Tag Archives: Women

“THESE WOMEN ARE JUST LIKE ME, ONLY MORE SO” by Rebecca Goche, Final-year M. Div.

“These women are just like everyone else, only more so.” These are the words that Pastor Paul Witmer, Minister of Congregational Care for Women at the Well told a group of us on the “outside” while at a gathering of people who support Iowan women prisoners. I really had no idea what he meant by these words at the time until I went “inside” and experienced the Women at the Well, a United Methodist congregation located with the walls of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, in Mitchellville, Iowa.

I first heard of Women at the Well when Pastor Lee Schott spoke at the ELCA Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly about what it is like to pastor a congregation within a prison. I remember her passion and I knew then that I wanted to learn more about ministry with incarcerated persons. I took a group of 10 people from my internship congregation to worship with the Women at the Well congregation. I had no idea of what to expect. I was shocked at how full the Sacred Space (chapel) was with about 70 women worshipping with us that night. I was amazed at what I can only describe as “freedom” which I felt and saw as these incarcerated women worshipped. My brain wondered, “How can this be?” as I had not experienced such a freedom in a congregation outside prison walls. It was my wonderment over this freedom that urged me to go through the prison’s mandatory volunteer training and set up an independent study during J-term 2017 to delve deeper into the ministry of the pastoral staff with the Women at the Well and witness how God is moving in the women within the walls of the prison.

Some of my friends and family were concerned for my safety when they found out that I was going into the prison to work with the women. I had more than one person tell me that prison is “full of bad people.” After watching Pastor Schott interact with the women on my first day in prison, I realized that if I let others’ and my own fears get the best of me, I would be closing myself off to the women and to God’s work in them. As I opened myself up to the women and listened to their stories, I found most to be warm and caring despite what they had been through or what they had done. I still find myself wondering how any of them can be warm and caring knowing some of the statistics of the women who are incarcerated in Mitchellville: 60 percent suffer from mental illness, 80 percent have some type of addiction, and 90 percent have experienced some type of abuse whether domestic violence or sexual assault. For most of these women, the deck was stacked against them long before they ever entered prison. I find it deplorable that for many of these women, it seems that prison is Iowa’s mental health system.

With Pastor Witmer’s words, “These women are just like everyone else, only more so,” echoing inside my head, I quickly learned that pastoral care in prison is much like what I have experienced outside its walls, only the women’s issues seem to be magnified partly because of where they are. The women want someone who will listen to them and not judge them. They want to be able to share their joys and their sorrows just like the people I visited while on internship. Many of the women feel guilty for not being with their families, especially their children. Often times this guilt manifests itself in depression or acting out in an inappropriate manner. I had the opportunity to accompany Pastor Witmer on a visit with a woman who was on suicide watch. She was alone in a solitary cell wearing what I can only describe as a moving blanket-type gown. There was another offender outside her heavy glass and metal door whose sole job was to watch her in the event she tried to hurt herself. There were no moveable chairs near her cell, so both Pastor Witmer and I kneeled on the cold, concrete floor to talk with the woman through the small, 3 ½ inch by 10-inch tray opening in the cell’s door. It was uncomfortable and not ideal for holding a conversation. The woman was highly agitated and her mind and words jumped from one topic to another. She spoke about her mental illness and the difficulties she has had with various medications not working anymore because she has built up a tolerance to them. She talked about the abuse she has experienced from former partners and how she thought that was normal until she met and married her current partner who will not hit her even though she wants him to do so. The woman told us about having to relinquish her parental rights and had found out a few days earlier that her child had been adopted – the “final straw” that caused her to be transferred to the suicide watch unit. We spent just over 10 minutes with her simply listening. As we were walking back to the Sacred Space from her unit, Pastor Witmer said that he is still trying to figure out how to do better pastoral care with the women, especially in situations like we had just experienced.

Women at the Well tries to address some of the women’s needs by offering various pastoral care-type groups. I had an opportunity to sit in on a grief group led by two Methodist pastors/counselors. I listened with an aching heart as a woman in her late twenties shared her story. This woman had been raped at the age of 13 by a relative, became pregnant and gave birth to a baby. Five days later, she watched this same relative smother her child and then place the dead child into a garbage bag to throw away. Her child would have been 16 years old. The woman continues to feel guilty about not stopping her relative from killing her baby and grieves the loss of her child. In an effort to numb her pain, she began using drugs and did whatever she had to do in order to get them. I wanted to give the woman a hug, but touch is not allowed inside the prison. I watched as the other women in the group, who also could not hug the woman, enveloped her with their words of love and comfort. I listened to other women’s stories during the hour-long session. I cannot imagine the grief that many of these women must carry, buried deep inside of them because if they let it show especially in prison, they will be preyed upon by others for being weak. Women at the Well offers these women a safe space to share their grief in a community.

