Inspiring preaching, insightful workshops, helpful networking—but most of all—time! For female pastors, Bible workers and administrators across the Trans-European Division (TED), the opportunity to meet, relax and share at the TED Women in Ministry retreat was, for them, a godsend.
“It was a timely retreat, full of fellowship, a refill of energy and optimism, with speakers that shared positive, uplifting messages, but also the challenges of being a female in church ministry,” states Marianne Dyrud, Executive Secretary and Youth director for the Danish Union. Following the weekend of meetings, 15-18 November, in the relaxed sea-side atmosphere of Hotel Splendid in Bečići, Montenegro, she appreciated the ‘space’ given for women in ministry to pull aside from busy and often stress-filled lives, to “have a breathing space as a place to rejuvenate, get energized and where we could minister and support each other in the ups and downs of ministry.”
That was the intention of the weekend, according to TED Ministerial director, Patrick Johnson. He was one of only five men to participate in the conference alongside 110 women who travelled from countries such as Iceland, Norway and Finland in the far north, the British Isles and the Netherlands in the west of the TED, and Poland, Hungary, the Balkans, Greece and Cyprus further south and east. Throughout the weekend that myriad of languages and cultures blended together as the women found others who faced similar challenges and solutions and who, often spontaneously, could lift each other up in prayer.
“New friendship connections have been made that, if nurtured, will continue throughout their lives,” Johnson stated, noting how beneficial it was for the women to share experiences together, both pleasurable and painful, as a much-needed healing activity. He is planning an online forum that can also provide them with additional support.
“We had a fairly flexible program which we could adapt according to need,” Johnson stated. That was essential as, after a positive Sabbath morning of testimony under the theme, ‘God is so good’, one pastor shared the challenge of broken ministry together with her ministerial husband as they experienced loss together. Rather than the normal end to Sabbath morning worship this led to groups sharing and praying together in an outpouring of emotion and love.
That continued during the afternoon as women met informally or headed out to enjoy nature, either along the seafront or, for some, a climb up the mountain towards an olive grove and a 2,000-year-old tree, an expedition led by Family Ministries director, Karen Holford.
“One thing that struck me as being particularly helpful was the gift of time to be together as women in ministry, without lots of distractions and things to do,” Holford reflected. “The more time we were together, the deeper the conversations became, as the women shared their joys and their struggles, their questions and their dreams.”
Women in leadership, particularly pastors, often work alone so a retreat where they can be together with other women who share similar experiences, thoughts and emotions proved highly beneficial. As one participant commented, “we feel more supported, better understood, our challenges are shared, and we can pray together.”
The preaching was also intentional. Marjukka Ostrovljanović cares for a pastoral district in Bavaria, Germany. She is from Finland, her husband Mike, also a pastor, is from Serbia and ministers in the district next door. With this multi-cultural background and a deep love for the Hebrew scriptures, she was well qualified to dig into Old Testament themes. Reflecting that ‘God is so good’, she shared the story of Job and his recognition of God’s presence even when He seemed far away. In a side note she also pointed out his increasing understanding of equality across the 42 chapters of the book, stating that with his second set of children, his daughters gain an inheritance along with his sons.
In later worships, she indicated how Deborah was the one person who did what is right and as such could be identified as ‘blessed is she’. How Jael went against her husband’s treason to save Israel, staying loyal to God, and in her final presentation, how the promises of the Messianic passages of Isaiah 49 can be applied to our own lives, even when the call we know is from God appears to be opposed by others. Sharing her own testimony in moving from Finland to other cultures that are not so gender inclusive, she recalled herself asking, “Do I really want to work for a church like this?”
Her answer came from a colleague working at World Church headquarters. “Stay strong. The Church did not call you, God did.” Pastor Ostrovljanović reminded the women that “Before I was born, the Lord called me,” (Isaiah 49:1) and that even when we think we may have labored in vain (vs 4), “my cause in in the Lord’s hand.
“I loved the way she got such insights into well-known Bible stories, taking you with her,” states Clair Sanches-Schutte, TED Women and Children’s Ministries director. “It was such a blessing.” One lady told her, “This weekend was excellent. Quite often when I go to something like this, my mind is reached but this time, I felt my heart and mind were reached and that was a double benefit.”
The personalized, narrative preaching style of the female pastors seemed to carry the weekend. TED Executive Secretary Audrey Andersson used drone footage to highlight that God’s view is higher than our view, and that He brings promise and hope even in a story such as that of Hagar.
Lolly Fontaine, associate pastor of Stanborough Park church in the UK, animatedly and with great humor, related her own experiences to that of Moses and his face-to-face encounter with God. Moses could be considered a failure when, after all his leadership and teaching, Aaron builds the golden calf in his absence.
Sometimes in ministry our hopes and dreams come crashing down and we may even doubt our calling. Pastor Fontaine noted that Moses was very human. You see his emotions come through in the story, disappointment, sorrow, apathy, even rage. But in those moments of disappointment you also find his solution. Entering the tabernacle tent, he talks with God as to a friend (Exodus 33:11) and then pleads, “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (vs 13)
“Run into the tent,” Fontaine challenged, “It is our only option,” concluding with a thought from theologian N. T. Wright, “Prayer is the place where heaven and earth meet.”
Dr Daniel Duda was the only male pastor to speak during the weekend. His presentation, ‘Reading the Bible as a story’ helped the women to understand that the narrative behind a text may strongly inform our 21st century minds as to the meaning and context of the verse. This is particularly true of some of the more difficult Bible verses that, on their own, seem to contradict other parts of Scripture, such as prescriptive advice in 1 Timothy 2 clashing with the gifted empowerment of 1 Corinthians 12.
That deeper thinking helped inform Ansku Jaakkola’s very personal Sunday morning presentation, ‘Christ, His Dangerous Church and I’. Using real-life and often personal accounts, she prayerfully dealt with issues such as abuse and conflict, giving space for recognizing that we are less than perfect, as is His church.
“We created a very safe space to talk together. Nothing was out of bounds,” remarked Holford. “We could be courageous and vulnerable together and cry and pray together. I felt too tired to come, but I am so glad I did. I have connected deeply with others spiritually and emotionally and it was surprisingly healing. I am leaving so refreshed, inspired and encouraged.”
“I was personally touched by the authenticity and openness of expressions during worship, discussions and personal exchanges,” states Pastor Raafat Kamal, TED President. He came simply as an observer and to show support for both the women present and the many more who serve across the Division as ministers, directors, administrators and Bible workers.
“There was a high octane of positive energy that I rarely witness at other meetings that I attend,” Kamal stated. “We praise God for the service and witness of our women within the TED. They are precious in God’s eyes and in their ministry for Him.”
This article was written by Victor Hulbert and originally appeared on the Trans-European Division website.
Photo courtesy of Victor Hulbert.
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