Women of the Church Conference Evokes Tears, Affirmation and Encouragement
We attended the Women of the Church Conference, which took place Oct. 18-20 at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind. It was a full weekend with liturgy, keynote speakers, a panel, 13 breakout sessions and Saturday evening Mass, banquet and concert.
There were 150 participants, including young women and men who know the Church only during the sexual abuse crisis. We met women leaders who articulated various experiences in and perspectives on the Church.
Speakers included Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu from the Ignatian Solidarity Network, Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and Kerry Robinson of Leadership Roundtable.
Mary notes, “There were two particular experiences during the weekend that will stay with me.
“Kim Harris, assistant professor at Loyola Marymount University, performed a concert entitled ‘Women of Faith, Women of Freedom.’ Harris’s professional activities include lectures on the music of African-American freedom traditions. She also leads music in a variety of liturgical settings. Her presence and powerful voice took away my breath. One could not help but be moved by her words and song.
“The second experience was during the breakout session “How Shall We Pray? Subversive Liturgies in a Time of Ecclesial Crisis.” This session reflected on practices of lament as a way to pray in light of the consequences of the sexual abuse crisis.
“Lament is a practice of unveiling the invisible, moral injury, suffering and pain and making it visible. It preserves the identity of individuals rather than persons/victims being forgotten in statistics. We need imagination and creativity in prayer so that lament and praise go together.
“The presenter described an art exhibit by Trina McKillen installed in the gallery at Loyola Marymount University. It is the story of a mother’s exodus from the Church due to sexual abuse.
“The parts of the exhibit were entitled ‘Confess, The Children and Stations of Hope.’ The details and direction of the story went from painful remembering and lament to eventual praise of God. This art exhibit was a prayer of lament. The presenter and Harris then led us in a prayer of lament. The experience evoked tears and hope of healing.”
Karel writes, “My participation was affirming and very encouraging for the future. Informative in the sense that the speakers at the sessions I attended provided context and detail on the history of women’s ministry in the Church for over 2,000 years. Affirming in the sense that it is always a good experience to come together with other women dedicated to recognizing and expanding the role of women in the Church.
“It was also very encouraging and motivating to participate, share ideas for the future and learn from young women who are leading the charge for the Church of the future. I came away knowing that Loretto is right there with other women in working to bring about change in the Church and that there are many younger than us working for the same causes.
“Leadership for the future is out there.”
(Editor’s Note: This article was co-written by Mary Gutzwiller and Karel Disponett)