In September 500 women from across the Uniting Church in Australia gathered in Sydney for the inaugural UnitingWomen conference. Mardi Lumsden reports.
The concept of a Uniting Church women’s conference is not a new one; the most recent similar event was Women Clothed with the Sun held in Brisbane in 1996.
UnitingWomen’s theme, Seeking a deeper story, was expressed though excellent teaching and heart-felt stories of faith from seemingly ordinary women doing extraordinary things.
Thirty-five Queensland women took part, including two brave young women who shared their personal faith stories: Marda Pitt (from Old Mapoon, Cape York) and Katie Wallis (from Centenary, Brisbane).
Keynote speaker Rev Nadia Bolz-Weber challenged those in attendance to be honest and unapologetic about who they are, especially those in leadership.
“People want spiritual leaders who aren’t going to lie to them or pretend they are someone they’re not,” she said.
“Often the church is trying to be something rather than really being something. It’s like the difference between someone trying to be funny and someone actually being funny!”
Nadia is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) church in Denver, Colorado. Her theology of inclusion seeps into all aspects of the congregation.
Other inspiring speakers included then-incoming NSW/ACT Synod Moderator Rev Myung Hwa Park who shared her experience of growing up in a Buddhist family. South Australia Synod Moderator Deidre Palmer reflected on the need for alternate feminist narratives of the Bible.
UnitingJustice National Director Rev Elenie Poulos reflected on Isaiah 58:1–12, saying it offers a vision of the call on a Christian community, but warned that answering that call was not easy.
“As rich Christians, how do we live out this call and not be assimilated into the empire that we live in now?” she asked.
The 13 elective workshops were as diverse as the attendees with everything from craft as a spiritual exercise to rethinking leadership, feminist theology, eco spirituality, Godly Play and gender equality issues for Pacific women.
UnitingWomen was an extremely positive experience that grew from an idea around a kitchen table into something that will surely be a regular event on the Uniting Church calendar. The only question left is who will take on the challenge to run the conference again.