Women of the Diocese of the Rio Grande

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone." (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

“The mission of the Women of the Diocese of the Rio Grande is to connect and support all women in their diverse ministries. We do this by offering opportunities to gather for studying, re-creating, and celebrating who we are as women of Faith, Hope and Love.”

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Living into Pentecost

Today is Pentecost when the Church remembers the Holy Spirit coming like “rushing wind” and flames to the Apostles, and to us. The Spirit empowered them to go and proclaim the Good News, as Jesus had promised, “in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) From women and men in hiding, fearful for their lives, they became a force to be reckoned with in Jerusalem, the Roman Empire, and beyond!
On that first Pentecost, “there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” (Acts 2:5-13)
The people in Jerusalem were amazed to hear the news of Jesus in their own languages. What does this event have to do with us as women of the Diocese of the Rio Grande? I think there are still people hungry to hear the Good News-the Gospel. Some of them may be in our churches, our communities, even in our own families. In our varied ministries we should be proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ.
St. Francis is credited with saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” It is true that our actions do speak louder than our words. Too often, I for one, get caught up in the busy-ness of the moment and forget that I am supposed to be a reflection of the Gospel. Then I have to be reminded of what Psalm 16:8 says: “I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
If/when we do stay connected to God, then we are more able to be light, salt, leaven in the world. People around us need to hear the Good News 'in their own language'-be it a foreign language or the language of caring and love. Maybe it is the language of the world that will catch someone's attention or a bit of music or an invitation to an event or church service.
There is a lot of pain and fear in our society. We have the answer-Christ Jesus! What can we do individually and together to make Him known more and more to each person we meet? That is part of the conversation as women of the Diocese that I am looking forward to engaging in.
On this Pentecost, I encourage you to invite the Spirit into your hear anew. One of my favorite ‘Spirit’ songs is “Spirit of the Living God.” You can see it here. Next week we'll continue looking at some of the ministries women in the DRG are engaged in. I pray the Sprit of the Living God will indeed fall afresh on each of us in this Diocese so that we will be open to God's call.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A History of Episcopal Church Women in the DRG

