Mennonite Women Manitoba organized and hosted Winnipeg’s first-ever Sister Care seminar at Bethel Mennonite Chuch in mid-May, drawing women of all ages from multiple congregations.
Sister Care was developed and is now presented worldwide by Carolyn Heggen, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery, and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care’s director.
The program was born out of a simple, bold dream: to see women in the church empowered as women, to care for themselves and others in the ways that they are uniquely equipped to care for. Having both travelled extensively, Heggen and Keener readily credit the inspiration of powerful women around the world for what Sister Care is today.
The thrill of this idea—that women can be Christ in the flesh to those around them exactly as they are, that each woman’s unique personality and skill set carries transformative power—resonated clearly around the tables. Words like “should,” “supposed to” and “required” recurred frequently. Discussions reflected participants’ drive to “get it right” when it comes to caring and discipleship, but also a common craving for a more fluid, soulful way of caring that overflows from the heart, rather than the drudgery of dry, conditioned effort.
The energy in the room was palpable, changing throughout the day. As common fears and stresses were named, tension built like electricity in the air. Through story and poetry, Heggen and Keener voiced the shared longings of participants for a different way of being, and the electricity was galvanized into warmth.
Around the room experiences of pain, loss, violation and anger were shared, condensing that warmth into heaviness; but when prayer was offered through word, song, body posture or movement laden with metaphor, the heaviness was released in the Spirit, and balance returned.
The small-group discussions fed into larger sessions on themes such as “Self-care and boundaries,” “Positive identity,” “Rich self-awareness and knowing where your power comes from,” “The listening that heals,” “Helping others through hard times,” and “Transforming grief and loss. Participants learned to spot the difference between ordinary stress and traumatic stress, how to recognize both and how to salve them in themselves and others.
Heggen shared strategies on how to transform the “toxic stories” people often use to narrate their lives into “power stories,” naming God “the great composter.” She talked of the power that accompanies people who “step into a moment of story together.” For her part, Keener demonstrated the difference between fraudulent listening and deep listening. Both leaders illustrated the power that women carry when they turn their loving attention outward as companions and mentors.
“People are looking for authentic relationships where they can make themselves vulnerable,” commented participant Tina Kehler of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Winkler, Man. “It’s one thing to have friends, and another to be able to be open and honest with someone who’ll respect you and remain confidential, intentionally. Realizing that listening well is a skill one can develop is the first step, then learning how to listen is a journey.”