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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Revitalizing Women's Ministries

In many congregations, ministries with and for women are morphing into new expressions.  Today's question is from a pastoral leader who is assisting in this process in her setting:

We are doing a "re-boot" of the women's ministry, as it had dwindled to 3 women having coffee at Starbucks on a Wednesday morning (when the rest of us were working). We have buy-in from these 3 women to move to the evening so that all can attend. (Hallelujah).

My question is more one of content. While I could write/lead the studies, I was hoping there was a book study or Bible study that would work which is more topical in nature. It does NOT have to be about "women's things" (i.e. babies, boobs and menopause!) All of the women's studies I looked at on-line were kind of an assumption that all women were "egg-layers and pew warmers" (as one of my seminary buddies used to say.) We have professional women (doctors, lawyers, architects, teachers), women in the arts, and stay-at-home moms. The denominational materials I could find were hopeless (American Baptist).

I know this kind of follows on a previous question about adult studies, but I'm really looking for ideas on curriculum and materials. 

Neither An Egg-Layer Nor a Pew-Warmer Be

Martha at Reflectionary has a creative suggestion:

In a past church, I created a program called Soul Spa. It contained a mixture of what I like to call galship, worship/devotional time, discussion and some sort of response (art/writing/contemplation time) which we shared as desired. I kept it short, purposefully, advertising it as being about as long as the time you would give to a pedicure. This was a Saturday morning group to accommodate working women, although it could certainly work in the evening. We gathered at 9 for coffee/tea and a homemade treat of some kind (people signed up to do it). I created a worship center built around the theme for the week, but also with a continuing element. So there might have been a candle, flowers, a cross, stones, a lovely branch, an odd thing I brought from home, an art image--the only limit is your imagination. I offered an opening reflection based on a scripture passage. I used stories about Jesus' encounters with women, but that was mostly to narrow the field. One session was passages from Mark, another session on  passages from Luke. I wasn't there long enough to get to Matthew or John. After the devotional time, we would respond. At the entry level, it was something easy like coloring a mandala as an example of reflective or meditative practice. I provided the templates from a book. Later, as the group knew each other better and felt more comfortable, we created our own images or did some writing, and I needed to allow more time for sharing.

As a closing, I sent people out with a task (write a letter to someone you haven't talked to in a long time/someone you miss) or a question or even a word to contemplate, in each case something coming out of either the gospel reading or the devotional I developed around it. We used a stack of cards with words for reflection in one six-week session. I had planned to use them only once, but people loved it so I brought them back in the following weeks. In another session, we used a set of stones with words from Isaiah written on them. I already had these and simply re-used them, but each week I had them arranged in some different way as part of the worship center. At the end of the six weeks we used them to construct a cairn. 

That group went on without me, but they moved in the direction of studying a book together, to take away the preparation piece. 

Jennifer at  An Orientation of Heart writes:

I like the studies published by Horizons Magazine, a publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Past studies are available as well as the current year’s.

There’s no shortage of books to study, and some have study guides included.  Some great ones include some by RevGals:Any Day a Beautiful Change  by Katherine Willis Pershey and Sabbath in the Suburbs by Mary Ann McKibben Dana come to mind.
Another great new book is The Welcoming Congregation by Henry Brinton.

Hope this helps!

From Kathryn:

I find The Thoughtful Christian ( and Chalice Press ( are two places that have resources that push beyond the ordinary devotional offerings. Also, the dvd series ' Living the Questions' ( is very thought provoking.

And from Muthah+

Ask the group what they want!  And then tell them what your gifts are.  Often what they want is some quality time to learn what you know.  Meet the group and then discuss what are burning issues for them.  If they choose something that you don't know anything about and are not interested in --say so.  I have done that with a day-time group.  I love teaching Scripture and they wanted to learn--sooo we have been studying various books of the Bible.  But for the summer, they wanted to do a book study.  I leave such things up to them.  If they want to learn about stuff I know nothing about, I look to find someone who does and join the group as a learner.

In my younger days, I was hesitant to share what I knew with women who were vastly older than I.  But I had the theological education and they didn't so I played my strong suit.  I taught what I knew.  But as time went on, I found that if I presented a topic that I knew a little about, others would speak up and the conversations were rich with comments from the whole group.  Now, our groups range all over but I use Scripture as the base for all our discussion.  

This does not mean that we study Scripture the whole time.  We talk about issues that come up in the group, topics of the day as they apply to that passage, and sometimes it means grieving with someone who has lost someone.  And it is in the community that develops that makes the whole group worthwhile.    The whole of women's ministry, no matter who the women are or their abilities, is based on making connections and providing a forum to share faith.  Radical hospitality needs to be practiced but you have to be the one that the group looks to set boundaries, provide structure and bring the discussion back to what you began on.

It is groups like these that have been the joys of my ministry.  I have seen more "aha's" in groups like these than anywhere else over the past 30 years.  It has also demanded of me the greatest amount of humility too---to listen to the stories as they come and find that God has visited a person with some unique grace.   

Do you have some ideas  for this pastoral leader...some thoughts about the new forms that ministries with and for women are taking?  Join in the conversation.

Our mailbox is empty right now; it's a great time to send us a question that you'd like the matriarchs to consider.

May you live in God's amazing grace+


  1. This fall several of the women in my congregation and I have gone to Saturday morning yoga workshops led by a yoga instructor/Lutheran pastor: Check out Daily Bread Yoga. These are monthly and have a theme. It includes yoga, discussion and a little spiritual instruction from the leader. About 15-20 women from several congregations participate. Last time it dawned on me that there was more spiritual "work" done in that hour than in entire years of women's book or scripture studies that I've attended (and led). The women in my congregation are VERY appreciative.
    Maybe there is someone in your area who teaches yoga that you could get together with? It's really awesome. There is a FB page, too, if you want to learn more.
    Do you

  2. Martha, I love what you outlined here, thanks!

    Jennifer, as a fellow Presby, thanks for highlighting those resources! I know all 3 of those books and agree they are all worth reading, and well-adapted to group discussion. I would be so bold as to add my upcoming book on Holy Land pilgrimage -- Adapting what Martha said, you could advertise as "step into the Holy Land in the time it takes for a pedicure." Or something like that.

    Kathryn has great suggestions too -- I have had good success with The Thoughtful Christian stuff for Adult Ed.

    It really depends what the group is looking for -- but I do love to share resources like this.

  3. Oh, these are wonderful!!! I am so excited!!! Thanks to everyone!


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