      Throughout the DRG there are women who gather together in small groups and large meetings. Some of you know that there is an organization under which all women’s groups in the Episcopal Church exist. Appropriately enough it is called ECW for Episcopal Church Women.
According to the ECW website the organization consists of Episcopal Church Women of all ages, ethnic origins and socioeconomic backgrounds who hold a variety of views. However, the common denominator of our members is love of God and the wish to do His work. Centered in congregations, the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) empowers women to do Christ’s ministry in the world. Our vision for all women of the Episcopal Church is that we become a vibrant blend of all ages, coming together as a peacemaking, healing part of the Church. We aspire to be a Godspark-shining and sharing the love of Christ.”
That sounds like every woman in the church, doesn’t it? ECW was established in 1871 (as the National Women’s Auxiliary) and has been a driving force behind women’s ministries since that time. This blog has highlighted UTO  and CPC, which are two of the funds founded under the auspices of the Episcopal Church Women. Links to the Girl’s Friendly Society, Episcopal Women’s History Project, and other groups can be found on the national ECW website.  
In this diocese, the ECW has a long history. Many, if not all, churches in the early years of the Missionary District had Women’s Auxiliaries consisting of women involved in teas, rummage sales, altar guild, Daughters of the King who used their funds to help support their church's work. At St. John’s, Albuquerque, Auxiliary minutes remark, “our work includes everything from janitorial duties to teaching Sunday School and even reading Morning Prayer”! It wasn’t just church work, either. “Women around the Missionary District were taking a more active role both locally and nationally. Ladies were active in observances of the World Day of Prayer, intercessions on Armistice Day, and work in community Welfare Associations. Much of this work was organized through the Women’s Auxiliary, a national organization for women in the Episcopal Church.”*
Mrs. George (Elizabeth) Valliant was president of both St. John’s and the State Women’s Auxiliary in the 1930’s. She reported “five parishes and 64 missions in the District in 1936. Twenty-six of these 'participated in the work of the Woman’s Auxiliary’ when she took on the job.
Valliant stated, ‘The tremendous distances in our District, and the small stipends of our Missionary Priests, make it impossible to minister adequately to our scattered people. However, in spite of these handicaps, eleven of our groups report distinct progress in attendance and actual work done; and among nearly all the groups who have reported, I can see very marked spiritual improvement.’
Mrs. Valliant sadly reported to the National Council of the Women’s Auxiliary that many groups did not report through the district, but the ladies in Anthony and Berino did. They said, ‘We are a Guild without a Church, and we help St. Anne’s Mission $4.20 every other month and $12.50 twice a year toward the Rector’s salary in Las Cruces. Adding that our own efforts in helping needy families.’”*
As the Missionary District grew so too women’s ministries grew and evolved. When new missions were planted, new women’s auxiliaries formed. At St. Mark’s on the Mesa, in 1948, not long after the mission formed, there was a joint luncheon of Cathedral and St. Mark’s ladies with “72 ladies present.”*
Even after becoming the Diocese of New Mexico and Southwest Texas (and later the Diocese of the Rio Grande), women played a supportive role across the region with their monetary and service contributions. For instance in 1970 women assisted with funding and supplying a kitchen at Canterbury Chapel so “[The Rev.] William E. Crews [could] provide lunches and a coffee house for students, a place to dance, and to teach credit courses in theology and Bible.”
As society changed, though, attendance at Auxiliary meetings diminished. In the 1970’s one president lamented that she “hoped that more women [would] feel the [ECW] is a group to which they BELONG and where they can find fellowship and Christian sharing.”*
In 1981 “Women from 14 churches around the Diocese met at the Cathedral…to discuss women’s organizations in the diocese…the question foremost in the minds of the 30 women at the meeting was whether to form “a diocesan Episcopal Church Women group to represent us in provincial and national church affairs.” Letitia Creveling of St. John’s noted, “We were a very cohesive group, we served as a network throughout the diocese and were a link between the congregations and the Bishop’s office.”
They found that their ministries were very similar, whether from small missions or large Cathedrals. Representatives from each church reported, “Our thrift shops, rummage sales, bake sales, and other activities help support repairs and upkeep of the church, furnish choir robes and Church School equipment, and in many cases contribute to the priest’s salary.”
Although no decision was reached, Bishop Trelease stated, “The purpose of this meeting was to come together and get a clear conception of how women in this diocese feel about the matter.”
Eight years later, on January 30, 1989, women of the Diocese [established] a Diocesan Episcopal Church Women’s Group…to “assist the women of the Episcopal church to continue Christ’s work of reconciliation, mission and ministry in the community, nation, and world, and to take their place in the life, governance and worship of the church.” [As] the vision statement of the ECW stated [at the time], women “envision a celebration of our diversity as we build a Christian community to strengthen and nourish ourselves and others as bearers of light and hope, keepers and proclaimers of the faith.”*
What does the National ECW do now? The national body is still active in promoting women’s development in all areas of ministry. social justice issues, study materials, Women to Women Education Grants and other opportunities are highlighted. ECW women will gather in Indianapolis for their 47th Trienniel meeting during the General Convention under the theme of Many Paths, One Journey. The national president, Marcia Himes, says, All of us travel together on the one Journey, the Journey towards being more Christ-like, the journey where we are continuing to Grow in Grace.”
You can read about current activities of ECW around the country and around the world in “The Communique” . The National Women’s Auxiliary prayer from the 1920s states that women are to “pray fervently, labor diligently, and give liberally to make him known to all nations as their Savior and their King and reveal thy love in prayer and work and stewardship.” This seems like a goal we can all still strive to live into. 
If you are currently a member of an ECW group at your parish, please share some of your activities with us.
*Excerpted from A Grain of Mustard Seed by Cynthia Davis (C) 2008

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Altar Guild

Many women in the Diocese of the Rio Grande are members of the Altar Guild in their churches. For a long time it was the only ministry women could be involved in close to the altar. That is changing now, of course, and some altar guilds need new members because women (and men) are becoming active in other aspects of liturgical life. 
According to the National Altar Guild Association website, the “Altar guild is a ministry of service that has its roots in the historical Hebrew tradition of the Levites. We are a part of those people who have been set aside for service. When we offer ourselves to serve at the altar, we are offering ourselves to God as a living prayer.”
Many people think of the altar guild as ‘those dear, fussy, (old) ladies who iron the linens for the altar.’ Scanning over just a few of the articles on the National Altar Guild Association website will give you an entirely different perspective, as will conversations with any altar guild member! One recently told me that she loved the quiet preparation time on Saturday morning. “Before I leave the church, I go to the back and look it over, just to be sure everything is ready for company!
That viewpoint is found in the words of he Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, Bishop of Long Island. “When we think about hospitality and welcome in churches, we most often think of greeters, ushers and newcomers committees. But the fact is that the first work of hospitality comes in the ministry of the altar guild — long before anyone walks into the church for the celebration of the liturgy…Women and men diligently and prayerfully working to create an atmosphere and space that welcomes the people of God into the mystery of an encounter with the Trinity, and with each other in the particular worship style of the local congregation
Welcome and hospitality [in the church] begin in the preparation for liturgy. It begins the week before when an altar guild member launders the purificators, irons the corporals and makes certain of the liturgical color. It is created when silver is polished; wine is poured and sufficient bread is put in place. In each action, the altar guild person prayerfully says “welcome” to the people of God. Their actions say loudly, “we care that you are coming to worship with us and we want you, the guest, to know how much we care about our worship of the Trinity…The holiness of this work is not found solely in the function of cleaning and putting things in proper place. It is understood in the being of each person who dedicates prayer and time to welcome all who come seeking a connection to God and each other.”
The Rt. Rev. Henry Nutt Parsley, Jr., Bishop of Alabama states, “Elaborate silk hangings, embroidered vestments, polished silver and brass, well-tended candles and elaborate banners, infinitely varied flower arrangements — these are the mainstays of altar guild ministry. [While] it is certainly true that we must never let the fabric of the church become the most important thing…beauty is indispensable. We need to cherish it in the church. The scriptures tell us tirelessly of the glory of God and the beauty of holiness. We worship and adore the creating God who made a world filled with beauty and whose heavenly realm is ravishingly glorious. To be sure, our altars are but poor reflections of God’s vast, eternal glory, but they are reflections. They point beyond themselves to the great mystery and to the beauty at the heart of things.
Seeing a well-arrayed altar and sanctuary each Sunday morning and at weekday services fills us with a spirit of joy and gratitude. It lifts up our hearts. This vision of eternal reality through earthy things renews us for ministry and service in the world of great need and struggle. Such holy beauty inspires us to strive to make the world a more lovely and loving place…The beauty of God’s altar, lovingly tended by altar guild members day after day, across the church, gives us glimpses of that same joy for which we were created. The joy of God. It is easy to forget in your day to day duties, but to be on the altar guild is to be part of something big. You help us know the beauty and joy of God that keeps us going, that keeps us loving and serving, until we see face to face.”
Perhaps you are wondering what ministry you are called to in the church. Maybe it’s time to take another look at the “fussy ladies ironing the linens for the altar” and be part of something bigger and holier than you can now imagine. Are your hands needed for the ministry of welcome, hospitality, and service that is Altar Guild? Check out the Altar Guild website further to see if you are inspired to be part of this ministry. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

