Roschino, Russia— The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) co-sponsored the first women’s retreat for clergywomen and laywomen in the Eurasia Episcopal Area from October 28th-November 1st, 2019.
Women throughout the Eurasia Annual Conference gathered for five days at the resort Raivola in Roschino to be engaged with storytelling, bible study, singing, performance art, and fellowship with one another.
Revs. Elena Chudinova, Irina Mitina, and Dr. Meeli Tankler worked alongside staff of GCSRW to plan the women’s retreat. Rev. Elena Chudinova said, “The women's event in Eurasia was initiated as an opportunity to re-think and re-energize the ministry of women in our area both clergy and lay. From the very beginning in planning we wanted to see this event as highly encouraging and equip [as many women] as possible. We were extremely blessed by the educators we invited. The Bible study and theological lectures became (for some) and revived (for most) the foundation for women's ministry, especially ordained.”
General Secretary, Dawn Wiggins Hare, and Senior Director of Sexual Ethics and Advocacy, Becky Posey Williams, were in attendance on behalf of the agency. Both led the group gathered through GCSRW’s Women Called to Ministrycurriculum. Women Called to Ministry is a six-session study exploring our understanding of women's roles in The United Methodist Church. The study explores questions such as, “Why are women ordained? Why are they included in all areas of leadership? How did we arrive at those understandings?” This resource is available to download for free in six languages including Russian, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Korean on GCSRW’s website here. Williams also led boundaries workshops every day during the retreat.
“GCSRW was honored to partner with the Eurasia Episcopal Area and host a training specifically designed for and by women leaders across Eurasia,” Dawn Wiggins Hare stated. “Particularly moving was the process of standing alongside talented women in leadership to determine what encouragement, skills, and support were needed and how to deliver the trainings. The gathering was magical as we watched the bonding of women as the event progressed and the courage and boldness that bloomed during the week in a way that can only be described as empowerment, with each woman claiming that she is indeed created in the image of God.”
Bishop Eduard Khegay and his spouse, Vika Nogay were in attendance during the entirety of the women’s retreat. Nogay was also a presenter at the event, leading a workshop that helped the women find their personal style and sharing their gifts.
“This event was important for the Eurasia Episcopal Area because we live in the cultural and theological environment where women in leadership have not always been encouraged, and in some cases, even discouraged, “Bishop Kheghay said. “Historically, socialism period in the 20th century granted many possibilities and opportunities to women and it was very positive. But in the church, women in leadership is often questioned, opposed, or even feared. As United Methodists we need to focus on teaching and helping women to have equal opportunities as men.”
Dr. Meeli Tankler is the retired president of Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary in Estonia. She joined the planning team for the retreat earlier this year. While at the event in October, Dr. Tankler led a workshop on assertiveness. “During the event I was impressed by the way all elements were fluently tied together, and especially how the praise team was able to connect their songs to every day’s topics, thus leading our thoughts toward common focus,” Tankler reported. “I was also greatly inspired by very personal stories women dared to tell, by close connections that were made between women from different parts of Eurasia, and by the open and trustful atmosphere. The fact that Bishop Khegay was present, and expressed his strong support to women in ministry was certainly an encouragement for all participants. I am very grateful and honored that I could be part of this event.”
“How wonderful it was to get to help make possible the opportunity for clergy and lay women to meet,” Becky Posey Williams stated. “Their enthusiasm and commitment as women of faith was powerful to witness. Their stories of being met with resistance and yet holding true to their calling were so inspiring to us as leaders and certainly to one another. Bishop Khegay’s desire and follow through to make this a priority was a beautiful example of leadership.”
Bishop Khegay has put together videos that document the event. The English version can be viewed here and the Russian version can be viewed here.
The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women advocates for full participation of women in the total life of The United Methodist Church. GCSRW helps the church recognize every person – clergy and lay, women and men, adults and children – as full and equal parts of God’s human family. They believe that a fully engaged and empowered membership is vital to The United Methodist Church’s mission "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”