Roughly 10 percent of the population or about 70 women are released from the prison every month. Women at the Well offers a voluntary, faith-based re-entry program to the women for one year after they are released from prison. Volunteers from various denominations make up the re-entry teams located in communities around the state. These teams serve as an important resource to help the women move back into society. I had an opportunity to be a part of two sessions of the women’s preparation course for the re-entry program. Thirty-two women attended the four-week course. Many were looking for resources to help them once they got out of prison. Some were looking for a deeper connection with God. Others were looking for help in finding a church home once they are released. I heard much hope in their discussions sprinkled with a heavy dose of their current realities.

While participating in worship with the Women at the Well congregation, I found it surreal to look out the windows of the Sacred Space and see the orange glow from the security lights reflecting off of the razor wire atop the fence that surrounds the prison grounds. Once again I was mesmerized by the sense of freedom that I felt within the space, worshiping God with these women who could not be on the other side of that fence until society through the courts said they could, if ever (there are currently 39 women who will never get out and will die in prison). I sensed a palpable hope and a strong desire to serve their neighbors outside the walls of prison as evidenced by the congregation’s support of a different organization/charity each month. These women earn anywhere from $0.27 to just over one dollar an hour at their prison jobs which can be used at the prison commissary to buy phone cards to call loved ones, toiletries, and so on. I was humbled by their acts of stewardship as they eagerly shared their money with neighbors whom they may never meet.

Today, prison is big business and many in our society would rather spend money on building more prisons to house more people rather than spending money to help prevent people from being incarcerated or rehabilitate those already incarcerated so that they are not repeat offenders. I was naïve about how racially biased our criminal justice system is, but my eyes have been opened wide after reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and seeing the disproportionately high numbers of people of color within the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women when compared to the population for the state as a whole. I find hope in the ELCA’s Social Statement on The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries, but I wonder how many of our pastors and congregations actually read it and apply it to their lives. After my experience with Women at the Well within the prison walls, I can no longer close my eyes and block my ears to the cries of those who are behind bars and to those who must forever live with the label of criminal, as less than that of a second-class citizen. These women truly are just like you and me – they are beloved children of God.

BREAKING THE CYCLE OF POVERTY…THROUGH HANDMADE PRODUCTS by Koren Lindley, Final Year Diaconal Ministry Student

Imagine not having the financial means to feed your own children.  Imagine feeling you have no other choice than to work long days in a sweatshop or to turn to prostitution to gain enough income to provide at all for them.  Imagine feeding your child pies made out of clay because that is all you have.  For most of us in the United States, this is not our reality, but for women in many other countries this is a daily struggle.  Not only are they not able to feed and provide for their children, but they are living in gang and drug-infested neighborhoods.  They are caught up in a cycle of poverty that one must live in to completely comprehend.

In March, 2015, while on her husband’s pastoral internship, Wendy Daiker, a Wartburg Theological Seminary spouse, felt a call to help women.  Initially, Wendy felt these women were local to the Iowa town where she was living, but she soon learned that God was calling her to a much broader community.  This was affirmed when Wendy’s husband, Joe, connected her to a friend who was a Compassionate Entrepreneur for Trades of Hope.  Wendy quickly realized that God was calling her to help women through Trades of Hope on a global scale.  It was then that Wendy became a Compassionate Entrepreneur for Trades of Hope.

Trades of Hope was started in 2010 and was created to empower women worldwide and to create jobs for them.  According to the Trades of Hope Fall 2015 catalog, “We want every mother to be able to break the cycle of poverty-for herself and her children.  Parents who are working can provide basic necessities, support, and protection for families.”  Trades of Hope does this by marketing the handmade products of artisans through a home party model.  Compassionate Entrepreneurs (CEs) bring the products (jewelry, handbags, home décor, etc.) into homes and share both the products and the stories of the artisans who have made the products.  Products are sold and the artisans are given a fair wage for their work, a wage that helps them support themselves and their families.  Currently, Trades of Hope represents 28 groups of artisans (over 6500 artisans!) in 16 countries.