United Thank Offering

According to the Episcopal Church website: the “United Thank Offering (UTO) is a ministry of the Episcopal Church for the mission of the whole church. Through United Thank Offering, men, women, and children nurture the habit of giving daily thanks to God. These prayers of thanksgiving start when we recognize and name our many daily blessings. Those who participate in UTO discover that thankfulness leads to generosity. United Thank Offering is entrusted to promote thank offerings, to receive the offerings, and to distribute the UTO monies to support mission and ministry throughout the Episcopal Church and in invited Provinces of the Anglican Communion in the developing world.”
That sounds really good, but what does it mean in everyday language? Simply that the UTO gives us a chance regularly (daily) to remember that we have many blessings to be thankful for. We are ‘blessed to become a blessing.’ From Genesis forward, God has called on God’s people to become a blessing to others. God tells Abram (before he is renamed Abraham) “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 3:2b) In the Beatitudes, Jesus also makes the point that we should “give and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:28, Matthew 7:7)
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul spends two chapters talking about how generosity is a blessing to both giver and recipient. (2 Corinthians 8-9). Anyone who has volunteered in a thrift shop or food pantry, or any other ministry, knows the rewards of giving of self.
UTO gives us the opportunity to both say ‘thank you’ for our blessings and to reach out to the world in ways we couldn’t by ourselves. UTO funds projects ranging from kitchen equipment in a homeless shelter and playground equipment for a child-care center to a school in the Dominican Republic and a library for a seminary in Africa. Some recent gifts are listed here. Rickie Sherrill, UTO Chair in the DRG notes, in the last 7 years the DRG has received grants for Wings for Life, Roswell, A Peaceful Habitat in Albuquerque, and two for Gateway, El Paso!
Connie Osbourn who is the CPC representative says, “UTO builds the shelves and CPC puts books on them.” You can support both ministries without feeling that your gift to one is depriving the other.
UTO has been a ministry of the Episcopal Church since 1889 when the first offering was collected. It was initially a way for women to donate toward mission work in a time and culture where few women had much discretionary income. Now anyone and everyone can contribute. It is a great family activity and a good way to teach children to look for something positive in each day as they put a penny or more in the box.
Rickie Sherrill is the DRG UTO chair. Congregations are encouraged to take an in-gathering in spring and fall. At the Diocesan Convention, a representative from each congregation may bring their check forward to be put in the Diocesan UTO plate. This plate  (pictured below) was a gift from women of the Diocese in 1972 when, "a specially made alms basin, designed by Karl Larsson of Santa Fe, created ‘from jewelry given by women through the Episcopal diocese’ was blessed for use in collecting the annual UTO offering. In the center was the gold pectoral cross worn by Bishop Howden.” (From A Grain of Mustard Seed, by Cynthia Davis © 2008)
UTO Prayer
Gracious God, source of all creation, all love, all true joy: accept, we pray, these outward signs of our profound and continuing thankfulness for all of life. Bless those who will benefit from these gifts through the outreach of the United Thank Offering; and keep each of us ever thankful for all the blessings of joy and challenge that come our way; through Him who is the greatest gift and blessing of all, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen