Since 1939, Mennonite women in British Columbia have been gathering each spring for a day of spiritual encouragement and fellowship. But this year, as the planned date approached, no location had been determined and no one had stepped up to coordinate the day. Was the tradition dead? One concerned woman took the initiative and secured a speaker, found a meeting place and hired a caterer.
Women across the country enjoy getting together for inspirational days and retreats. They invite special speakers, study the Bible, sing together, learn crafts and go on hikes. The time away from work and family responsibilities is a welcome break.
Occasionally Canadian Mennonite reports on these, with stories about the good connections, fun and inspiration. This past spring, Laura Wiebe of Mennonite Church Alberta wrote a testimonial about how she values “women’s conference.” (See the April 23 issue, page 12, or online at bit.ly/2qry7oD.)
In the past, regional executives committees, each comprised of three to five women, planned and carried out regular events for women of the area, raised money for mission projects and for women’s education, and connected with the efforts of the nationwide women’s organization.
But the scene is changing for women’s groups across Canada. At a regional church level, it is increasingly hard to find volunteers to head up their respective executive committees, a core of women committed to leading and planning activities in their area. Short-term volunteers emerge to plan individual enrichment days and retreats, but they don’t want to commit to a term of service doing committee work.
Over the past eight years, women in Mennonite Church B.C., MC Alberta, MC Saskatchewan and MC Manitoba determined that their traditional structures were no longer viable and they disbanded the regional executive committees. A committee is still functioning for MC Eastern Canada, but it too is seeking direction for the future.
While it’s harder to get details about women’s activities at the congregational level, it appears that some churches still have a core of—mostly older—women who meet for devotional times, service projects and mutual support. They make quilts and comforters for Mennonite Central Committee relief work and they raise money for charitable needs. But younger women are not necessarily joining them.
The social realities have changed, with more opportunities for women’s leadership within the congregation, at the job and in the larger community. With many women employed outside the home, schedules are less flexible than they used to be. Some women look outside the congregation and the region to find connections, choosing book clubs, sports activities, moms groups, or other small informal groups.
The situation is also tenuous at the nationwide level, for the organization called Mennonite Women Canada. In addition to coordinating regional efforts, MW Canada offers financial support to international Witness workers and provides educational grants to women preparing for ministry. In cooperation with MW U.S.A., MW Canada publishes a yearly Bible study guide that is used by groups in both countries.
The October MW Canada “Connections” newsletter raised some poignant realities: “Our women’s groups are not meeting like they used to; our funds are decreasing; and our women aren’t taking on leadership positions. Do we allow MW Canada to die out and wait to see what new shoots will appear?”
A nationwide transition team is in place and it plans to bring questions and recommendations to the next nationwide assembly next June. You can read more about their work at mennowomencanada.blogspot.com/.
It is good news that opportunities have opened up for individual women to take leadership outside of the traditional women’s organizations. What does that mean for the existing women’s groups?
“We are finding our way as sisters in faith during a season of change,” writes Elsie Rempel, interim chairperson of MW Manitoba. It’s clear that Mennonite women still like getting together to study, pray, serve and have fun. What new models might help us do that in the coming decades? What new opportunities will we seize? Let us hear your stories, thoughts and suggestions.
The magazine has entered into a three-week holiday schedule, and plans are to mail the next print issue on Dec. 17. Given the current irregularities at Canada Post, postal delivery continues to be spotty across the country, so your next issue might arrive late. To stay in touch, follow CM online and consider adding a digital subscription to your print subscription, at no extra cost.