The artisans are mainly women and their stories are as varied as their fingerprints.  Some are trying to create a better life for their family.  Others were rescued from the sex trade industry or have diseases such as AIDS or leprosy.  Still others have aged out of orphanages and have nowhere to go.  They are women who do not want charity, but do want an opportunity to better their lives.  These artisans are given new hope and confidence that they can break the cycle of poverty through their handmade goods and with the accompaniment of Trades of Hope.  Wendy’s favorite part of being a Compassionate Entrepreneur is “knowing that what I do empowers other people and makes a difference.”

You can learn more about Trades of Hope by visiting Wendy’s Trades of Hope website or by liking her Facebook page “Wendy Daiker Trades of Hope.”

Dr. Norma Cook Everist Shares Part of Her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

Consecrated as a deaconess in 1960, I served Ascension Lutheran Church in St. Louis for 4 years (Before 1959 deaconesses had to choose between service to the church and marriage) In the early 60’s Concordia Seminary opened its doors to Lutheran teachers (which included women). I went over and enrolled, 1 woman among 800 men, and received an MA in Religion in 1964. However, that very year, when Burton and I adopted our son, Mark, I received a letter saying, “Thank you for your service.” I was removed from the roster because I had become a mother.

 For twelve years my call to ministry was as a community organizer in the inner cities of Detroit, MI, and New Haven, CT, as a bridge between church and world. Yale Divinity School is in New Haven. One day I went up the hill and enrolled. Yale welcomed me and Concordia’s degree.  After receiving an M.Div in 1976, Yale invited me to teach there as a lecturer in the Area of Ministry. Meanwhile women in our deaconess community took on leadership, and passed a resolution that all consecrated deaconesses were still deaconesses.  I became the first woman president of the LDA Board of Directors. In the early 70’s the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod went through a schism. I became a member of the Board of Directors of Seminex in the AELC.

 The ALC and LCA began ordaining women in 1970; my deaconess community area conference encouraged me to seek ordination, particularly since I was now teaching women and men who were studying at Yale to become pastors. The path to ordination was difficult, however.  I was approved for ordination by Wartburg Seminary. An LCA pastor tried to stop the ALC from ordaining me.  Dr. Roger Fjeld, prevailed, and I was ordained at Yale Divinity School in 1977. I believed if a door opened a crack, I should walk through and open the doors wider for others to walk through, too. I continued to be part of my deaconess community.

Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration & Educational Ministry, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Norma Cook Everist,
Professor of Church Administration & Educational Ministry,
Wartburg Theological Seminary

 In 1979 I received a call to Wartburg Seminary, becoming the first woman to teach in a tenured position in a seminary of the American Lutheran Church. I received my Ph.D. from The Iliff School of Theology and Denver University.  Even though other opportunities presented themselves later, I have been blessed and privileged to continue to serve Wartburg, and through Wartburg, the larger church and world.  I believe in collaborative ministry and the partnership of women and men, ministries based, not on gender, but on gifts. Thanks be to God.

Dr. Gwen Sayler Shares Part of her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

I remember… being told as a child that for a woman to become a pastor would be a sin while at the same time relishing access to Luther’s Works;

I remember… the excitement of being allowed full access with the boys to university theology classes even while realizing we girls were allowed in them on the assumption we’d never really use the theology we were being taught;

I remember… the male students who mocked me every time I raised my hand to speak at Seminary as well as the male students and faculty who bravely welcomed and incorporated me;

I remember… being told as the first woman theology instructor at Valparaiso University that the Dean was counting to see if I could attract male students and that I could neither counsel students nor lead in chapel worship as well as the male and female students who filled my classrooms and the brave colleague who invited me to preach in his chapel week;

I remember… the sheer joy of graduate school at the University of Iowa, where gender counted not at all;

I remember… as newly ordained in 1982 some parishioners leaving church when they saw I was preaching that day as well as developing a relationship with them and and later officiating at their funerals at their request;

Gwen-Sayler

Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible, The William A. & John E. Wagner Professor of Biblical Theology, Director of Lifelong Learning, Wartburg Theological Seminary

I remember… the hostility of some male students when I first came to teach at Wartburg as well as the many men and women who warmly received me;

I remember… as I celebrate how far we have come and begin to prepare to let go to the female and male leaders who will take the next steps toward full partnership in the 21st century.

Dr. Ann Fritschel Shares Part of Her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

While I was a pioneer in attending the Military Academy at West Point, I was not a pioneer as a woman attending seminary. I am extremely grateful for those who went before me and bore pain, prejudice and sorrow. I was among the first 100 women at Wartburg, but the way had been paved well before I came. It was still a time of transition though. I had classmates who did not believe women could be pastors. Professors made biblical and theological arguments supporting women’s right and privilege to be ordained. It was still enough of a time of transition that we needed space in the community for us to gather separately as women to discuss our lives, experiences and what was happening in the church. For a while there was even a women’s room for us to use. Some of the men always wondered what the women were “plotting”, but most were gracious to give us space. We also benefited greatly from the wisdom and modeling of Norma Cook Everist as a faculty member.

