A theme in Minnesota Women’s Press since its earliest years has been spirituality. We have had conversations about the roles of women in faith and religion, including limitations from “the stained- glass ceiling.”
The Re-Imagining Community, an ecumenical nonprofit organization that explored Christian concepts and imagery from a feminist perspective, gathered in 1993. It included 2,000 people from 49 states and 27 countries, and was held at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Critics accused the organizers of heresy and being anti-Christian. Some called for the resignations of women who participated.
In 1998, Carmen Peota wrote about the second iteration of the “Re-Imagining Revival,” when people gathered in St. Paul. Among other details, the event included clotheslines stretched around the ballroom on which hung 400 clergy stoles from LGBTQ+ people who had been barred from serving their faith communities.
“The backlash against 1993 shows how important it was,” said Rita Nakashima Brock, director of the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College.
Because women have had few opportunities in the 2,000 years of Christian history to shape Christian doctrine and theological debate, Re- imagining is a process of voicing women’s ideas, stories, and more formal theological constructs.
Storytelling is a key feature of the Re-Imagining format. Conference participants sat around round tables and were encouraged to share their experiences with others. It is also one of the sore points for its critics who feel that feminist Christians overrate new voices and underrate the Bible, God, and Jesus.
“We need to demonstrate that it’s not an oxymoron to be a Christian feminist,” said one of the conference organizers.
Eighteen years later, Anne Hamre wrote “Re-Imagining: Revisited and Revived.” The 2016 story quoted original Re-Imagining participant Sherry Jordon and Mary Kay Sauter, then a retired United Church of Christ pastor, who was a co-chair of the 1993 conference. Sauter said, “I don’t know that we would have continued if not for the backlash.”
Jordon noted that the issues discussed in 1993 were still relevant. “There are still debates over inclusive language, sexuality. And the placement of women as senior pastors has not progressed as much as it could have.”
For 10 years, one paid staffer and volunteers operated a grassroots movement focused on dialogue between feminist theology and the church. They organized six more conferences in the Twin Cities; published a quarterly journal, a songbook, and a book of essays and liturgies; taught “faith labs” on feminist theology at churches; and organized small groups to discuss feminist theology and do feminist rituals.
“As an associate professor of theology, Jordon knows women’s stories are often devalued and lost without a conscious effort to preserve them. In that spirit, she’s on a year-long sabbatical focused on preserving Re-Imagining’s history and making its contributions available to others to build upon. The work involves oral interviews with presenters and organizers, digitizing the cassette tapes of the conferences, and creating a website to make materials available and continue the work of Re-Imagining.
As 60-, 70-, 80- and some 90-year- olds, we’d like to pass this part of the women’s movement on to another generation,” says Sauter, 70. “Let them build on it, make it their own.”
The Re-Imagining community will disband as an organization in 2021, but as Sherry Jordon puts it: “The Re-Imagining movement continues whenever Christian communities empower people of various gender identities, sexual orientations, races, social classes, and faith traditions. The work of loving and searching for God, justice, and a challenging, empowering, and inclusive church continues.”
ReimaginingCommunity.org includes digitized conference sessions from the earliest years.
Union Theological Seminary has archived conference recordings: tinyurl.com/MWP-Re-Imagining
Duke University has digitized oral interviews with 72 people connected with Re-Imagining, including planners, participants, and presenters.