A cold, gray evening in London, Ohio. A broad street, laid out nearly 200 years ago for maximum ease of use by carriages. Beautiful old homes lining the street, with broad front porches and window flanked doors. And then, what’s this? A steadily growing line of cars parked in front of the home of Steve and Phyllis Swartz, with women in twos and threes moving between the cars, the Swartz home, and Alexandra’s Bed and Breakfast next door. It appears to be a gathering with no discernible tie or theme. There are older women, young women, and ages in between. Some are married, some single, and some divorced. Some come from homes with children and some do not. A few are widowed. In this very diversity, however, lies the purpose of the gathering.
Called together to represent women of all different spheres within CMC, this is the second retreat of the Among Women panel, preparing for the summer sessions of Conservative Mennonite Conference. They’re not strangers like the first time they met in November. Naomi said it best when she told her fellow members, “No matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing we are all true women who love God, and we are so united, so bonded in that that it doesn’t matter [what you go to from here], we are so united in our hearts.”14 women total, including the support staff of the retreat, fill the foyer, living room, and dining room of the Swartz home with warm greetings, hugs, and a steady hum of animated conversation. There are a few introductions to be made – some new support personnel, Marina and Rachel, and a new panel member, Naomy, – but mostly the arrival time holds the feel of a circle reknitting itself. The weather outside may be turbulent and drear, but inside there is the best of an Ohio home in winter – fires, beautiful spaces, warm colors and good food.
As the bread, meat, and roasted vegetables are passed, admired, and eaten, laughter and conversation flow around the long table. Discussions are overheard about what husbands and children are doing for the weekend, and there is much merriment over the possible relationship between the nuts prominent in the centerpieces and the women gathered around the table. People ask Naomy the sort of questions that one asks at the beginning of an acquaintance. Compliments to Phyllis’ cooking lead to tales of recipe success and disaster. After supper the conversations naturally transitions into the living room, where the women gather with cups of coffee and tea, filling the couches, chairs, and floor space in between them. It’s time for a session of regrouping and reflection.
Questions for comment:
- What do you do to stay warm in spirit and body during cold, gray winters?
- Do you have a group of friends that feels like home?