It’s Time To Resign From The Casserole Club

Dr. Halee Gray Scott’s recent salvo calling for women’s ministry leaders to stop doling out flowers and fairy dust to the women of their churches reminded me that each one of us has the power to change the ladies tea/chocolate spa/casserole club model of women’s ministry. There are some women that expect that kind of de-fanged busywork from church, but I most of the women I know have little time or energy for it anymore.

Many of us suburban Boomer women inherited our notions of what church-based women’s ministry looked like from those a generation ahead of us. Ministry to and by women reflected their post-war aspirations and fears, and our own Boomer concerns and hopes were folded into that lightweight spiritual souffle. In my 20′s and 30′s, I gamely tried to participate in those church-lady events designed for a certain demographic (stay-at-home-moms!), but always left hungry.

If you like the women of your church and want to form deeper relationships with them, it can be a little unnerving to do what I am about to suggest if you attend a congregation who has a line item for dainty doilies in their women’s ministry budget. But here it is:

Stop attending those women’s events. Just stop.

You probably aren’t missing anything much except the chance to get aggravated with the silliness of it all once again.

Maybe these large group events make you feel as though they’re the gateway that’ll help you connect with other women in your church, but I bet you might be able to find some other ways to do so. Start a book club. Join a community (parachurch) Bible study. Gather a few friends for a time of retreat. See if there are a couple of others in your church who might be interested in community service/outreach – joining with a ministry outside your church like a food pantry, volunteering at a women’s shelter, hospice/nursing home or tutoring a struggling child. (If there isn’t anyone from your church interested in where God is calling you, put on your big girl pants and go anyway!) Launch a prayer group. Take a class. Attend a conference.

And if you don’t have time or energy to be the spark plug, start talking to God about your longing for meaningful relationships and learning/service/worship opportunities. That desire you have to live a fruitful life came from him in the first place.

It was an honor to have 19 other women join my long-time prayer partner and I on last weekend’s guided silent retreat.

 

 

About Michelle Van Loon
  • Pat68

    Amen! Sometimes you have to vote with your feet, particularly when people are unwilling to listen to new ideas.

  • Kim

    Mutiny! I love it.

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    I tried to get the programming for these events to be more meat and less fluff when I was on the Elder Board. No success.

    My wife never attended them anyway. Instead she joined Bible Study Fellowship and eventually became the teaching leader for it. Talk about meat!

  • Brian Nobles

    Old habits die hard. Just imagine what the Marys had to deal with. First you say, “I’m not baking cookies.” Then you say “I’m going to visit the gals in jail.” Then perhaps you crack a whip over the youth group and get them to make an appearance at the nursing home. “Forget knitting blankets, I’m packing care packages for the troops.”

    • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

      Actually, the blanket ministry at our church is quite gracious and helpful. Quilt-making gives them fellowship time, and the quilts themselves either go to single parents with newborns or get auctioned off with the money going to a pregnancy center.

      ;-)
      Tim

    • Boyd

      Mary saying, “I’m not baking cookies.” ROFL

  • Pat68

    And how hard can it be to not just have things geared toward one segment of the congregation, unless of course the congregation is really small or they don’t have enough developed leaders to branch out, which is often the case. For instance, one church I know of has a group that meets on Thursdays and is geared toward women with children, particularly young children and they meet in the morning. Obviously, that is geared towards stay-at-home moms. Well, in addition to that, how about a group that meets in the evenings for working mothers? Or a group that meets in the evening that’s geared towards career women? In fact, it doesn’t even have to be geared towards any particular segment of women, just something that meets at another time that at least recognizes not everyone has availability at the same time of day, but also offers some meat. But one problem you encounter, is that women who are already plugged in to the existing programming don’t want to feel like they’re losing friends by leaving one group that they belong to in order to join another one. Either that, or their plate is full and they can’t add another thing to it. Oftentimes, these are the reasons given for not branching out. But churches have to be responsive to this need that presents itself or people will just not participate or find other things that fit the bill.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      Those who are busy working moms don’t have time for busywork, and some may not be able to handle a weekly small group/study commitment. But creativity (twice-monthly Friday evening women’s dinner – where they either potluck it or order a couple of pizzas – and book or Bible study instead of a weekly gathering, for example.)

