YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL: A Conference to Serve Women
‘Think about when you go to events at church, on camps, to parties, to weddings…’ I said to my hesitant son.
“Have you ever stopped to think about the women who are unseen, working in the background—and yes, some are very happy to be there—who make sure there is enough food, and clean plates, and clean toilets for you and your friends to have a good time? Do you see that this is an opportunity for you to serve them for a change, to say thank you and let them know they are appreciated? Please pray about it.’
That’s how several conversations went in our house a few months ago. But in our congregation the conversation went slightly differently.
What we’re looking for is an invisible army.
‘What we’re looking for is an invisible army. We want to give our faithful servants a day off – a day for each of our women to be able to sit and hear the message ‘You Are Beautiful’.
So, on July 1st, 2017, an ‘almost-invisible’ army of twenty blokes aged 8 to 80 served 140 women aged 12 to at least 88 (but who’s asking) at our ‘You Are Beautiful’ Conference for Women. Women came from all over South Australia, from Lutheran churches, local non-Lutheran churches, and some from no church at all.
Initiated by a group of women who attended the SA/NT Lutheran Women’s Retreat in Alice Springs in June 2016, the conference featured author, life-coach and speaker Peta Soorkia, of ‘Empowering You.’ Her engaging and entertaining talks inspired each of us to see the beauty that God has placed inside each of us. She coached us through God-moments – that is, taking moments during the day to meditate on God’s word. And she reminded us of God’s vision of us.
In the evening, she called on her fashion design background to help us look at enhancing our own attributes to help us let our inner beauty from the inside shine on the outside. Our ‘models’ made the evening memorable – and convinced us that not everyone who appears shy is always shy.
It was anything but a ‘Guild Convention
But the day wasn’t just about the speaker. And it was anything but a ‘Guild Convention’. It was a very special event to be part of, from concept through planning, production and participation.
When the women arrived in the morning, they were greeted with a foyer full of barista-made coffee, tea or hot chocolate alongside tables of home-made biscuits, or fruit for the health-conscious. Seminars by Peta during the day were followed by lunch from the Two Wells Bakery and an afternoon of relaxation, socialising, being pampered with manicures or facials or hand-massages, doing handicrafts or sitting outside soaking up the rare Salisbury-winter sun.
A light but delicious meal in the evening provided by a local food-cart ‘Bohemian Barbecue’ took our day event through to our fun-filled evening event.
And what made it so special?
It grew out of prayer. Prayer – when the women from our church were asked about having a speaker. Prayer – when the people who usually run things all booked to be away, so we needed a new team. Prayer – when we needed skills that none of us had ever had the opportunity to use in this context before. Prayer – when we needed a particular skill-set and had no idea where to look. Prayer – when we recognised that our retired caterers would be sitting in the pews and we’d promised them the day off. Prayer – when the invisible army of volunteers were slow to put their arms up. Prayer – that we would cover costs.
And what did we learn?
We learnt that women need to be with women: But the way we’ve been doing it in the church over the past one-hundred and seventy-five years may not be relevant to the women of 2017.
Women who faithfully attend worship for years have gifts to share – but we need to give them opportunities to find them.
Women LOVE the opportunity to simply sit and be with others. Our days together do not need to be planned to the minute – though we also learnt that something for the idle fingers to do, such as colouring, would have been appreciated.
Some women have NEVER had someone (i.e. a male) serve them.
The older women who have been associated with ‘guild’ enjoyed not-having a business meeting.
The younger women would have liked to have a deeper spiritual input.
That hiring caterers was a huge blessing. Resoundingly they said they were as blessed to be part of our day as we were by eating their delicious food. One of the caterer’s workers collected any left-over food to be distributed through a service to the homeless.
That God provides what we need always on time – and never too early.
That getting advertising to congregations is really, really tricky.
That we’ve neglected Paul’s admonishment to Titus to ‘teach the older women to train the younger women’ and we need to find ways to do that better.
That serving in a different capacity was great for our blokes, enabling them to use their untapped skills – and yes, they can serve salads at a barbecue.
And even our once-hesitant son discovered that blessings can come from being the server instead of the served.
But most importantly…
But most importantly, we learnt that when we follow God’s direction, and we join in willingly, and even not-so-willingly, God is glorified in achieving much more than the total of our contribution. It was way beyond what any of us could have imagined, and is an occasion that participants will look back on as significant in their life.
There have been plenty of questions about when we will do the next one, and many times we’ve been asked ‘When will you do one for the blokes?’
Our answer is that we are convinced that this came about because we listened to God. We followed God’s lead. Perhaps God has more where this came from. Perhaps not. Our job is to pray, listen, discern (use wisdom and scripture to tell whether it’s God’s will or our own) and to join in God’s work wherever the opportunity arises.