WOMEN's Second Annual Symposium on "Women in the Church" held Sept. 29 through Oct. 1, 1995 in Denver, Colorado yielded a weekend of dialogue, excitement, and eagerness for more than thirty attendees from four Orthodox jurisdictions throughout the United States. The WOMEN's network is currently undertaking the project of creating videotape and print documentation of the conference, with a study guide for discussion, and is seeking persons willing to help with publishing the proceedings.
The program featured three major speakers, a panel of Orthodox Christians in lay ministry, a short history of the WOMEN's network and its mission, a group vision exercise on Women's Ministry in the Church, and a display of Ministry Booths where networking and information sharing could occur, all bracketed by morning and evening worship daily.
Friday morning centered around the opening talk by Fr. Dean Talagan, St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church, Denver, titled "Who are Orthodox Women Called to Be?" Participants' attention was riveted by Fr. Talagan's clear and uplifting call for women in the Church to live out their diverse gifts and graces of ministry for the benefit of Christ's Church, and his appeal for the restoration of the ancient order of deaconess as an important ministry of service to the Church community.
That afternoon, Demetra Jaquet, Chair of the WOMEN's network, gave a brief history and overview of WOMEN's mission, touching on the highlights of Orthodox conferences on women in the Church which have taken place over the last 25 years. Afterward, attendees formed in small groups to outline their vision of possibilities for women's ministry in the Church.
Saturday was packed with a variety of personal testimonies and experiences of women's ministries. First a panel of people involved in lay ministries shared their experiences, joys and frustrations. Panelists were Patricia Manuse, a hospice chaplain from Manteca, Ca; Dr. Lewis Shaw, an Orthodox theologian from Birmingham, Alabama; Presvytera Mary Cowles of Louisville, Ky., a parish leader and musician; Dr. Valerie Karras, faculty member at Holy Cross School of Theology, Brookline, Mass.; Sr. Nonna Harrison, an Orthodox nun, theologian and educator from Berkeley, Ca.; and Veda Martin, an Orthodox editor and publisher from St. Louis, Mo.
This was followed by a thorough overview of the historical and theological understandings of the ancient order of deaconess in the Church, presented by Dr. Valerie Karras, in response to the spontaneous requests of the participants, who initiated many questions on the subject. Energy in the room was high as Dr. Karras reviewed the variety of duties in parish ministry and social service the deaconesses fulfilled.
Finally Presbytera Harriet Pepps Wilson of Denver's Assumption Greek Cathedral spoke on the topic, "What Can Our Future Be?" She affirmed trusting in the diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the necessity for both traditional and creative service by women in the Church.
Symposium participants had time to visit a variety of Ministry Booths to gather information firsthand from persons engaged in the ministries displayed. This included women in ministries of hospital, hospice and prison chaplaincy, parish nursing, pastoral counseling, peer listening, social services, food and clothing banks, monasticism, ecumenical dialogue, and parish pastoral associates, as well as information from the Orthodox Mission Center and Orthodox Christian Charities.
WOMEN hopes to sponsor future conferences at least biannually, and is seeking local groups to offer to host meetings in their city or parish. For more information on the 1995 conference, or to offer help in publishing its proceedings or in planning the next conference.