      If people stop going to Christmas Teas, some churches may be more motivated to ask different questions about how to cultivate spiritual growth and connection among their people.

    • Boyd

      The difficulty may be connected to how most church members understand evangelism—invite your friends to church.

      In suburban churches, many people work miles away from where they live, so inviting co-workers to church is problematic since the co-workers may not live in the same area as the church member.
      So that leaves inviting the neighbors and people one interacts with (frequently that interaction is child-related). If a church member lives in an area with lots of new families buying homes, it is likely that those new home buyers may share many characteristics with the church member.
      And since they share many characteristics, programming for the church eventually tends to revolve around those shared characteristics.

      For example, if a church member lives in a neighborhood with lots of stay-at-home moms, those will be the people she invites to church under the banner of evangelism. And once a significant number of people from
      that neighborhood begin attending the church, events will likely become heavily skewed towards stay-at-home moms if they become the majority. If a church member lives in a neighborhood with lots of kids in the elementary school age bracket, those will be the people the church member invites to events at church. And once a bunch of families who all have kids the same age start attending a church, things get designed around families with kids of a certain age.

      It happens in non-suburban churches as well. For instance, if a church is in an urban area where lots of young, single adults live, and evangelism is geared towards inviting their friends, their friends may likely also be young, single adults. So the church programs and events eventually becomes slanted towards meeting the needs of young, single adults. And as those adults marry and begin to have children, the church may shift to being centered around young families with kids since the members will start to interact with other young families with kids and invite their new friends to church.

      Church community can start to look more and more like some strange scientific clone experiment rather than a Body with various parts—all mouths, no hands.

      • Pat68

        And what complicates it, Boyd, is when a church truly wants to have outreach. I attended a suburban church for 12 years in a county different from where I lived, but I was willing to make the drive (only 20 minutes away). However, I’m a single, African-American female with no children and a seminary degree working in corporate America. Many in the church, in fact most in the church were white, middle-class. Many of the women were stay-at-home moms and not many of the people ventured outside of their own little cultural bubble. So it wasn’t easy to fit in or be accepted, yet outreach was a big part of the church’s mission. If a church is going to make that a big part of what they do, they’ve got to know that it involves coming out of of one’s comfort zone and making some adjustments; not just expecting everyone to come in and assimilate. After all, I came out of my comfort zone to worship with them.

        • Boyd

          I agree, however, I’m not sure that people are consciously expecting people to “come in and assimilate.” I think it is a more unconscious attitude that becomes a problem that grows and becomes dangerous over time.
          People who grow up without diversity (in their hometown, their school, their church, etc.) may not even be aware that they are excluding people and creating an atmosphere of alienation. They look out at their community and don’t see anything wrong because it “feels” normal and natural to them, and, frankly, they enjoy that feeling since they don’t have to experience any discomfort from being an “other” in those situations. I think that people who did experience diversity (be that in their hometown, school, church, etc.) are better able to recognize the absence of it since things seem less normal and natural when they are put in situations where they are the “odd man out” in a sea of homogenous elements.
          For churches, this sort of failure to create true community (what they form is cliques of clone-like people instead) is likely driven more by an “autopilot” way of functioning for most of the congregation. Once a significant number of similar people begin to clump together in church, most of them are just not aware of how much of what they do or don’t do happens because they are operating out of that autopilot function. They find great comfort in being part of a group where their own likes and dislikes are mirrored back to them by the majority of their clique, so not only do they not recognize the problem their clique creates, they lack any incentive to change and come out of their comfort zone. They can cocoon themselves in an “safe” environment and keep discomfort at bay all the while believing that they are being outreach-oriented because they offer some kind of event or program that targets people who are just like themselves.
          It is a form of deception, and most churches either aren’t aware of how ingrained this problem is within their congregations (self-deception), or if they know it is a problem, but they choose to specifically target market for a “large potential growth segment” of the population at the exclusion of others.
          Some of this target marketing is likely due to “numerical growth” being such a driving factor for most churches. Numbers are considered success and need attendance to increase, so they start to rely (consciously or perhaps unconsciously) on target marketing to promote their church to a limited segment of the population (like families with young children or young singles) as a way to maximize their limited outreach budget resources. Most churches may “say” they value diversity, but they accept that they have limited resources and cannot customize their church community to fit everyone’s needs. So the Christmas Tea or Stay-At-Home Mommies’ Bible Study groups get formed at some point because those who attend that sort of thing were at one point the target market of their congregations. As time goes on, either they stop being the target market but the program is ingrained, or the program continues because the target market hasn’t changed. At that point, autopilot comfort is less of a factor since “success” in terms of numbers has taken over as the driving factor.

