This past weekend we held the first ever Midwest Emergent Gathering. Basically a few of us who help lead Emergent Cohorts wanted to put on a regional gathering. We invited all the Midwest cohorts and anyone else who was interested and dove into putting on a conference. It was a ton of work, but in the end turned out to be a great experience. We had a fantastic group of people show up and heard from some dynamic speakers. Our keynote speakers included Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Denise Van Eck, Nanette Sawyer, Alise Barrymore, James King and Spencer Burke. If you are interested in hearing what they had to say, the main session talks (and a few others) are all available for download at the Midwest Emergent Gathering Website. And if you are interested, a summary of the whole event has been posted at the conference blog.
It was great to see some of the women who interact on this blog at the conference. We held an informal Emerging Women lunch that was basically a time to share experiences and dream about what we as women would like to see happening in the church. A fairly diverse group of women and men attended to discuss the "role" of women in the emerging church (a problematic concept if there ever was one). One father attended who had become disillusioned with his faith as he watched his daughters leave the faith because of how the church treats women. Other women who come from mainline denominations said they have never had any issues as a woman in the church. Other women there were tired, very tired, of struggling to be accepted at all. There were women there who see no need for a separate "women's group" and others who are desperate for other women they can relate to. Needless to say, we had some rich conversation.
Some of the women shared how they were surprised at how male dominated the conference was. While we had tried to give equal speaking and workshop opportunities to women and men, most of the upfront voices were still male and all of the God talk was male gendered. For women especially from mainline backgrounds, it was a bit shocking to see such an imbalance. It made me realize that even when we deliberately planned for more gender equality, the male voice still dominated. No wonder it has been hard for women to see themselves represented in the emerging church. What will it take for women to be fully recognized and seen as a vital (and needed) presence in this conversation?
Another topic of conversation at the lunch involved the lack of resources (or information about such resources) for emerging women. There are women out there writing books, teaching theology, and giving brilliant talks. They just aren't well known. We discussed some of the reasons why this is the case. Some suggested the mommy factor. Women who have the ability to teach, speak, or write often are never blessed with the time to do so because of family obligations (the men seem to have no problems on the other hand.) Also if women do get books out there, they rarely get the same level of promotion and press as books by they male colleagues do. Hence fewer women know that those resources are out there. And often those resources are coming from mainline and not evangelical publishers, making it difficult for many evangelical (or post-evangelicals) to even know they exist. So as a group we discussed the need to not only encourage and empower women to use their voices, but to also start grassroots movements to promote women whose voices are already out there. To let others know what books have influenced you or given you hope. To let the world know when there is a new book published. That could involve sharing with friends, making a point to blog a review about a book (or even just provide a link), or something as simple as creating lists on Amazon or adding a book to your Facebook or Librarything bookshelf. Grassroots means that women get behind other women to help let their collective voices be heard. What are other ideas people here have?
To help with that sharing of information, we highlighted a few of the books women who were at the lunch had written. I wanted to share those here as well. Many of you may have already read Ivy Beckwith's Postmodern Children's Ministry. I found it to be a fantastic introduction to postmodernism and a great help for reimagining children's ministry. We also highlighted upcoming books from Beth Booram (The Wide Open Spaces of God, Sept. 2007) and Nanette Sawyer (Hospitality the Sacred Art, Oct. 2007). I look forward to reading those and hope to post more about them in the future.
In all, I thought the conversation was helpful. It pushed us to think about the effects the roles the church (even emerging churches) have given to women (and we have accepted) have on people's faith and desire to be involved. I realized that we need to always be aware of whether or not all people feel welcomed and included. I saw also the need to be doing whatever we can to help women find, use, and promote their voice. And that doing so does not necessarily have to involve fighting for equality (although that is often also needed), but engaging in love and hospitality. It means encouraging and supporting each other - be that by reading each other's books and blogs, by giving moral support, or watching a friend's kids so she has a quiet moment to write.
So thank you to all who attended for a good conversation.