Women of St. John’s: Nurturing Our Souls, Our Faith, Our Hopefulness

by Mary E. Johnson

On the evening of August 3, 2022, women of St. John’s gathered in the Fireside Room, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, thus ending 50 years of reproductive freedom in our country. The gathering was electric with emotion. Multiple generations were represented. Some women feared for themselves, others for their daughters and granddaughters. Most expressed a deep sadness and sense of personal loss. The gathering quickly became a safe and supportive space for the 30 or so in attendance.

After that gathering there was energy for activism. The Episcopal Church in Minnesota passed a resolution restating the wider Episcopal Church’s position supporting reproductive rights. The St. John’s Women’s Group added our voices to this statement by reading portions of it together in a public video.

Women have been gathering at St. John’s since the earliest days of the parish. They have come together to provide congregational and diocesan leadership, assist with fund-raising, engage in community service, provide mentorship, sponsor immigrants, foster partnerships, register voters and more. Through it all, they have had a single, shared goal: seeking ways to live as women of faith in an increasingly complicated society and broken world.

In 2022, we initially came together out of concern for one issue and quickly realized that we have many passions, many concerns, many hopes. However, it is in gathering together that we are nourished the most. So we went forward, gathering together—sometimes a few of us, at other times the whole group—when undertaking the issues that engaged our attention: racial healing, interfaith relationships, women’s issues, and our own spiritual journeys as women of faith.

We are an open group: no passwords or secret handshakes required to attend. We mostly meet monthly and our meetings are hybrid so members can participate in-person or online.

Racial Healing

Book Cover of White Women with a Guide to Start the Unlearning by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao

As a group we read White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How To Do Better by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao. It was a painful and difficult read but we agreed to support and challenge one another.

The Penumbra Center for Racial Healing has been hosting a series of “listening events,” including one for White allies. Several Women’s Group members participated in this powerful experience and plan to do so again in July.

A special presentation of the film Origin was attended by members of our group. This amazing work by director Ava DuVernay is based on Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The book describes racism in the United States as an aspect of a caste system—a society-wide system of social stratification characterized by notions such as hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion, and purity. Our members found the film to be provocative and transformative.

Interfaith Relationships

Earlier this year some of us joined our Muslim siblings for an Iftar – a breaking-of-the-fast meal during Ramadan. The evening included a rich educational session at the Rabata Cultural Center and Bookshop in Arden Hills. Rabata is a resource and education center by Muslim women for Muslim women and children. The Center has a global educational reach. This gathering was an amazing evening of interfaith learning, delicious food and kinship. We were humbled to be invited.

Women’s Issues

Once a month, St. John’s collects a separate “Mustard Seed” offering dedicated to communities and needs outside our doors. This is a way to give thanks for the mission and ministry we share with our wider community. In 2023, the Women’s Group was invited to direct where the October Mustard Seed offering would go. We chose Women’s Advocates, the first women’s shelter in Minnesota (who also happen to be our neighbors in proximity as well as in spirit, located on Grand Avenue just a few blocks from the church).

Our Faith

The Women’s Group has also provided leadership within the liturgical life of the St. John’s community. With our encouragement, during the seasons of Epiphany in 2023 and Lent in 2024 the Sunday readings were taken from Dr. Wilda Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church. Dr. Gafney is a Black womanist biblical scholar who chose these texts and produced fresh translations to uplift the often overlooked stories of women in the Bible, and highlight the feminine aspects of God that have traditionally been neglected. At the same time, St. John’s Sunday morning Faith Forums held discussions and studies of the day’s readings. Members of the Women’s Group preached and provided leadership during Faith Forums throughout those seasons.

Partnering with the Faith Formation Commission, we recently co-sponsored a viewing of The Philadelphia Eleven. This is a powerful documentary about the first women to be ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. This piece of our history is both painful and inspiring and needs to be shared.

This coming September we will host our second annual Autumn Retreat for Women. We have invited Christine Luna Munger, Director of the Episcopal House of Prayer to guide us through this half-day event. It is scheduled for September 14.

Of course there is a social side to the St. John’s Women’s Group. Our second Spring Brunch is set for Saturday, April 27. We follow the esteemed church tradition of the potluck and invite all who identify as women to join us and bring a dish to pass.

As women of faith, we value being together. Being together nurtures our souls, our faith, our hopefulness. If you are a woman on your own spiritual journey, please join us. We need what you have to bring.

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