Four Reasons I’m Excited about the Women in Leadership Project & One Sadness

Joanna Shenk is an associate with the executive board staff of Mennonite Church USA. She is a co-coordinator of the Women in Leadership Project.

By Joanna Shenk

So let’s go with the sad news first. As you may have heard, Hilary J. Scarsella ended her role as co-coordinator for the Women in Leadership Project (WLP) at the beginning of May. The two of us decided together on the transition time, given her preparations for moving to Nashville to pursue doctoral work at Vanderbilt University this summer.

HilaryScarsella

For two years she joined me in coordinating the WLP. Her responsibilities included (but were not limited to) coordinating our four focus groups (Undoing Sexism, Mennonite Monologues, Empowering Resources and Mentoring), editing the Do You See This Woman? worship resources, and being the primary planner of All You Need is Love.

Her contributions have been significant. She will stay connected through the book she is editing of papers and other materials from All You Need is Love. I miss her presence already, and anticipate how her further studies will shape the life of the church going forward!

And since life is often a combination of difficult and life-giving experiences all mashed up into one, here a few things that excite me:

1. The Steering Committee of the Women in Leadership Project

If you do not know these fabulous women already, here is a bit about each of them. They have provided guidance to Hilary and myself and continue to shape the vision and initiatives of the WLP.

Moniqua Acosta works as the Program & Member Services Manager at Mennonite Health Services Alliance in Lancaster, Pa. A graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and Temple University, Moniqua has worked as a social worker for Big Brothers Big Sisters and a therapist for Pennsylvania Counseling in the School District of Lancaster. She currently attends the New Holland Spanish Mennonite Church which is a part of Lancaster Mennonite Conference.Moniqua Acosta lives in Lititz, Pa., and is program and member services for MHS Alliance. She is a member of New Holland Spanish Mennonite Church and was on the planning committee for All You Need is Love.

Erica_LittlewolfErica Littlewolf lives in Albuquerque, NM and is coordinator of the Indigenous Vision Center for Mennonite Central Committee. She spends much of her time on reservations in the western part of the United States, advocating for justice.

Moeljono_AveaniAveani Moeljono lives in Azusa, Calif., and is a graphic designer. She has served in various leadership roles in her congregation and is a former board member of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference.

LindaLinda Gehman Peachey lives in Lancaster, Pa., and has been active in women’s advocacy in the Mennonite church for decades. Currently she is serving on the John Howard Yoder discernment group.

Sandra Perez is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) New York City Oversight Ministry Team. Prior to coming on staff with ACC she served as the first director of the Mennonite Central Committee New York City program and worked as an immigration counselor from 1998 – 2010.Sandra is a member at Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship.

Sandra Perez spends her time between New York City and Florida, and is an oversight minister for Atlantic Coast Conference. She is also a co-founder of the Radical Anabaptist Women (RAW) network in NYC, committed to supporting women in congregational leadership.

ReginaRegina Shands Stoltzfus lives in Goshen, Ind. and teaches at Goshen College. She is a co-founder of Damascus Road anti-racism training, now known as Roots of Justice.  Currently Regina serves on the John Howard Yoder discernment group.

 2. All You Need is Love

It was a powerful conference. If you haven’t heard about it yet, I encourage you to check out this digest of reflections by those who participated, and get on our On the Way newsletter list so that you can read some of the excellent material presented there. Hilary put it this way:

“As a whole group, we did theology together by listening to each other’s stories in ways that brought rigorous intellectual reflection together with spiritual awareness, vulnerability, and compassion for one another. The stories that shaped the conversation we were having were mostly stories from the margins, so that the voices that have been too often minimized could be amplified and the voices that too often ring in the center of our communities could rest, make space and listen.”

 3. The worship resources from All You Need is Love

Our times of worship together were transformative. As Janet Elizarraraz shared: “We were embodying among & within ourselves a God that is near… not far. We prayed in being present, listening, processing with Spirit, allowing in turn Spirit to move our words, our songs, our bodies… God was within us – our lives were a living prayer.”

One of Hilary’s final projects was to compile the litanies, songs, poems and rituals that took place at the conference. The worship leaders, Regina Shands Stoltzfus and LeAnne Zook, wrote most of the worship content while we were together at All You Need is Love. Their attention to the movement of the Spirit at the conference was powerful.

By the end of May these resources will be sent out via the On the Way newsletter and posted on the WLP website. Please be in touch with me directly if you have any questions about these resources!

4. Growing interest in the WLP

Following the conference many women, and some men, have asked about ways to get involved. Conversations that began at the conference must continue and the WLP is committed to supporting that ongoing work. For example, we must continue to name and wrestle with power in Mennonite Church USA. What does it mean for women of color and white women to name the disparities of power among ourselves, and challenge men to do the same? This is not easy work, but All You Need is Love brought to the fore how crucial this is for the church today. Currently I am working with the steering committee to name new initiatives, as well as invite people into the already existing work of the WLP. One way that you can continue to help this work grow is by giving a financial gift to support the WLP. 

Stay tuned for more!

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3 thoughts on “Four Reasons I’m Excited about the Women in Leadership Project & One Sadness

  1. Dear Joanna and others,

    Do keep you on your mailing list. This was a very helpful report. As you know from recent emails from me re J H Yoder crisis, I and our social justice committee are trying to find a way to address the Yoder scandal with our congregation–in a spiritually meaningful and healing way. For example, some members of our congregation are worried that to address this honestly and openly would be cruel to Yoder’s family–widow and adult children. So, in sum, I would like to hear from those in your team working on the Yoder Discernment task– how have other Mennonite congregations dealt effectively with this issue? I know many are avoiding it. Finally, how can I reach Hilary Scarsella? I can’t seem to reach her via email or phone.

    1. Dear Melanie,

      Thank you for this message. Rather than continue this important conversation here, I will send you an email.

      Blessings,
      Joanna

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