The power of story took center stage Sunday afternoon as 56 laywomen from across the United Church of Christ were honored at a luncheon at General Synod 28.
The honorees were introduced in groups that followed dramatic readings by Debbie Hoogesteger and Rachel Chapman who represented the “foremothers in the faith whose names stir up images of strength and story: Rebekah, Sarah, Elizabeth, Mary, Rachel, Deborah, Judith, Priscilla and Miriam.”
But the story that most of the attendees will remember most is the one told, in Arkansas twang, by Elaine Blanchard who reset the familiar story of the Woman at the Well to a West Memphis bar where her wayward daughter Diana encountered Jesus on a barstool drinking a beer.
“Jesus and the disciples were on their way through West Memphis on the way from Little Rock to Nashville,” Blanchard began. “That van of theirs broke down. It was a donation, you know. The disciples went to look for an affordable and reliable mechanic, so you know how long that took, and left Jesus behind.
“There was an old ramshackle bar, called The Well, beside the road and Jesus had just taken a seat at the bar when my daughter Diana came through the door. I’d like to tell you she was there to deliver the mail but, truth be told, she was there for the hair of the dog.”
After a discussion about living water, Blanchard said, “The disciples came back looking all sideways, and Diana’s on her way to Family Dollar telling her co-workers that there’s some guy who says he’s Jesus and she thinks he’s telling the truth.
“Now people from all over come to hear the story of how Jesus and my daughter had a beer together in West Memphis” and she turned her life around.
Loey Powell, who followed Blanchard to the podium, said, “Never before in the history of General Synod luncheons have I ever seen the convention center staff stop and listen to a speaker. Now that’s the power of story.”
Powell is executive for
administration and women’s justice, Justice and Witness Ministries.
The honored laywomen of GS28 include:
Northern California Nevada — Patsy Finster, First Congregational UCC, Fresno, Calif., and Lakena Alesana-Yan Lan, Chinese Congregational UCC, San Francisco.
Southern California Nevada — Michiko Manacop-Reyes, Los Angeles Filipino UCC; Diana Owings, Diamond Bar (Calif.) UCC; and Janet K. Vandevender, Claremont (Calif.) UCC.
Central Atlantic — Pauline E. McDonald, Hope UCC, Alexandria, Va.; Felicia Simms, Faith UCC, Washington, D.C.; and Etta Williams, Faith UCC, Washington, D.C.
Central Pacific — Corliss Marsha, The Dalles (Ore.) UCC Congregational UCC and Verlyne Phillips, First Congregational UCC, Corvallis, Ore.
Connecticut — Barbara Henschel, Huntington Congregational UCC, Shelton, Conn.
Florida — Billie Carpenter, Church by the Sea, Bal Harbour, Fla., and Gerie Spencer, UCC (Congregational and Disciples), New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
Illinois — Laurel Bruggen, United Protestant UCC, Grayslake, Ill.
Illinois South — Edna Dell Weinel, St. Paul UCC, Columbia, Ill.; Emily Virginia Ilch, Evangelical UCC, Godfrey, Ill.; and Carol Mercer, Friedens UCC, Marissa, Ill.
Indiana Kentucky — Martha Main, Faith UCC, Indianapolis, Ind.; Beth Skeels, St. Paul’s (German Township) UCC, Evansville, Ind.; and Donna Wilson, Pleasant Run UCC, Indianapolis, Ind.
Iowa — Joyce Hertz, Ames (Iowa) UCC Congregational UCC; Jean Libbey, Grinnell (Iowa) UCC-Congregational; and Kathleen Murrin, Plymouth Congregational UCC, Des Moines, Iowa.
Kansas Oklahoma — Nancy Wolfe, Community UCC, Carbondale, Kan., and Sara A. Shaw, First Congregational UCC, Council Grove, Kan.
Massachusetts — Sherley A. Phillips, St. Mark Congregational UCC, Roxbury, Mass.; Judith Stone, First Congregational UCC, Hadley, Mass.; and Vilma C. Thompson, First Congregational UCC, Raynham, Mass.
Michigan — Nancy Westcott, First Congregational UCC, Battle Creek, Mich.
Minnesota — Barbara J. Peterson, UCC, New Brighton, Minn.
Missouri Mid-South — Lee Ann Jestis, Peace UCC, Hartsburg, Mo., and Joyce Schutt, Bethany UCC, Berger, Mo.
New Hampshire — Margie Galabrun, First Congregational UCC, Wakefield, N.H.
New York — Deanne Bellinger, Community Congregational UCC, Clinton Heights, N.Y.; Ginger Comstock, Arcade (N.Y.) UCC; Louise Manigault, St. Albans (N.Y.) Congregational UCC.
Northern Plains — Beth Begg, Plymouth Congregational UCC, Fargo, N.D.
Ohio — Sue Anderson, Lakeview UCC, Maineville, Ohio.
Penn Central — Kay Boyer, Quentin (Penn.) UCC, and Martha Keith, St. Paul’s UCC, Mechanicsburg, Penn.
Penn Northeast — Nancy Kramer-Moyer, St. John’s UCC, Allentown, Penn.
Penn Southeast — Roberta Carr, Harold O. Davis Memorial Church, Philadelphia; Dr. Kathleen H. Jones, St. John’s UCC, Orwigsburg, Penn.; and Judith Ullom, UCC at Valley Forge, Wayne, Penn.
Rhode Island — Kleo Perkins Becker, Slatersville (R.I.) Congregational UCC.
South Central — Sue E. Earl, First Congregational UCC, Houston, Texas, and Yvette, Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Houston, Texas.
South Dakota — Winifred Boub, Congregational UCC, Pierre, S.D.
Southern — Brenda Dalton James, St. Stephen UCC, Greensboro, N.C.
Vermont — Kay Clifford, North Congregational UCC, St. Johnsbury, Vt., and Kathryn Althoff, Congregational UCC, South Hero, Vt.
Wisconsin — Vicki Graff, Olivet Congregational UCC, Columbus, Wis.
Council for Hispanic Ministries — Lucy Berrios-Taveras, Iglesia Cristiana Nueva Esperanza UCC, Hartford, Conn.
Pacific Island and Asian American Ministry — Aileen Nakamura Pruiksma, University Congregational UCC, Seattle, and Vatsala Ponnuraj, Bedford Park Congregational UCC, Bronx, N.Y.
United Black Christians — Savannah Mason, Covenant UCC, South Holland, Ill.
Powell urged all women in the UCC to take part in an online survey at <ucc.org/women/>.