What is the role of women in strengthening the ministry and mission of the Church?
Is it possible to develop a core group of key lay women in a region where many of the churches have not seriously sought to strengthen lay leadership, and are predominantly patriarchal, clerical and hierarchical? Can women leaders develop better skills in a church which is depleted by the political conflict and emigration? These questions and more are asked every now and then as part of a healthy evaluation of the work process and its objectives. It has not been easy, when circumstances in our region have reached dangerous boiling points and when people have endured a long history of suffering and unrest. Yet we believe that the establishment of bonds – through encounter meetings and other forms of exchange – is an essential element of confidence-building and healing.
The political climate has indeed hindered our frequent meetings and encounters as women of the ELCJHL, but it has not prevented us from coming together to hear each others stories. In addition to the activities and social involvement of ELCJHL’s congregation-based women’s core groups, women from each congregation come together for joint encounters and workshops as part of ongoing initiatives and process. Our encounters provide a common platform for sharing and for focusing on education and spirituality and for exploration of ways for active engagement in Church life.
After months of uncertainty, joint encounters resumed at the request of the Church to go deeper into some of the issues which women found very helpful and applicable in their daily lives and experiences. The most pressing need was for self empowerment, personal growth and conflict management, specifically because the women come from a conflict situation. Issues like violence, roles, conflict analysis, communication, team work, decision-making and creative resolution conflicts are boldly addressed.
A two-day workshop was held recently and only close to sixty women could attend out of seventy five because the Israeli military sealed off Ramallah from neighboring villages and towns and from Jerusalem. For those few women from Ramallah who dared to break the siege to reach Beit-Jala, the trip lasted seven hours back and forth. Beside the workshop, which was led and facilitated by a female specialist in conflict resolution, the program provided time for bible reflections, discussion of the foundations of reconciliation, sharing personal stories and experiential exchanges.
As entertainment, Dar Annadwa International Center was gracious to show a film, recently produced by a Palestinian producer, addressing the realities of Palestinian Marriage customs. A discussion about the values and social codes which the film tackled followed the show. These kinds of workshops aim at:
- Encouraging women to participate in activities and programs and to acquire new techniques of team-building.
- Exposing women to an array of issues that correspond to the young and old and that are ecumenically and universally oriented.
- Handling tensions and stress.
- Analyzing needs and visions.
- Improving positive thinking and attitudes towards self and life and self-esteem.
Two new methodologies were introduced along with the training workshops:
- “Congregations group” discussions and evaluation of practices followed by participants input and recommendations.
- Assessment questionnaires to be filled individually and anonymously. The outcome of such questionnaires enables the ELCJHL women’s committee not only to configure the impact of the workshop on participants, but to plan future directions, methodologies and programs.
Two encounters will take place in 2005: One in Jerusalem and will provide participants with additional opportunities to gain knowledge and skills in the field of conflict management, peace education, intercultural learning and active church membership and civil citizenship. In October 2005, in coordination with the FMEEC (Fellowship of the Middle East Evangelical Churches) who will nominate professionals and experts in Church management, a training program for young women leaders will take place in Amman Jordan.
The main focus will be on organizing activity planning and operating women’s groups in congregations. Some of the methodological tools which the women will acquire are:
- How to plan and lead Bible studies.
- Methods to plan women’s meetings and conferences.
- How to draw more women to the group.
- The evangelical identity: how to live it and to co-exist in an ecumenical setting.
- Traits of Christian women leaders.
- Tasteful music and how to use it in meetings.
We hope that concrete outcomes will emerge that can help us advance in a more hopeful direction.