From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Re-Imagining Draws Women for Revival

From Brenda Williams <>
Date 30 Apr 1998 17:19:06


April 30, 1998


     ST. PAUL (ELCA) - Nearly 1,000 women and men gathered here for the
Re-Imagining Revival, a four-day event marking the end of the World Council
of Churches' "Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women."
Close to 100 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America joined
the celebration April 16-19.  Participants from at least 21 denominations
were present, coming from 42 states and eight countries.
     Worship, plenary addresses, small group discussions and workshops on
the theme of feminist theology comprised the event.  Among the Lutherans
addressing the gathering were the Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad and Musimbi
     Lundblad, preacher for "The Protestant Hour" radio program,  is
associate professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary, New York
City.  Kanyoro is the YWCA World General Secretary in Geneva; she
previously served as the executive secretary for women in church and
society for the Lutheran World Federation.  The popular Minneapolis-based
musical group Bread for the Journey led the music.
     "Re-imagining" took on many meanings in the gathering.  Some looked
to re-imagining the roles of women in the church.  Others re-imagined the
roles of women of color in church while still others re-imagined the roles
of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people within the church.
     Some plenary speakers spoke of deep challenges of re-imagining within
existing church structures but the two Lutheran speakers talked of
re-imagining a newness that has a foundation in the tradition of the
     Kanyoro reminded participants that revival can and does happen within
the church.  To Kanyoro, revival is the ability to be able to hear, teach
and speak about how one experiences the Good News in one's life, both
individually and in community.     "Revival means to tell of God's deeds
in our lives and in our community," said Kanyoro.  "To name God and
acknowledge God so that others may experience the goodness of God."
     Kanyoro challenged participants to struggle together with other
women, even those who don't know of re-imagining.  Revival, she reminded
the crowd, requires trust and reliability and people who live honest lives.
"How is our credibility?" she asked.
     Lundblad, preaching at the event's "revival," called for a
"liberatory, evangelical, gospel-bearing revival."  Re-imaginers, Lundblad
said, must trouble the waters of the church or the waters will become
stagnant, even though they don't trouble the waters to cause agony or to
make others angry.
     Christians are called to be the presence of God in the midst of the
world, Lundblad reminded.  "If we do not speak, if we don't bear testimony,
if we do not engage in actions that light up the world, if we do not
trouble the waters, then we grieve the Holy Spirit of God."
     The Rev. John L. Backus, St. James Lutheran Church, Kansas City,
Missouri, echoed that call to be the presence of God.  As a straight,
white/Asian male, Backus said, "I know I'm on top.  I have the power,
privilege, and respect that comes with it."       This event, Backus noted,
is about fundamentally oppressed people looking for voice.  "I think we are
entering one of history's important moments," he said.  "It's time for the
church to realize that we should stop treating our lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgendered brothers and sisters differently. I can't stand by
anymore.  The church is marginalized in our society on this issue; we are
not a leader in this area."
     The first Re-Imagining conference, held in 1993 as a mid-Decade event
designed as a call to renewal for church women and men, brought much
criticism from conservative and neo-conservative factions of many
     "At the first event we were naive, innocent," said the Rev. Cathy E.
Rosenholtz, who attended the 1993 Re-Imagining conference as a seminary
student.  "We didn't realize that women doing theology together would
create such a backlash."  Rosenholtz serves as pastor at Our Saviour
Lutheran Church, Jamaica, New York.
     "There should be room within our faith to grow with the challenges.
I like to think of myself as one of the gentle people of the Spirit who are
willing to speak and listen across the boundaries, while still speaking the
truth, said Rosenholtz.
     That message of the thirty-something pastor was echoed by senior
citizen Burnice Fjellman.  "This challenges me in my thinking.  It has not
changed my personal beliefs and convictions," said Fjellman, a member of
Grace and St. Paul Lutheran Church, Manhattan.  "I am still a Christian.  I
am still a Lutheran."  Fjellman also attended the 1993 Re-Imagining
     When denominational caucuses took place Lutheran seminarians, retired
pastors, spiritual directors, campus ministry folk, interim pastors,
college students, volunteers, a hospital chaplain and other Lutheran lay
women and men gathered, representing the geographical and age diversity of
the church.
     The group's discussion centered on how one "does feminist theology"
in one's own ministry and how support for and from each other can be
achieved, especially in the isolation of some ministry settings.
     Other plenary speakers included Mary Farrell Bednarowski, professor
of religious studies at United Theological Seminary in New York City;
Brigalia Bam, recently retired General Secretary of the South African
Council of Churches; Delores Williams, professor of theology and culture at
Union Theological Seminar, New York; and Anne Patrick, professor of
religion at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
     Mary Ann Lundy, now deputy general secretary of the World Council of
Churches, lost her position with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) over her
leadership role in the first re-imagining conference.  Lundy presented a
list of learnings or "re-imaginings" since that first event.  Among those
learnings was "to stand on the side of change is to be called a
troublemaker."  Lundy also learned that many church leaders are lazy,
avoiding the hard work of empowering people in the pews.  Referring to her
firing, Lundy learned "that it is a gift to be expelled from the center."
     The 1998 event was organized by the Re-Imagining Community, a
Minneapolis-based worldwide community of women theologians seeking to keep
global feminist voices alive within the Christian church.  The community
produces a quarterly publication and other resources while also organizing
small groups and offering study opportunities.

[*Linda Post Bushkofsky, member of St. Stephen Lutheran Church,
Bloomington, Minn., prepared this report for the ELCA news service.  She is
associate synod executive for communication and interpretation in the Synod
of Lakes and Prairies, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)]

For information contact:
Ann Hafften, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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