Jul 25, 2013

Report from Alberta Women's Retreat


Q:  What are you doing here?" 
A:  "I know the speaker and I wanted to hear her share."
Q:  "What are you really doing here?"
A:  "(Pause) I'm here because I need help..."

That is how speaker, Michelle Copithorne, challenged women at the Alberta Women’s Retreat at Sylvan Lake on May 24-26. She asked us to share with a partner about ourselves to break through the head versus heart dilemma. For where the head and heart meet, there is the soul, and we were at retreat to do soul work. The theme was "Designed in God's Image", a challenging thing for most women. In a culture obsessed with appearances, women are bombarded with images and advertising that remind us of our many inferiorities. Well, at least the inferiorities we think we have. Copithorne, through sharing her story, led the group through activities and discussions that went past the head and entered the heart.
Speaker, Michelle Copithorne

There is something sacred about a gathering of women, especially an intergenerational gathering of Christians. Being on the younger end of the spectrum, I was little nervous going to a retreat where there wouldn't be many or potentially anyone my age. But there has been something missing in my life since I moved back to Alberta. I couldn't define it before, but after this retreat, I think I know. It is sisters in Christ meeting and worshipping together, just women.  "Women have the gift and ability to go deep and go deep fast" I'm not sure who said that during the weekend, but it was true. There were 51 women on retreat, and I never saw someone sitting on the outside. Alone yes, but alone by choice; on the outside no, everyone was included. And what a wonderfully diverse group we were, with ages ranging from 20 to 80. Women from the Edmonton South Sudanese Mennonite Church, from the Calgary Chin Church, Holyrood, First Edmonton and First Calgary, Bergthal, Lethbridge, Foothills, women from the Lethbridge and Edmonton VS Units, and more friends from other places. I knew more women than I thought I would, but I left knowing them better and with new friends. "It was nice to have a group of younger women to be with, as a part of this weekend. We felt so welcomed by all the women at retreat.  The variety show, giant dutch blitz, and games -- all were inclusive of every person, age, race it didn't matter". Said Melissa Bueckert, summing up for a group of young women.

Tabitha Mut (on left)
from South Sudan
 There were four sessions over the weekend. Saturday morning session featured singing and sharing. Many people were touched by the sharing of Tabitha Mut. Tabitha is a recent immigrant from South Sudan, she arrived in Edmonton on March 20. "God chose our path here [to Canada]. Black and white we are together, our skin is different but our voices are the same. Our God is the same,” she said through a translator. Tabitha is a spiritual leader, a deaconess, and performs baptism rites. She is a remarkable woman, and even though she speaks no English, was able to communicate and laugh with us.

The phrase "where two or three are gathered, there God is" came to my mind, but I think we have to change it to say "that where 51 worshipping women are gathered, there the Holy Spirit will be also". Singing, laughing, crying and praying, this was the heart work done through the weekend. These were the soul activities we did together. Self reflection, building each other up and praying filled our cups to over-flowing. Sunday morning as we closed our worship with more sharing, Theresa Powoe from Holyrood church shared, "When we left Liberia to come [to Canada], I mourned my sisters. We would have retreats there as well, 500 women gathered together to worship and praise God. I had been told that there wouldn't be anything like that because everyone in Canada was too busy. I am so thankful to be here this weekend, as I have found the sisters I left behind."
Theresa Powoe from Liberia

There are more stories to tell, but you will have to find them. Ask around at your churches, find someone who went, and make plans to come next year. To those who attended remember what Michelle said in one of the sessions: "That God loves you at least as much as the person who loves you the most." Yes we ate tummy bread, but we left full of heart bread.

by Joani Neufeldt

Michelle Copithorne lives in Cochrane, AB and attends Foothills Mennonite Church.
Joani Neufeldt is a member of Lethbridge Mennonite Church and lives in Coaldale, AB.
The retreat was planned jointly by Alberta Women in Mission (AWM) and interested individuals from Mennonite Church Alberta (MCA) with the hope of bringing together women from existing AWM groups and all MCA churches.

Giant Dutch Blitz
Intergenerational fellowship
AWM display table

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