  • Boyd

    “If there isn’t anyone from your church interested in where
    God is calling you, put on your big girl pants and go anyway!”

    I understand the logic of this, but the downside of this don’t
    go or go-it-alone approach could turn out to be that you end up with no female “relationships” within your home church since the underlying purpose of many of those “women’s events” is about promoting socializing with other women as the basis of “fellowship” and “community” within a congregation. If you are tired of Christmas teas and casseroles and boycott them, you may discover that you have nothing in common with many women in your church if they think that “plugging into church” actually is about that sort of “de-fanged” approach to being part of the Body of Christ. If you go it alone and seek out other avenues outside of your local congregation, you may find likeminded women, but they’ll likely already attend another church.

    After a few years of not toeing the line, you may solve one problem—getting rid of the fluff and finding others who have also left the dollies—only to discover that you didn’t really solve the problem as much as simply traded it for a new problem—lack of relationship and community within your home church. While all the Christmas Tea and Casserole Club women gather together on Sunday and “share their lives” with one another through out the week as they continue to build relationships via the “women’s events,” you may be left on the outside of their church clique waiting for Monday to gather with your own posse.
    What happens then?

    • Michelle Van Loon

      I’m living the scenario you describe, Boyd. It’s a trade-off – I don’t really have a posse of friends at the church we attend (geographical distance and not much connection with most of the programming they offer). I attend a Bible study at a church near my home, and serve in a couple of different ministries that don’t have anything to do with my church. I do let the leadership of the church know what I’m involved in, and I guess I just have to live with the relational consequences of opting out of the craft nights and cookie exchanges.

      I could say that if my friendships with church women are contingent on doing those activities, then they’re not true friendships anyway. They’re just religious coworker relationships.

      • Boyd

        Just curious if you have thought about these questions or
        have found any answers:

        1. How does a person function in a local congregation where many members are simply Christian co-workers?

        2. What if the person who goes-it-alone is unmarried or widowed and does not have children or a spouse to help maintain
        relationships that go beyond the co-worker status?

        3. Suppose the local congregation gets a large influx of new members who engage in the “fellowship” and “community building” avenues provided. If the go-it-alone person doesn’t engage, will she likely get to know these new people beyond the co-worker
        status?

        4. And how long can this sort of functioning continue before there is some sense of alienation with the local congregation? Two
        years? Five years? Ten years? Fifteen years? Thirty years?

        5. Para-church relationships may occur, but if those para-church persons are active and busy in their own local congregations, they may also not have time to be more than Christian co-workers to the person who goes-it-alone, yes?

        I would think after a certain amount of time the natural tendency would be for the person to begin to drift away and become less and less “part of the Body” because fewer and fewer interactions are taking place beyond the basic “hello/goodbye” on Sunday and
        the occasional “hello/goodbye” when bumping into people out in the community. At the same time, those who did “plug in” to
        the congregation’s relationship building avenues are now “sharing their lives” with each other. I would also think it likely that those people who are sharing their lives together based on their
        fellowship at these events might naturally bring in more people who share those same views about “how to DO church” which then might lead to even more alienation.

