Photo: Mennonite Women USA Executive Director Marlene Bogard and MW USA board member, Alma Perez Ovalle, perform a skit during the centennial celebration. Photo by Hannah Heinzekehr.
“Happy birthday, Mennonite Women USA!”
At an evening gathering on July 5, convention attendees gathered to celebrate and commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Mennonite Women USA and its predecessor movements. The event built on the theme passage for MW USA’s centennial year, John 15. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (v. 5-6)
The event opening with the singing of a new song, “Fruit from the Vine,” composed by Linda Dalke for the event.
Throughout the evening, through spoken word and drama, attendees had the chance to hear stories of many of the foremothers and movements that are part of the legacy of today’s MW USA.
In a dramatic reading, “Book Talk,” written by Carol Duerksen, a variety of readers highlighted excerpts from the recently published book, Circles of Sisterhood, which traces the history of Mennonite women’s groups over the last 100 years.
“God has been central and all of this work grows out of women’s faith,” said Circles of Sisterhood author, Anita Hooley Yoder. “God is bigger than an institution and also small enough to touch us through stories. Sing on sisters. Your stories are sacred.”
Berni Kaufman, MW USA executive assistant, shared reflections inspired by her two nieces. “We stand on the shoulders of some strong women,” she said. “Who are the women who have sung with you in the ballad of your life?”
Members of the Women in Leadership Project Steering Committee, an organization with
Mennonite Church USA that works to address patriarchal systems across the church, read a new translation of Proverbs 31 written by Melissa Florer-Bixler, WLP steering committee member and pastor of Raleigh (North Carolina) Mennonite Church. Florer-Bixler was joined in reading by steering committee members Maribel Hinojosa, College Station, Texas, and Linda Gehman Peachy, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“A woman of strength,” they read. “When you find one, she is like a precious ruby. When her spouse is forced to fight in the army, when she’s all alone to work and take care of her family, her spouse knows that she’ll be alright. She makes good things happen, even when there doesn’t seem to be enough.”
Sarah Bixler, Princeton, New Jersey, read a poem inspired by her two daughters, entitled “It Stops with Me.” “I realized,” she said, “that sexism is alive in my beloved Mennonite church…This is going to stop with me. I refuse to accommodate the generational transmission of sexism.”
Rhoda Keener, MW USA Sister Care director, and Katie McKinnell, MW USA communication manager, read an ode to Mennonite Women.
“From two denominations they worked together,” they said. “United to persist in serving and learning. Called to be all that God created them to be. We honor our foremothers who refused to be told they could not serve.”
Attendees also had the opportunity to watch a Fruit from the Vine dance, perfomed by Talashia Keim Yoder of Goshen, Indiana, and to participate in the tangible activity of building a vine that bears fruit together.