The Anglican Church Women (ACW) of St. Ann Chapel Anglican Church had its first annual planning retreat on June 10, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. This event was open to all women in the parish.
Attendees: Carol Karcher, ACW president; Andrea Brown, ACW secretary; Gabrielle Gross; and Celia Lupien.
Opening: We started the day with Morning Prayer for Ember Saturday in Whitsunday Week. Afterward, we had a reading by Gabrielle from The Apostle magazine, which quoted Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Gabrielle stated that the point of this reading was to encourage us to look at our ACW as not just a collection of activities but as a “wellspring that flows from an inner life centered upon living lives of intentional sanctification.” Gabrielle also stated, “Our lives of service will flow naturally from our desire to grow closer to God, so our primary focus should be in seeking union with God first, and then His grace will be activated in our lives in our service to others.”
The Role of the ACW: After a brief overview of the national/local structure of the ACW, we discussed the role of the ACW in the lives of modern women. We have been very concerned about the lack of interest in the ACW by many women at St. Ann Chapel. Although we agree that the speed and complexity of daily life may be overshadowing the urgency or desire for a women’s group, we don’t think that this overshadowing should preclude the need for a spiritually active and socially considerate ministry.
The retreat was open to all the women in the parish, and we reached out individually to invite many of them to attend. Unfortunately, the only attendees were four of the currently active ACW members. Although none of the women in the choir were able to attend, we were very grateful that they all took the time to give us excellent feedback about the ACW and how they see its role. We acknowledged they—as professional career musicians—are active in one of the most time-consuming ministries at the church, so we excused them with our blessings!
During this discussion, one ACW member expressed her concern that the ACW was a “women-only” group and suggested the need for a group of this character at St. Ann that was not gender dependent. In contrast, another ACW member believed that in a parish as small as ours, little need exists to start another ministry, because all the efforts that the ACW has undertaken this year have had the active participation of both men and women in the parish. Men are currently active in many ministries at St. Ann. They serve as acolytes, ushers, choir members, altar guild members, coffee-hour hosts, and the Bishop’s Committee. The Outreach Committee, which aligns very closely with the ACW, is also staffed by mostly men who have been very active in supporting the ACW. In addition, many of the women who were not at the retreat gave feedback that specifically mentioned their appreciation for the ACW as a women-led ministry. This point warrants consideration.
ACW Survey: Before the retreat, we reached out to a number of women in the parish for their input and perspective on the current efforts that the ACW is undertaking. Many of the surveyed women are currently active in other ministries of the parish, so we were particularly interested in understanding where they believed our future efforts should focus.
The activities that resonated the most with them were the ones that involved outreach to the disadvantaged (especially women) or engagement with the community. These activities included:
A long discussion followed about the overall need for a change in focus for the ACW at both the national and local levels. Specifically, many surveyed women expressed the desire for a substantively active group, not just a “tea, fashion-shows, and doily-making” group. In terms of participation in ACW activities, this desire suggests that many women who have special gifts and talents to offer may be less likely to make a time commitment to a women’s ministry that appeared to be stuck in a “1950s homemaker” model of service. We also recognized that other women in the parish find many of these activities (parish cookbook, Christmas ornaments, gift bags, holiday bazaars, and yard sales) quite enjoyable and meaningful as efforts to build a sense of community in the parish and to care for each other. Also a valid point. One ACW member said, “Sometimes the world just needs doilies!”
ACW Purpose and Mission: The national ACW states the main mission and purpose of the ACW:
The ACW shall, through acts of Christian charity, help to support the mission of the Church in the Parish (or Mission), Diocese, and Province in such ways as shall be determined by the Rector (or Vicar), Bishop, or Archbishop, and the membership of the ACW. The ACW shall, likewise, support the works of the Anglican Church Women of the Diocese in which they reside, and the Anglican Church Women of the Anglican province of Christ the King; and with that association each should avail herself of the opportunity to grow as an individual and as a member of a group.
In considering this statement, we focused on the key role of the ACW as an organization engaged in “acts of charity” and “individual growth.” In discussing this focus further, we identified two extremely important areas that we wanted to embrace as the future foundation for activities to support this greater mission:
In considering this more focused direction, we also had to address the fact that as a small parish, we have limited resources. We agreed that going forward it would be better to engage more deeply in fewer projects than to engage in a dozen projects that don’t reflect our mission or that we really don’t have the resources or expertise with which to make a significant impact. One ACW Member said, “Let’s not take on things that we can’t do well.”
Review of All 2017 Activities:
In this segment, we walked through all the current ACW activities with a critical eye.
This discussion was very difficult, because each one of us had projects that ended up facing questions because they were:
As we reviewed this long list of activities, we agreed that we wanted to reduce the number of projects so that we could engage in a more focused and meaningful way going forward:
Annual yard sale: This activity fared well in the survey, because as one ACW member stated, “It gets people past the force field.” In addition to being our only fund-raiser, this activity makes us visible in the neighborhood and actually gives us an opportunity to connect with people. During the yard sale, we had people tour the church and talk with us about their lives and concerns. Some of these people even asked us to pray with them in the chapel (evangelism!). The yard sale is consistent with our charity purpose, because it is a fund-raiser that provides revenue to support other initiatives
Anglican Relief and Development Fund (ADRF; Anglican Diocese of Tabora St. Peter’s Secondary School Dormitory for Girls): This year we donated $100 to this effort through the ADRF. Although this activity fared well in the survey, it came in second to community projects closer to home. In spite of this standing, the interest among the ACW members was very high. In following up directly with the Anglican Diocese of Tabora, we received a very grateful response from the Bishop of Tabora. In this light, the ACW has decided to “adopt” this project and deepen our relationship with the school and its efforts to educate women in this developing region. This project meets both our spiritual and charitable focus, because the school is Anglican, with very practical needs being supported by its diocese. Going deeper with such a project could include making ongoing donations, adding the school to our weekly prayer list, establishing regular communication, and giving updates in the parish newsletter. One ACW member said, “Giving $100 seemed like so little to us, but I’ll bet it went a long way in a developing country like Tanzania.”
