Photos and Reflections from All You Need is Love

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, and lives in South Central Elkhart (Ind.).

By Joanna Shenk

On February 20 – 22, 2014, I joined close to 200 others for a gathering that inspired hope and did not shy away from the pain that we carry, individually and collectively. Together we created a space where vulnerable and joyful stories were shared. We sang and laughed and cried and hugged and danced. Following the gathering, I wrote this brief reflection on a refrain we sang many times during the conference.

“I found God in myself, and I loved Her fiercely” (Ntozake Shange) and I found God in my sisters and I loved Her even more fiercely. May the movement of love continue, along with learning and growth. May we, like Mary, be apostles to the apostles.”

There was something embodied at All You Need is Love that I ache for in all of our churchly gatherings–that we hear each other’s stories and see each other’s beauty that is so often diminished by sin, which takes many forms, including racism, sexism, heterosexism and greed. If you were not at the conference, I encourage you to connect with someone who was there. Ask them how All You Need is Love can serve as a model for the church more broadly. Or, you’re welcome to get in touch with me directly!

Enjoy the following photos from the gathering (click on photos to see larger version), as well as a reflection from participant Janet Treviño-Elizarraraz of San Antonio, Texas.

Malinda Elizabeth Berry offers a theological response on Friday afternoon to the three storytellers, asking “What does our theology say when we are told our existence is a problem?” Photo credit: Nekeisha Alexis-Baker/AMBS
Our gathering space for worship and large group conversations. The large group conversations included input from storytellers, followed by a theological response. Photo credit: Nekeisha Alexis-Baker/AMBS

 

In worship we were lead to dance, singing “Walk into the holy fire, step into the holy flame.” Photo credit Nekeisha Alexis-Baker/AMBS
Photo credit Nekeisha Alexis-Baker/AMBS

 

Janet Treviño-Elizarraraz. Photo credit: Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

From Janet:

One of the curious omissions of the the weekend was the traditional form of prayer: believer addressing God in word, in community, led by a single person, audible, in the large group setting. Not once was a prayer formally given.
And what is prayer really – for many- human addressing a Being outside of its self – possibly far away.

I’ve come to the personal conclusion that the absence of this style of prayer was in essence because of the incarnational quality of the conference. We were embodying among & within ourselves a God that is near… Not far, and as our breath is in sync and in unity with ourselves, as is God. 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.

This is how I’ve come to understand the conference (and it’s taken me a few days to finally be able to name this above), for this is the basis of the magic that was ever so present, active and empowering among us.

Thank you all for being God in the flesh.

Members of the Steering Committee of the Women in Leadership Project share an update. From left: Joanna Shenk, Sandra Perez, Hilary Scarsella, Linda Gehman Peachey, Erica Littlewolf, Regina Shands Stoltzfus. Not pictured: Aveani Moeljono, Moniqua Acosta. Photo credit: Nekeisha Alexis-Baker/AMBS
Conference participants engage in small group discussion, which was part of the scheduled activities throughout the conference. Each woman was assigned a circle group, which in many cases, was an opportunity to connect with women they had not known previously. Many women experienced these circles as sacred space, where speaking and listening were gifts shared with one another. Photo credit: Nekeisha Alexis-Baker/AMBS

Thank you to the many people who provided financial, spiritual and logistical support for this holy time together. For more, visit the Conference Resource page.

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