For internship I was sent to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The congregation had asked specifically for a woman intern. Several families took the year off and went to a different Lutheran church because I was there. Actually, they had to take two years off because after I left the congregation asked for another woman intern. Not because I had done such a good job, but so I was not the standard by which future women pastors would be judged. They understood women pastors, as well as men, would be very different and offer different gifts. I often heard at that time, “We had a woman pastor and she did a horrible job.  We’ll never have another one.” And yet I wondered if the congregation had a bad male pastor, would the same thinking apply?

Dr. Ann L. Fritschel, Professor of Hebrew Bible, The Rev. Dr. Frank L. & Joyce S. Benz Professor in Scripture, Director of the Center for Theology and Land, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Ann L. Fritschel,
Professor of Hebrew Bible, The Rev. Dr. Frank L. & Joyce S. Benz Professor in Scripture, Director of the Center for Theology and Land,
Wartburg Theological Seminary

When seeking a second call, there was one congregation that refused to interview me or look at my paperwork because I was a woman. At my first sermon at my second call, some people kept waiting for God to strike the church with lightning. I can see the harm of stereotyping and prejudice the isms produce and unfortunately many types of prejudice are still active in the church today. Fortunately as more people got to know me, they relaxed and pondered how God might be at work in the world. Yet all of this was not possible without many people standing up for women’s ordination and willing to change the system.​

Dr. Kris Stache Shares Part of Her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

The year is 2002 (yes, this century). I was just finishing up a master’s in lay ministry when I felt a call to continue my education and earn a PhD. Like any discerning student, I did my research and sought out conversations with the administration of potential academic institutions of study. At one particular place I was advised by the Dean of the Graduate programs not to apply. He stated, very bluntly, that a PhD program was not the place for a woman with four children. Clearly I would not be able to find the time needed for doctoral level work. (I was so shocked and appalled by his comment that I didn’t have the courage to ask if he had ever said that to a male parent.)

Dr. Kristine Stache, Associate Professor of Missional Leadership & Director of Learning for Life, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Kristine Stache,
Associate Professor of Missional Leadership & Director of Learning for Life,
Wartburg Theological Seminary

In some respects, that comment sealed the deal for me. I knew then and there that if female parents were not encouraged to study, there must be a desperate need for me and other women like me (and different than me) to have a presence in these learning environments. As much as I had to learn, I felt then that others might need to learn from me. We need the voices of different people, with different commitments, and different experiences and backgrounds present at the table, to learn and challenge one another.

I did finally earn my PhD, within five years of starting the program. Not too bad for a mother of four children, if I do say so myself.

THE BISHOP THROUGH MY DAUGHTER’S EYES by Tami Groth, final year MA Diaconal Ministry

This Spring when I learned that there would be a time set aside for students and their families during Presiding Bishop Eaton’s visit to Wartburg Seminary, I knew that I would bring my daughter along with me to the event. My husband, Shawn Brooks, and I started attending Wartburg Seminary when Nessa started first grade, and she has grown up a great deal during this time. When she met the Bishop she was almost 10-years-old and in fourth grade (we later learned Nessa shares her April 2nd birthday with Bishop Eaton). She has also had the opportunity to be a part of this diverse community, and is at home both in the residential area and in the academic buildings, or “the castle” as we call it in our house.

Nessa, quite shy by nature, was completely comfortable at the gathering, and she even asked the Bishop two questions about her job as Bishop and how she got to be Bishop. I love Nessa’s curiosity. As we walked home after the gathering, I reflected on how I am so thankful that Nessa has had the opportunity to observe many strong passionate women role models during our time here, especially those serving the church. That Nessa was not focused on the fact that Bishop Eaton is the first female Bishop of the ELCA was a sign to me that, in her understanding, gender is not a factor that defines what service one may be called to in the church. This is a significant shift from the world I grew up in, and I give thanks to God that my daughter’s reality includes meeting Bishop Eaton as the gifted church leader that she is and not as a “woman Bishop.”

Presiding ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton at Wartburg Seminary in March 20015 with final year students Tami Groth and Shawn Brooks and their daughter, Nessa.

Presiding ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton at Wartburg Seminary in March 2015 with final year students Tami Groth and Shawn Brooks and their daughter, Nessa.