        If opting out leads to some sort of alienation and a reduction and a real loss of community, it seems unhealthy, but, sadly, trying to fit into the cookie cutter mold of engaging in ChristmasTeas and Casserole Clubs just to fit in strikes me as even more fundamentally unhealthy.

        I think in discussing this issue you have stumbled onto a foundational problem within many churches. There is lots of talk about community and relationship and fellowship since those are the current buzzwords, but I believe there is a growing undercurrent of alienation, especially among people who find themselves no longer … baking cookies.

        • Michelle Van Loon

          You ask great questions, Boyd. My husband and I are living the scenario you describe – as we’ve “opted out” of various forms of busywork in recent years, and as we then moved 35 minutes’ drive from the church we attend, we sometimes wonder why we bother making the trip.

          We have checked out a few churches in our area, but that process takes a different kind of energy (and time). When we went through a short sale process last year, we only had 15 days to find a new place to live when the sale was approved by the bank. The whole thing was so stressful that we decided to stay put until at our church until we had the energy to search for another congregation. A year later, we’re still there.

          That said, the alienation issue is a big one in many churches. The cognitive dissonance between all of the community and fellowship talk and most people’s experience (religious coworkers at best) in a congregation is great. Are churches overselling who they really are?

          I once told a friend about to join the staff of a large church that he would finally find fellowship instead of watching it happen as a spectator. Church staffers (the ultimate religious coworkers, ironically) are together with one another enough that they actually do experience community in most cases.

          • Boyd

            :-)
            I completely agree that the cognitive dissonance is massive. I guess that those of a certain age or who can “plug in” to the life stage and gender based programming at their local church are part of cliques which shield them from discovered that CD exists. Neither do those who for one reason or another go from church to church and, thus, do not stay in one place for any great length of time.

            The false sense of community these members experience doesn’t force them to rub shoulders with those who are experiencing the greatest amount of CD. They get to experience “fellowship” and “relationship” and “community” within their Christmas Tea or Casserole Club or Stay-At-Home Mommy Morning Bible Study clique, and those positive experiences form a temporary shock absorber that stays in place until they either age out of the young families with children programming, their clique is somehow forced to disband, or relocation strips away their ability to belong. Throw in that they often spend years utterly unaware that someone sitting one pew over is having a radically different experience even though all are in the “same place at the same time,” and they have no
            incentive to try to alter things—doing so would actually create CD for them.

            My guess would be that they operate in the bliss of the current American mindset of “here and now only” thinking, and, sadly, many members who live in a bubble of false community fail to realize that the CD and subsequent resulting alienation of someone one pew over may
            well shift to their pew a few more years down the road. Their lack of preparation for the truth hits them especially hard since the loss of “community” seems so unimaginable, and if they start to actually dismantle what they really had, those revelations could shake their foundations of what “church” actually was for them.

            fyi , I had a comment similar to yours.

            I commented to someone that most American church leadership is not only forced to spend a great deal of time interacting with people, those interactions are with all sorts of people who aren’t mirror images of themselves. So unless the leadership is nothing but “yes men” and the church has become hyper homogenous, that forced interaction helps to create the necessary framework for community to happen. It isn’t “fun” but sharing their lives together is often more along the lines of Simon, the Zealot fellowshipping with Matthew, the Tax Collector–two polar opposites if ever there were–and having to work through lots of different opinions each brings to the table and find unity and relationship in something other than a sense of a mirror image often builds strong bonds that are grounding in Christ, not similar cultural characteristics.

      • Pat68

        Well said, Michelle, particularly that last paragraph. I left the church I was in for 12 years (for far more than the women’s events, which I didn’t attend anyway) and am in a church that offers intellectually stimulating sermons as well as a mid-week class of mixed gender. This is something that I needed and have not been looking for girlfriends, per se, so it works for me.


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