Palo Alto Opportunity Center (PAOC): This year we also donated $100 to PAOC, which is a very large enterprise that provides shelter and services for the homeless people in the local community. It was difficult to get a call back or email response from the PAOC administrator in response to our request for a site visit. We also never received a thank-you note or email acknowledging the gift. Whereas gratitude is not the key criterion we would use to decide whether to support a charity, it is an important consideration in deciding whether a given organization would allow us to engage more deeply in developing an ongoing relationship. This type of activity does, however, meet our mission in terms of Christian service.
“Nappy Drive” for Disposable Diapers: Starting in Advent and continuing through the Feast of Epiphany, we managed to collect more than 1,000 disposable diapers on behalf of the nonprofit organization Help A Mother Out. The organization responded with both an email and a post on our Facebook page expressing its gratitude. This effort had favorable mention in the survey and was also quite inspiring to other ACW chapters when Carol shared it at the national ACW luncheon during the Synod. Because a number of our sister churches indicated an interest in doing a diaper drive, we discussed the possibility of doing it as an ACW regional initiative. This type of activity meets our mission in terms of Christian service.
Holiday Bazaar: This event would feature handmade crafts and other items for sale. Like the yard sale, this activity would increase visibility in the neighborhood, but if it were on the same scale as the yard sale, it would require a significant time and resource commitment. To have a successful fund-raiser, we would need either to create or to purchase a large number of handmade craft items to sell. Because only one person on the ACW has the skills and expertise to create beautiful crafts, all the other members of the ACW would have to purchase items and donate them for sale. Feelings were mixed in the group about continuing with this project. If the decision is to keep this project, a reasonable compromise would be to make it a much smaller in-house “boutique” that could just run during coffee hour for the four weeks of Advent. This type of activity would be consistent with our charity purpose, because it would be a fund-raiser that would provide revenue for other projects.
Lenten Retreat/APCK Synod Welcome Bags: Both of these projects provided various sundries for participants such as Band-Aids, paper clips, pens, pads, and a “tiny saint.” Although reception of the saints was positive, response to the other items was “nice but not essential enough to support the effort to assemble them into gift bags.” We decided that in the spirit of going deep, a better approach would be to give retreat participants one small gift that would support their spiritual experience while actually on the retreat and when they returned home (for example, booklets on topics such as Benedictine spirituality or prayer). The APCK Synod welcome bags actually number about 100, so any items we add here would need to be meaningful, purposeful, and inexpensive. In its current form, this activity does not really meet our stated purpose, but it could if we made these gifts more spiritually intentional.
“Mary Basket” for Diocesan ACW Luncheon: Each year we assemble a basket of “mystery” items that we raffle off at the national ACW luncheon during the Synod. Although this effort is small, this project has become a fond tradition at the ACW national level. In its current form, this type of activity does not really meet our stated purpose, but it has become a favorite that recognizes our parish.
Parish Cookbook Feeding Body and Soul: A couple of the surveyed people really liked the idea of the cookbook, but the parish response to this project has not been strong. In addition, this project did not resonate with many of the women whom we surveyed. At this point, the cookbook will take several hundred dollars to produce, and whereas the goal is to sell it as a fund-raiser, we are unlikely to sell enough of them to cover the cost of the printing. We considered the fact that although this project did not fit either the spiritual or the charity aspects of our restated purpose, it is an effort that nurtures our parish family, so it may still have value. One ACW member said, “Every parish I have ever talked to that did a cookbook said that it would never do it again! I guess cookbooks are like a rite of passage for women’s ministries.”
Christmas Ornament: The point of this project was to design custom ornaments using the St. Ann Chapel logo and sell them at both the upcoming holiday bazaar and the 2018 Synod. Like the cookbook, this project was to be a fund-raiser. On the basis of the pricing we did at the last ACW meeting, the ornaments are going to be more expensive to produce that we originally planned, so this project may not be successful in generating revenue. However, it is also an effort that could be nurturing for our parish community, so it may still have value. Because Jo’Anne originally suggested this project, we decided to see if it is a task that she may want to bring it to completion in order to support the holiday bazaar and the 2018 Synod.
Dress-for-Success Clothing Drive: This project is currently collecting women’s business attire to help women in poverty prepare for interviews and jobs. This project found favor in the survey as an outreach activity, but further discussion made it clear that the project did not resonate with some of the ACW members. Considering our limited resources, we agreed to consider carefully how many of these types of social-services projects we should pursue. In its current form, this type of activity does meet our charity purpose, but we may not repeat this one, because we have other community/outreach projects under consideration.
Pottery Outing: This proposed social outing for the ACW members was for the group to go to a pottery kiln to make dishes that can we can sell at the holiday bazaar or use at the church for coffee hour. Although the idea of a social outing for ACW members is good, interest in this activity wasn’t strong from many women in the group. We agreed that the most interested ACW members should just plan to do this activity on their own as opposed to organizing it as a group outing.
Considerations for 2017/2018 Planning:
We were unable to complete our discussion of concrete plans for upcoming projects, so we decided to continue this exploration at the July ACW meeting. Below are just some of the new ideas and directions that surfaced from the survey that we want to be sure to discuss prayerfully:
The meeting concluded at 2:00 p.m. with prayer and thanksgiving. Carol thanked all of us for our work and participation, and we agreed to continue this discussion at the July ACW meeting.