As I read the story from the Citizen-Times.com website, I tried to remember a few basics about what it’s like to write for a paper in a smaller market. Local papers (as in Asheville, North Carolina) might not have a full-time religion reporter. They often don’t have space for longer articles, thus making it possible for details to get lost. And they may assume that their local readers know about churches and institutions that those of us surfing from “abroad” might not know.
But even after making huge allowances — this article, about the closing of a “feminist” ministry, is almost like one of those Madlibs where readers get to fill in the blanks. Let’s start at the beginning:
After 15 years of being a safe place for people to explore and expand their spiritual selves, the feminist retreat ministry Holy Ground will close at the end of the month.
What does “feminist” mean in this context? That Holy Ground used inclusive language in their ceremonies? That they had retreats exploring women’s spirituality? That they donned flowing robes and held orgies devoted to pagan goddesses? OK, I’m having too much fun here. But it would be very helpful to learn what “feminist” means to those who live in this part of North Carolina.
A closing ceremony is planned for June 28.
What kind of a ceremony? Probably the same type of ceremony the organization did for 15 years — about which we learn almost nothing.
In the beginning, founders Sandra Smith and Dorri Sherrill, both ministers, wanted the ministry to see itself through a uniquely female perspective.
“We filtered our teaching, our theology, our language through the lens of a battered woman,” Smith said. “We did not exclude men, but we began with women’s experience.”
Are Smith and Sherrill Congregationalists? Quakers? Lutherans? And what’s the link to battered women? This quote should have been explored.
The first Holy Ground gathering took place in October 1994, when Roberta Bondi spoke about prayer and images of God.
Smith and Sherrill worked to make Holy Ground a place where people of all faiths could feel welcome, and when Sherill moved on to other work, Smith continued to run Holy Ground.
“One of the gifts was bringing women of different faiths together so they could explore faith together,” Smith said.
We can infer something by learning that Heyward is coming, along with William Everrett to “speak about feminism from a theological point of view.” But without significant information about the ministry, the women who ran it, or what they did, it’s a lot more tempting just to make up our own story — fueled by our own assumptions.
Hat tip to commenter Lee for bringing this one to the attention of GetReligion.
If you want to see holy ground outside of Swannanoa, that’s a picture of Mount Sinai from Wikimedia Commons