Archive for Sunday, September 17, 2006

Women & Spirit

Club changes name to better reflect inclusiveness

September 17, 2006


Sometimes in the life of an organization, a name change is in order.

That's what the leaders of Martha and Mary's Way, a Lawrence-based ministry to women, started thinking about in January.

And they made it official at an Aug. 13 kickoff event and potluck: The ministry was renamed Womanspirit Connection to better reflect its growing outreach to women from all faith backgrounds.

"This is something that had been in the works for months. We had been needing a new name for a couple of years. The name 'Martha and Mary's Way' is drawn from a passage of Christian Scripture" about two female disciples of Jesus, says the Rev. Vicki Penner, co-chair of the group's board.

"But women of other faith traditions don't always know that story (from the Bible), so they don't know that they are included automatically in our events."

The new name reflects that the group has widened its scope and has become ever more inclusive to Lawrence-area women, wherever they are on their spiritual journey, according to Penner.

She also says that "network" is a better way to describe Womanspirit Connection than "ministry," since it has its activities (such as workshops, seminars, retreats and service projects) at various locations around town and really represents a way for women to form one-on-one friendships as they explore their faiths together.

The group defines itself, on its Web site - - as "an interfaith spiritual network for women."

Its mission: "To provide a spiritual network designed to expand women's experiences of ourselves and one another through reflection, support, programming and interfaith dialogue."

About the group

Womanspirit Connection, formerly Martha and Mary's Way, is a Lawrence-based interfaith network dedicated to exploring women's spiritual journeys. The network sponsors a wide variety of events, such as workshops, seminars, retreats, discussions and service projects.

It has about 600 women from the Lawrence area, Topeka and Greater Kansas City on its mailing list. The network sends out both a newsletter and a program brochure twice each year.

Womanspirit Connection is open to anyone who is interested in participating - even men. (Some events may be for women only.)

For more information, call 760-3791 or visit the group's Web site at

In addition to a new name, Womanspirit Connection has a new logo, which features a hummingbird.

"They symbolize being able to move in many directions : they also symbolize an open heart, and their mission is to spread joy, bring energy and open our hearts so that we may love and live life to its fullest," says Penner, who has served on the group's board for three years.

She also is a chaplain at Presbyterian Manor, 1429 Kasold Drive.

So far, the name change has met with approval.

"A number of people have said, 'Oh yes, now I know that you are open to me.' We have gotten a lot of positive feedback," she says.

Martha and Mary's Way began as an effort to re-involve Sister Irene McGrath - a member of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth - with her work supporting the needs of Catholics in Lawrence after she retired in 1997 as pastoral associate at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 6001 W. 15th St.

A small group of Catholic women set out in January 2000 to establish a ministry that would serve Christian women in the area and address issues they face in their spiritual lives. McGrath was asked to direct it.

Over time, the ministry grew, steadily creating more programs, attracting more participants and developing a strong, interfaith component.

The Rev. Judy Long O'Neal - at that time, pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church, 245 N. Fourth St. - later came aboard to serve as co-director, along with McGrath.

Martha and Mary's Way was first based in a Lawrence townhouse, then a cottage purchased by ministry supporters and, finally, relocated in 2003 to a 42-acre property, owned by O'Neal, near Vinland.

O'Neal has since left Lawrence, now serving as an associate pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, in Leawood.

McGrath has retired from her work in Lawrence, but she remains supportive of Womanspirit Connection's efforts here.

The network has about 600 women from the Lawrence area, Topeka and Greater Kansas City on its mailing list, Penner says. Its newsletter and program brochures each come out twice a year.

Trish Dowd Kelne, who serves as Womanspirit Connection's other co-chair, has served on the group's board for two terms.

She says there really isn't anything else like this network in Lawrence, which is interfaith and intended for women.

Womanspirit Connection serves an important purpose, according to Kelne.

"Oftentimes, within a woman's life, it's difficult to create a space and time for personal reflection and a connection to other women. Women tend to be out in the business world, as well as at home taking care of family, so when it comes to taking care of ourselves, that can be pretty challenging," she says.

That's what the network is all about - encouraging women to connect as they explore their faiths together.

Kelne, a Lawrence resident, is a staff member of a social service agency in Topeka.

"This (network) is a passion, for sure. That's been the thing about it. All of the people involved really believe in it," she says. "It's good to have strong and big-hearted women involved in this."

The Rev. Angela Lowe, a board member of Womanspirit Connection, appreciates the group's interfaith nature.

"I think that women need a safe, affirming place where they can come and be validated for who they are, whichever faith tradition they embrace. Nobody is trying to proselytize. Everybody's there to be open, learn and gain from the idea that God is in the midst of all those different identities," says Lowe, chaplain at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, 325 Maine.

Lowe is ordained as a pastor by the American Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Womanspirit Connection plays a valuable role in Lawrence, Lowe says, "because women get so busy that they can't always be involved in events just for themselves, and some people aren't connected to a faith community."

The Lawrence network strives to provide something that is missing for many women.

"It's like a spiritual oasis in the midst of the busyness of women's lives as they juggle husbands, families, children. It's just a time for them," Lowe says.


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