Yesterday I stepped away from the registration table and stood in the back of Melton Hall on Trinity International University’s campus and reveled in the sight of 132 women gathered for Identity: A Women’s Theology Conference. The dream had come true.
In August 2012 an idea was hatched on the sun porch of a recent Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) graduate, Carol Marshall, and M.Div. (Masters of Divinity) student, Nancy Bartell. Why not have a conference on theology which targets women? Great idea, but how to go about doing this?
Ingrid Faro, Ph.D. candidate at TEDS, recently announced she would lead the on-campus student group, Trinity Society of Women (TSW), for the coming school year. Carol and Nancy thought TSW could serve as the “front” for the conference and provide credibility, since who would come to the Carol and Nancy Show?
I count all three ladies as friends and was thrilled with they invited me to join the planning process early on. They knew of my love for theology and desire to inspire women to love it as well. I also needed to fulfill a Field Education requirement for my Masters in Christian Studies, and planning the conference would give the hands-on training needed. The Fabulous Four was formed, and the date of February 23, 2013 was set aside for the conference.
Nancy’s softball coaching and TIU sports department responsibilities pulled her away from organizing, but the planning continued. Over the course of the next few months, the theme, format, target audience and marketing methods were discussed and defined. Ideas for speakers were floated and considered, and the fuzzy shape of a “maybe” was becoming a “this is really going to happen”.
Esther Theonugraha, Ph.D. candidate, brought the World Cafe idea to the planning group and helped narrow and refine the theme further. She also agreed to be one of the plenary speakers, as did Ingrid. Writer Michelle Van Loon came on board to help with writing and marketing and held the team to a working timetable. She stepped into Nancy’s cleats and the Fabulous Four was at full force again.
Yesterday the fruits of all the labor on the part of the planning team, speakers, and various Trinity departments was in plain sight. The sold-out conference showed the hunger of women to wrestle with the question of Identity. When all is stripped away– the roles, the careers, the relationships, the finances, the personas — who are we really? If everything I’m attached to in life were stripped away, who would I be?
Ingrid started in Genesis with the imago Dei, the concept of our being made in the image of God. Esther challenged all with her theme of “Identity in Relationships: Advocacy and Representation”; a look at the responsibilities each of us have to fulfill these roles as Jesus modeled them.
Dynitta Lieuwen, Ph.D candidate, shared the struggles and challenges of a tough childhood in inner-city Cincinnati that has been redeemed and made beautiful through her relationship with Jesus Christ. She challenged all to re-examine the expectations received from home, community and church and determine which are true and which are lies. The work then is to replace the lies with theological truth.
What a thrill it was to see a room packed with women hungry to dive into theological concepts, wrestle with new perspectives and listen to challenges to be godly human beings first and foremost. No matter where we are in life or our spiritual journeys, we are always daughters of the King. And don’t forget that!
The sell-out crowd was beyond the expectations of the final Fabulous Four, but not Nancy Bartell – she envisioned 1000 women gathered; maybe that dream will come true one day, too.