[updated Nov. 14, 2013]
By Joanna Shenk
ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Church USA)—“All you need is love: Honoring diversity in women’s voices in theology” is the theme of a conference to be sponsored Feb. 20–22, 2014, by the Women in Leadership Project (WLP) of Mennonite Church USA, along with Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Women USA.
The conference will be held at the National Conference Center (NCC) in Leesburg, Virginia, thirteen miles from the Washington Dulles International Airport. The NCC will provide all that needed for participants: lodging, food, internet access, parking and a fitness center.
“The impetus for this event comes from the gathering momentum of the WLP and is in keeping with the history of women’s conferences among Mennonites,” says Hilary J. Scarsella, WLP co-coordinator and associate for transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA.
Scarsella notes that over the last couple of years, interest has grown in the idea of creating a space where Mennonite women could do theology together. About a year ago, staff from Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Central Committee U.S. met and decided to support this effort.
Although the conference will continue the tradition of Mennonite women gathering to think theologically, Scarsella says this conference will take on a somewhat new form.
An intentionally intergenerational group consisting of pastors, activists, professors and employees of church agencies is leading the planning, so that the gathering will honor the various vocations from which theological work is done. According to the planning group, to “do theology” is to reflect on God in relation to our lives and can take many forms.
“At this conference, we want to be reflecting on God from the multitude of contexts from which participants are coming,” Scarsella says. “Our hope is that there will be space do this reflection academically, relationally, prayerfully, actively and also contemplatively, so that participants engage this gathering with their whole selves.”
The planning group consists of Moniqua Acosta of Lititz, Pa., program and member services manager for Mennonite Health Services (MHS) Alliance; Michelle Armster of Lancaster, Pa., former Mennonite pastor and interim director of Mennonite Central Committee Central States; Sarah Augustine of Toppenish, Wash., assistant professor of sociology at Heritage University in Washington and co-director of the Suriname Indigenous Health Fund; Hannah Heinzekehr of Newton, Kan., communications director and convention planning coordinator for Mennonite Church USA; Gayle Gerber Koontz of Elkhart, Ind., professor of theology and ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart; and Scarsella, also of Elkhart.
Scarsella says that the planners chose the theme both to playfully acknowledge the way love is at the forefront in February with Valentine’s Day and to wrestle with the complexity of love as an element of Christian faith. February is also Black History Month, and one of the primary commitments of the conference is to work at undoing racism and to celebrate the richness of the variety of women’s voices across the church.
According to Moniqua Acosta, one of the planners, the planning group has asked, “What does it mean to love in the midst of a world rife with struggle and oppression?”
She explains, “We hope conference participants will face these realities head on—tensions between women of greater and lesser privilege, the need to listen deeply to a wide variety of women’s voices in matters of faith and theology, the difficulty of putting love into action, and standing in solidarity with struggling sisters around the world.”
Hannah Heinzekehr, also of the planning group, adds that the conference is being planned in a way that will allow women to work together at addressing these tensions and to embrace the diversity of women’s voices in theology.
“As planners, we’re committed to a robust theological understanding of love, which includes thinking about how love is defined, how it’s expressed and changes our actions, and who can access it,” she says, noting, “Broadening the scope of love will be key for modeling the kind of collaborative theological work we want to do as diverse women.”
For information about the call for papers, to make workshop suggestions, view the conference schedule and register visit the conference website.
Logo variations for the upcoming conference, “All you need is love: Honoring diversity in women’s voices in theology”