Written by Anthony Moujaes
United Church of Christ leaders planning Women’s Week are inviting women across the church to use social media to reach beyond the walls of their congregation, out to the wider world. That’s how Pilgrim-St. Luke UCC in Buffalo, N.Y., will celebrate women as part of its mission of becoming a church without walls, ministering to people wherever they are.
To lift up women in the church, Pilgrim-St. Luke United Church of Christ in Buffalo, N.Y., is welcoming all to its service on Sunday, March 9 — both in the congregation and online through live interaction on Facebook. The service takes place at the conclusion of the UCC’s week-long celebration of Women’s Week, March 2 through March 8, a time for the church to share in the accomplishments of women and advocate for women’s rights globally.
"We haven’t typically done anything intentional for Women’s Week at my congregation. This initiative and transfiguring for women’s week through social media caught my attention, and I lifted that up to our pastors," said Suzy Shallowhorn, who is coordinating the service for Pilgrim-St. Luke UCC.
Pilgrim-St. Luke and its Latino-based El Nuevo Camino church plant seek to be places for inclusiveness and church without walls, which is why they use social media so frequently during its services.
"Our commitment to inclusion with what we’re doing based on social media is another way to stay true to what we’re doing. It should be fun and new," Shallowhorn said.
The UCC celebration of Women’s Week the first week of March this year is in line with other denominations and other observations of women; The World Day of Prayer for Women is March 7 and International Women's Day is March 8.
"Over the years Women’s Week in the United Church of Christ has served many purposes," said the Rev. Susan Blain, UCC minister for Worship, Liturgy and Spiritual Formation. "It has lifted up the accomplishments of women in the churches, promoted empowerment of women in congregational life and wider society, and offered education about and advocacy for issues of particular concern to women at home and worldwide."
The national setting of the UCC is sharing online resources — including ways to utilize social media to transform worship — during Women’s Week online. Pilgrim St. Luke is using one of the three offered sermons on the website for its worship.
"The service will be led by women, which isn’t unusual in our congregation. We may ask a member to have her come and participate for communion or a reading," Shallowhorn said.
"We thought the services provided by the UCC lend themselves well to what we were doing as far as an emerging church in welcoming anyone," the Rev. Justo Gonzalez, co-pastor at Pilgrim-St. Luke, says of the interactive aspects of worship.
Blain said the age of social media makes this a "moment of transfiguration for our world. While we have understood, perhaps in the abstract, that we in our small community are connected to a much wider world, social media allows us to interact with that wider world—to see the connections revealed, and to invite deeper connection. We believe God is at work in social media revealing connections among us outside of the constraints of ordinary time and space. Our Women’s Week worship and devotional opportunities for 2014 invite us to enter the transfiguring possibilities of social media in prayer and worship."
Pilgrim-St. Luke UCC posts sermons on its Facebook page, encouraging people in the pews who attend worship and others hundreds of miles of way to actively post their thoughts and swap videos and photos. The congregation projects the Facebook feed onto a wall so the interaction is visible to members, but also makes Pilgrim-St Luke a "church without walls." Last week, Shallowhorn said the church reached 12,000 people through Facebook.
In closing, Shallowhorn said celebrating Women’s Week is a public recognition of the skills women bring to the church and makes them a place of welcome.
"Our congregation is concerned with being inclusive of everybody. There was a time when women were the ones who weren’t included, to lead worship or celebrate communion," Shallowhorn said. "Women’s Week is a nice time to celebrate women — in the ways we celebrate all people — and it’s an opportunity to celebrate the women amongst us."