HARRISBURG, Pa. — For the first time, Anabaptist women from across the world gathered to consider forming a global Anabaptist women’s network.
Women theologians held regional meetings as part of Mennonite World Conference assembly. Then a joint meeting toward the end of the week explored a vision for greater connections among Anabaptist women doing theology and pastoral work across the world.
In the regional sessions, women from Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe met to hear updates on what is already happening in their regions and to consider how they might work together in more formal networks within their own regions.
In the joint gathering July 24, women from all the continents offered their perspectives on a global network. Hosted by the Latin American women theologians, the three-and-a-half-hour gathering included liturgy, singing, movement and art, along with reports and group discussions. Close to 100 women participated.
The participants explored two main questions:
- Is there a need for a global women’s theology network?
- What would the function of this network be?
Asked about the need, the Latin American participants responded, “Si.”
One attendee said: “I know that my world is too small and I need others.”
The consensus was to appoint regional contacts to work on implementation of a network.
Participants also raised concerns about the representation of women on the MWC General Council and commissions. Of the 150 delegates to the council, fewer than a dozen were women.
“Is this equality? Is this just? In our churches the majority is women,” said one woman from the Global South.
The General Council helps shape the mandate of MWC. Members are selected by MWC national member churches and conferences.
The women theologians’ movement began in Africa, with the formation of the African Anabaptist Women Theologians in 2001. The group has encouraged and facilitated theological training for women from various African countries, in partnership with Mennonite Church USA and MWC. The African group did not meet in Harrisburg.
After the 2003 MWC assembly in Zimbabwe, Latin American women, inspired by their African sisters, began exploring their own network. The Latin American Women Theologians Movement held its first meeting at MWC’s 2009 assembly in Paraguay.
On July 23, Latin American women met. They told stories about their unique situations and expressed appreciation for Sister Care, a program of Mennonite Women USA that conducts workshops for women in Anabaptist communities in North America, Latin America and Asia.
Conversations about an Asian women theologians’ network began in India in 2012 under the name Theologically Trained Anabaptist Women of India. This was a local initiative, endorsed by MWC, to train and empower Anabaptist women theologians. At assembly they had further conversations July 22.
Women in Canada and the U. S. have held theology events but have no official structure. About 50 women met for the first time July 22 to gauge interest in creating a more organized network for North American women.
A small group of European women gathered July 23. They do not have a continental network. They discussed whether ordination is something women pastors should seek.
Contributing: Harriet Sider Bicksler, Elina Ciptadi-Perkins.