So a few months ago I spent some time with the moderator of PW in our presbytery and she was lamenting the lack of younger women in the local church circles. There are a fair number of young families in a lot of our churches, as well as folks my age and up into their 50s who still qualify as “younger” when compared to the average PW goers. So we talked a bit about what barriers there might be, how we might overcome some of them if we could offer an alternative format. Maybe something online.
She said, “if you can make something work, that would be great. Go for it!” I mentioned it to the PW coordinator at my mom’s church, who was also all for it. She even offered the church as a place to connect a virtual circle, aware and even hoping that I might draw women from a wider range than a single congregation.
Fast forward to the end of May and the end of school for a semester and the end of a PW Bible study cycle. The presbytery is installing a Moodle site for us to populate with some online resources, which could house something like a PW group. It seems like a good convergence time to start recruiting. I had started praying for God to reveal the next steps and the right handful of women to test drive something new.
Meanwhile, some of my Tweeps- twitter friends- had been at a conference called the UNconference. It’s meant to encourage more open source thinking in the church. Rather than a series of workshops led by official experts and listened to by official attendees, they made space for conversations, explorations and room for people to think and dream. One of the key take-aways for these women was a desire to leverage social media to support and strengthen (rather than supplant) existing programs. As they were unpacking this idea on twitter, PW came up as an example of a group that might benefit from a social media and virtual ministry component.
Of course I chimed in with “My local PW commissioned me to start a virtual circle” and the conversation was off and running. Abbie, Katie and Margaret started asking folks on Twitter and Facebook if they might be interested. Someone (Katie?) created a FB group and started adding women in. I don’t think any of us imagined more than 15-20, maybe 30 people would step up. More and more women indicated interest, and the next thing you know, 100, then 150, then 200 women had joined.
We’ve got women of all sorts of ethnicities, abilities and ages, women who have been involved with PW for decades and some who are just brand new. There are women ordained as elders, deacons or ministers and women who have never held an office in church. There are some like me- in seminary. Others are retired from a variety of careers. Single, married, partnered, widowed… we’re all there and excited to see what God has in store.
I was thrilled to be able to write to our current PC(USA) Moderator and invite her to join the group (which she did). I have been able to add women from my own area whose churches don’t have PW circles. Or who didn’t have a church to attend. What an honor to invite them to the community.
And they’ve started sharing already… stories, desires, fears, hopes. Just like women do when they gather face to face. There will be some bumpy moments, trying to wrangle and find leadership for multiple groups of women as they study, find opportunities for service, build community and fellowship. But it’s been beautiful to see the Spirit moving as people step up with ideas and offers to take something on.
I am so thankful for the relationships that I have gained in my various online realms… school, Facebook, Twitter… and how those experiences prepare me for and open up opportunities to do ministry in new ways and with new people. I pray that God will lead us and bless us as we attempt this new thing. May we be a blessing to women in the church and a blessing to the church. May our efforts glorify God and help bring a glimpse of God’s Kingdom into the world. May each woman who joins find the work that she has been called and prepared to do, within the circle and in the world. And may we be infectious in our joy, hope, mercy and grace.