family in changing world, the great commission, women as change agents. These were work sessions, with group members sharing insight, stories, exploring questions and dilemmas, brain-storming about solutions. Many study groups raised more questions in the search for wholeness. The study group on the great commission dealt specifically with problems women missionaries were experiencing in the field. The language and liturgy group signed a petition calling for a hymn-book publisher to remove from an up-coming edition, a page portraying the ideal man as strong, courageous, virile, but having no relationships in the home, no gentleness, no servanthood.
Choosing workshops was like deciding on an ice-cream flavor at Baskin-Robbins: three meeting times and only 90 workshops. The range covered most areas of struggle: relationships, sexuality, theology, social change, management of resources, decision making, emotions, living simply.
Evening sessions were long and packed with info and exhortation. Sometimes I began to experience sensory overload. They featured Becky Manley Pippert (IVCF Evangelism Consultant); a worship service about liberation with four witnesses, Arlene Matsuo (Asian-American Women’s Center), Margaret Wold (author, Shalom Woman, pastor of Lutheran pastors), VaCountess Johnson (pastor in Boston, involved with black evangelical movement), Martha Edens (director, Church Women United).
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, opening keynote speaker at Washington EWC Conference in 1975, closed the conference with her handling of the verse “We are not given a spirit of fear but of power, of love and of a sound mind.”
A celebration by Marilee Zdenek followed including violinists preceding women distributing daisies to the worshipers, special music, dancers, congregational singing and sharing the Lord’s Supper in groups of ten around the sanctuary. It was a worship service involving many senses through many media. Because we’d been going non-stop for days, seeking, hearing, praying, touching lives, we had little left to give. The special effects involved the performers more than the congregation.
As we shared the Lord’s death, in remembrance and in hope, we reflected on the preceding days of sharing God’s life within us.
Saturday morning was devoted to Evangelical Women’s Caucus organization. Letha Scanzoni spoke of the history of EWC—growing out the Evangelicals for Social Action meeting in 1974, the Washington conference, the start of chapters under the leadership and organizing of Evon Bachaus, EWC national staff person, the growth of the Southwest chapter and moving of national offices there. She urged those present, approximately 120, to press on, affirming the necessity for evangelical women to be active in changing the world and the church. Next on the agenda was the approval of the organization’s bylaws, the future structure of EWC National. Ruth Schmidt chaired the meeting with Evon Bachaus as parliamentarian.
Charter memberships in the national organization will be open until October at which time voting will take place for the five representatives-at-large to National Council. Chapters will each send one representative to the Council. Membership is $5.00.
1. Tapes of plenary sessions: order from Dept. H, Fuller Theological Seminary, 135 N. Oakland Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101.
2. Book of workshop and study group reviews: $6.45 postpaid, order from above address.
3. Ken Medema, Through the Eyes of Love, Word, 1977 c, Waco, TX $6.98.
4. Evangelical Women’s Caucus, P.O. Box 64582, Los Angeles, CA 90064.
5. Women and the Needy World: one woman show depicting through multi¬media presentation, the situations and needs of third world women. World Vision, Monrovia, CA.
6. Fuller Theological Seminary, 135 N. Oakland, Pasadena, CA 91101.
Diane R. Jepsen is fond of Yahtzee tournaments. She lists Nehemiah as her favorite book to study and has discovered she likes arithmetic.
Originally published on page 39 of Free Indeed magazine.