“It all feels so final,” someone said during lunch at the 73rd annual meeting of Saskatchewan Women in Mission (SWM) hosted by Zoar Mission Circle in Waldheim, Sask., on April 25. She was referring to a vote taken that morning to disband. After several years of difficulty finding women to fill executive and program positions on the committee we chose to let it go. By a very slim margin the women present voted to disband.
The program committee had prepared for this possibility and offered a litany of thanks to honour all women over the years who participated, to remember and to say the first goodbye.
We sang, “Now Thank We All Our God,” ate bread together and took a final photograph of the group of 65 women. Outgoing president Myrna Sawatzky lamented the loss of dollars for the many organizations that SWM presently supports, from Witness workers to Rosthern Junior College (RJC). While it felt final, the group voted in favour of a motion to develop a position within Mennonite Church Saskatchewan to represent women and to organize events.
The earliest group of women organized in Rosthern in 1906-07. In 1941, David Toews asked the women’s groups to organize an evening program at the Canadian Conference in Laird. It was so much fun that they met at the 1943 Canadian Conference in Langham and voted to organize the Saskatchewan Women’s Missionary Conference.
Mrs. Hugo Bartel of Drake was chosen as the first president, Mrs. G.G. Epp of Eigenheim as secretary-treasurer and Mrs. P.B. Willms of Saskatoon as the third member. The first project was the Margareta Toews Scholarship for a needy girl at RJC. SWM continued to support RJC and to offer scholarships. Projects have ranged from supporting missionaries at home and abroad, to making quilts, bandages, soap and layettes.
Conversations in the foyer on April 25 were subdued yet hopeful. The afternoon program focussed on “Voices of change: Navigating life’s transitions.” Patty Friesen led the group through three stages of transition, drawing from the Book of Ruth: endings, transition and new beginnings. Naming what many have experienced, Friesen wove our story together with the biblical text. Transition, she said, is “finding our way in the darkness.” As a new beginning, she offered a vision of hope with the image of birth.
Between each presentation women moved into groups and shared music that helped them cope through an ending, created something new out of yarn and built a recipe for change. Several groups, holding up their yarn creation, reflected that one strand is easily broken, but three together are strong. Alice Pilatus and Mary Loewen created a bird’s nest out of yarn—a fitting image for the three stages of transition.
The recipes for change were inspiring and included humour, good music, patience, flexibility, prayer, joy, friendship, generosity, thankfulness and love.