|Women's Month kick-off at Resurrection in early March
The month of March is a special month for women in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church. Women take the lead in bringing issues such as oppression, discrimination, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and abuse during childbirth to study groups and the pulpit. Not only do the women speak plainly and honestly about their own experiences in El Salvador, but they use the World Council of Churches materials for International Women's Day and the World Day of Prayer to highlight women's issues across the globe. This year's theme, inspired by Jesus healing the paralyzed man as recorded in John 5: 2-9, calls for women (and all) to rise up for oneself and for others, to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, improve situations and celebrate achievements. This annual, intentional opening of a space of freedom and leadership for women is like a jolt of energy which helps to sustain the spirits of women in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church as they work and live in everyday realities which include patriarchy and misogyny.
|Image from the World Day of Prayer 2020
Leadership from Zimbabwe (worlddayofprayer.net)
Women's month is celebrated in the Lutheran Church at the national, micro-regional and local levels. In our community, the month of March was to feature a month-long celebration, culminating in a big anniversary celebration for the community on it's foundation date, March 24th. (Check out this story from 2018 for a little more perspective on this.)
|March 2020 - the start of a month of celebration in our community
And just like that, March was interrupted.
As the world began to realize that a pandemic was on the loose, El Salvador, like many countries, locked down. All of the beautiful plans for the month of March were set aside and replaced by feelings of disappointment, uncertainty, isolation and worry, especially for women. During those first two months, the daily "how are you doing?" message was needed and appreciated by senders and recipients.
Now, 5 months later, Salvadoran Lutheran congregations and communities have generally figured out how to keep folks connected via social media. Prayer and devotion groups have formed which help families voice their worries as they cope with persistent and new challenges: hunger, torrential rain, floods, being cooped up, overseeing their children's education, having no access to public transportation, illness from Covid-19 and other infections, loneliness, worry about their neighbors and inability to grieve (funerals are not permitted). For women (or children) who are not safe in their homes due to violence or abuse, this is a very difficult time, and while domestic violence is not something which can be brought up in a prayer group, at least there is conversation about it being pushed by the women pastors.
Many of the young adults in the church care deeply about their communities and have led relief efforts at difficult moments during the last 5 months. Below the radar, church women have networks through which they have been able to get supplies out into rural areas or to get care to a neighbor. On a broader scale, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, through domestic connections and international support, is doing its best to respond with food and hygiene supplies where needed. Pastor Rafael and the group of young adult communications graduates have produced some fantastic videos and recently led Zoom to Facebook Live events that were interactive, engaging and fun! Pastors have had to step their game and are using more technology to create recorded videos, run online prayer groups, worship via live streams and send group text messages so that they and their community members can accompany one another, especially in moments of physical or psychological despair.
Across the miles, moments of worry and despair are a common thread we all share in the wake of having life interrupted. We are all figuring out how to cope as individuals, as families, as congregations and as communities with the fallout from this pandemic.
|Current pew occupants
This week, a few of us ventured into our Milwaukee church to put together backpacks full of supplies for local students who need them. Since our sanctuary is not being used for worship right now, we are using the pews as our organization and assembly area for food, education and Bible Camp ministries. Our small teams can mask up, open the windows, work and be distant. The altar is looking a little sad, still adorned for Lent, with droopy, dusty purple cloth and dried out greens. The Christ candle (which has never been used and was lightly draped for Lent) is bent over, melted due to this summer's extreme heat. Lent, Easter, Pentecost, summer: interrupted. The Christmas tree, somehow never put away, sits in a disheveled heap on the floor. And while a few kids are working in the garden, and others learn about gardening during their remote lesson, and partners carry in bags of cloth masks and hand sanitizer, our little team hovers over 300 backpacks which are sitting like people in the pews.
There was a somber moment this week when we said it out loud: Christmas will probably be interrupted.
Before the lock-downs, on that early March Monday morning at Resurrection Lutheran Church, the women kicked off their special month. They prayed and preached and sang. Pastor Emely set up a blanket on the floor, with a cross and some candles. She scattered small crystal stones around the blanket. At the end of the devotion, Pastor Emely said, "Choose a stone for yourself. They are all different because we are all different. There will be one that you like, one that is for you."
Sonia slipped up quietly beside me and pressed a small stone into my hand. "I picked this stone for you," she said softly into my ear, "because it is like your country. It is like snow. It is like ice." We hugged. She giggled. She has never seen snow on the ground nor ice on a river.
|A small stone.
This is my stone. I was going to write a little story about this stone back in March. When we left El Salvador as the country was locking down, I put this stone in my backpack. I look at this stone every day. I have thought about telling its story every day. Today I put the stone next to my computer and started to write a story which is not so short.
This stone was chosen for me by a friend who is struggling during this pandemic in all the ways that Salvadoran women are struggling. Many of the stories which I have told during this pandemic can be credited in great part to Sonia. She rises up each day and cares for her family, her church and her community in the biggest sense of that word. And she never fails to send me at least one message or one photo. She is faithful.
This little stone connects me to Sonia. It connects me to a long list of beloved sisters in El Salvador, pastors, lay leaders, co-workers, community members, elders and youth. Our togetherness has been interrupted. We are physically distant. But the love and faith that bind us together is strong, and so we will continue to look at our stones, send our daily memes and emojis, pray for one another and accompany each other as best we can during these interrupted times.
Les amo mucho, hermanas salvadoreñas. Nos veremos pronto, primero Dios.