On July 4, following the Mennonite Women Canada annual business meeting in Winnipeg, more than 80 women gathered for a program of choral music and inspirational talks by three Manitoba women, Sandy Hung, Anne Heinrichs and Lora Braun, who focussed on the Mennonite Church Canada assembly theme, “Wild hope: Faith for an unknown season.” The program was a highlight for many and featured an original song, “Wild Hope,” by Lora Braun, the lyrics of which are posted at: http://bit.ly/1swMBvD.
As MW Canada moves into that “unknown season,” our hope is to continue encouraging women to nurture their life in Christ, share their gifts, and to hear and support each other across the street and around the world.
One way of doing this is through the Spiritual Growth Assistance Fund, which assists applicants financially with academic or applied study costs at the master’s level in church-related ministries such as seminary, theology, and peace and conflict resolution. This fund, formerly known as the Travel Assistance Fund, was begun in 1983, “to assist women from smaller outlying congregations to attend spiritual development events,” and is now designated for women preparing for ministry. (For further reading of an interesting history, see Esther Patkau’s book Canadian Women in Mission, 1895-1952-2002.)
Since 2002, 22 women from across Canada have received financial assistance from this fund. A recent e-mail survey discovered that 15 are currently working in pastoral ministry, serving as lead, assistant, youth, interim or community pastors—12 in Canada and three in the U.S.—and one is a spiritual care director at a rehab and long-term-care facility.
It was encouraging to read many expressions of gratitude for financial aid received, as well as the joy and commitment the women experience in their ministry:
• Lois Siemens (2004-05 recipient), pastor at Superb (Sask.) Mennonite, wrote: “One gift of this fund was it helped alleviate stress of finances. When one is trying to study, it is hard to also be worrying about how to put food on the table. Another gift was receiving notes from a few women encouraging me in my studies. It warmed my heart to know that women across Canada thought about me once in a while.”
• Leah Bueckert (2004-05 recipient), spiritual care director at Deer Lodge Centre, Winnipeg, commented: “One highlight for me is having the opportunity to talk with people from many different denominations and faith groups other than Christian, as well as [with] people who would describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.”
• Kara Carter (2008-10 recipient), pastor at Wellesley (Ont.) Mennonite, noted: “Exposed to rich diversity, I experienced formative reflection, which pushed me to go deep within and encounter anew how the Anabaptist faith perspective resonates deeply within my spirit.”
• Lydia Cruttwell (2011 recipient), pastor at First United Mennonite, Vancouver, wrote: “Receiving the fund was not only beneficial financially, but emotionally and spiritually as well. It was one more confirmation that I was supposed to be pursuing this degree, and that the Mennonite denomination was a place that affirmed and supported women in ministry.”
• Deborah-Ruth Ferber (2012 recipient), who is slated to begin youth work at a Chinese church in Barrie, Ont. this month, exclaimed: “Thank you, MW Canada, for your support and for making funding available to women. It is a great testimony for general equality, working towards justice and equipping all people for the work and ministry of Christ.”
May God grant each of us a measure of the gratitude, excitement, support and affirmation of calling expressed by these women, as we, too, continue to “warm each other’s hearts” and walk the path of faithfulness with a “wild hope in an unknown season,” as so many women have walked ahead of us.
Liz Koop is president of Mennonite Women Canada and an active member of Vineland United Mennonite Church, Ont.
--Posted Sept. 10, 2014