For the first time, the Virginia Synodical Women’s Organization — a statewide sect of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — held its annual conference in Harrisonburg earlier this month.
More than 130 people were in attendance Aug. 15-16, making it a “record-setting” year, according to a press release from the denomination.
VSWO is trying to grow its numbers, said Risse Snelgrove, the president of the organization, which hasn’t boasted a conference topping the 100-attendee mark in almost a decade.
The group held its conference at Muhlenberg Lutheran Church in Harrisonburg, which currently doesn’t have an active VSWO chapter, in hopes that it will organize one.
The Rev. Brett Davis, associate pastor at Muhlenberg, who served as the chaplain for the conference, said many congregants are now interested in starting such a chapter.
Muhlenberg, one of a handful of local churches in the ECLA branch of Lutheranism, boasts several women’s groups but not an official VSWO branch, Davis said.
Davis, a 30-year-old pastor, has never felt that her gender held her back in the church, she said.
For a lot of ladies, however, such organizations were created decades ago, “so that women could be empowered in the church and have a vote,” she said.
Though more gender equality has been realized within the denomination, the organization continues to empower women, Davis said.
“Women of any age are powerfully driven when they see a group that actually does something, that actually walks the walk,” she added, explaining that she believes VSWO does that.
For the first year, the group completed a statewide mission project, instead of having women in each congregation work on separate tasks. Attendees at last year’s conference were challenged to make 1,000 pillowcase dresses to send to Africa. The women far surpassed that mark, creating 2,600 dresses.
At the recent conference, the women were challenged with making 400 tote bags for the same amount of foster children in the Virginia Department of Social Services system.
Any excess bags will go to the Lutheran refugee resettlement program.
The bags will be stuffed with clothes, toys and other useful items for children taken from their homes in emergency situations.
The women at the Harrisonburg conference also raised about $1,900 collectively to benefit People Helping People, a nonprofit housed at Muhlenberg that provides resources and guidance for people in crisis situations.
More than 100 Lutheran congregations form the Virginia Synod, which spans the state but doesn’t include Metro D.C. area churches, according to its website. Roughly 9,800 congregations boasting 4 million members across the nation make up the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which formed in 1988.
For more information, visit vasynod.org.
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