The theme for the 9th Joint European Area Seminar of the World Federation of Methodist & Uniting Church Women was ‘Forward Together in Hope’ and so 16 women from Ireland set out for Pomezia, just south of Rome for five days in the first week of June.
The Women from Ireland with the WF Perpetual Banner
Together with 83 from Methodist Women in Britian, we shared experiences with 60 ladies from 25 of the countries in Europe Continental getting to know how God is working through Methodist Women in the churchs today.
Four of our World Officers also flew from Australia, New Zealand, Panama and Switzerland, inspiring, challenging and humbling us in the preliminary Weaving Together Programme they hosted for unit PresidentsOn the Thursday evening, Diacona Alessandra Trotta, President of the Methodist Church in Italy, welcomed everyone in her opening address. She commented on the continent of Europe and its central role in world history, noting that today it is going through a serious crisis of identity, politically, morally and economically, a time of spiritual unease and sterility. She called us to ‘live as women of hope’, referring to Abraham and Sarah’s journey from a place of sterility, accepting God’s promise of fertility and trusting him to bring new life, a new future and a new community. The evening ended with a wonderful concert from the Korean Methodist Choir in Rome.
Elizabeth McWatters, left, with Elise Lindquist, Keynote speaker, with interpreter Suzanne
‘Together in Diversity’ was the theme for the first full day of the seminar. In her bible study on the story of Ruth, Deaconess Alessandra brought new insight from her experience of work with immigration and integration in the Palermo Mission.
Following that, the Keynote speaker, Rev Gabriella Lio, made us think about how we feel as immigrants and how being church together is much more than ‘being welcoming’, it is about absorbing the rich and wonderful traditions of others making us a more vibrant and relevant church. We shared together in small groups of seven and were able to explore further individual experiences despite the language barriers, managing to get to know and understand one another better in the process.
Waiting for the church to open on Pentecost Sunday in Rome (Charlotte Maye, Phyllis McIlhenney and Elizabeth McWatters with Ladies from MWiB)
The day continued with breaks to eat, to go out into the warm sunshine or browse at the market place. Alternatively we could spend time at Prayer Stations set up in quiet spaces to focus on the Millenium Development Goals. In the evening we were entertained to an Italian film on the history of the Waldensian Church, telling their story of hope and survival from persecution to acceptance within Italy today.
We were led in an outstanding message of ‘Hope in the Wilderness’ in the bible study next day by Jill Baker from MWiB. Speaking on Miriam she helped to identify Miriam as 5 women, bright girl, joyful women, jealous sister, missing person, and ultimately as ‘a sign of hope’, a sign of God’s love for his people. We can identify ourselves in some of the pictures of Miriam and can draw comfort from the sign of hope too.
World and Area officers with delegates at the Weaving Together Programme after sharing Holy Communion in the garden
The second keynote speaker Elise Lindqvist with her interpreter, brought what was the most dramatic insight into her experience as an abused child, teenage prostitute and adult drug addict, enlightening us to the very real issue of sex trafficking in her native Sweden. This 78 year old behaves with the energy and enthusiasm of the 19 old she claims to be! Nineteen years ago when she discovered about forgiveness for herself, she was washed clean in the Holy Spirit when she learned to forgive others. Since then she has become a ‘mummy’ in the red light district, bringing the love and compassionate heart of Jesus to the girls, as she hugs them, prays with them and distributes hot food, drink and clothing each week.
Tove Tiveit, Norway, & Pille Magila, Estonia both Methodist Pastors
Later we could choose to attend one of seven workshops all exploring the theme of hope. Charlotte Maye, MWI President led ‘Hope for children in Education’ and Rachel Fallows along with fellow Helen Kim Scholars led one on ‘Hope for younger women’. After refreshments it was time to indulge in a variety of creative activities, liturgical dance, drama, singing, celtic designs or making prayer bracelets. More cultural fun ensued in the evening with Bulgarian dancers, Italian drama, Zimbabwean singing & dancing and even we Irish gals gave our rendering of ‘Sweet Molly Malone’! After consuming a variety of sweet treats it was evening prayer and time for bed!
More wooly hats from Australia!
The highlight of the seminar for many was the invitation to worship in Methodist and Waldesian Churches in Rome on Pentecost Sunday. The service in Chiesa Valdese - Piazza Cavour included confirmation and Holy Communion which was distributed as we all formed a circle around the church. Holding hands and sharing the peace together was memorable as was the hospitality in the lunch served afterwards. We were treated to an impromptu concert while others took up the offer of a guided tour to the Vatican. All too soon we were meeting with our new sisters for the last evening meal and closing worship celebration.
In the dining room, Ann Connon, W Pres and Pille Magila
Looking back we appreciate more deeply now, both the diversity and oneness we have within the sisterhood of the WFM&UCW. United in the love of Jesus we go forward with renewed hope and commitment to support one another, praying and working more passionately for justice particularly for women. However it is the fun, the stories, the women and friendships established which will live long in our memorie
Area Vice-President Europe, Britain and Ireland