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Magdala Celebrations Grow, Nourish, Energize

Still growing after 11 years, the annual celebrations of the Feast of St. Mary of Magdala reached 300 events this year including one in Uganda, one in England, two in Sweden, one in New Zealand, six in Australia, and thirteen in Canada.

Photograph of Rita Houlihan, FutureChurch board member, standing with two other women.  They all smile broadly.In New York, FutureChurch Board member Rita Houlihan (center) and friends celebrate at the Elizabeth Seton Women's Center.

Many boldly proclaimed the scripture passages about biblical women that have been omitted from the lectionary such as those telling of Miriam, Judith, Mary of Bethany, and Lois and Eunice- reclaiming them as important stories of female heroic witness from times past  but  with an inspiring message for today. 

Nearly half incorporated some aspect of the Women and the Word campaign by using the Hidden Women of the Lectionary prayer service, distributing postcards to send to October’s Synod on the Word, or handing out articles about biblical women who have
been omitted, deleted, or made optional.  FutureChurch provides a different organizing kit each year to assist planning efforts (available at www.futurechurch.org).

Treasuring Women’s Gifts.  Each prayer service takes on its own unique flavor as the gifts, talents, and interests of planners and participants are brought forth. Just as Jesus treasured the gifts of women, so celebrators treasure what is brought to their tables. Banners brighten worship spaces and candles, oils and garden flowers grace sacred altars.

A photograph of a dancer at the Church of the Epiphany in Louisville, KY.  She gazes upwards and holds her hands outstretched to the heavens as she interprets, in dance, Lisa Golek's poem Magdalene at the Tomb.At Church of the Epiphany in Louisville, KY dancers interpreted Lisa Galek's poem Magdalene at the Tomb.
  • In Manassa, Virginia, Mary Lou Sleevi spoke about three of her paintings featuring Mary of Magdala and other scriptural women. 
  • Barbara Truncellito in Baregat Light, New Jersey, hosted a poetry reading with the last poem written in the voice of Mary of Magdala.
  • Sr. Kathy Sherman, a gifted musician and composer, shared her inspirational music about life, God’s love and  our justice journey at a Cincinnati celebration sponsored for the 9th straight year by a coalition of 16 peace and justice groups.
  • And at the Church of the Epiphany in Louisville, Kentucky, dancers interpreted FutureChurch’s 2006 winning poem Magdalene at the Tomb by Lisa Galek (poem available at www.futurechurch.org/marym/poetry06.htm).
A photograph of a liturgical dancer in Atlanta. She holds a cloth with both hands, which is outstreched and held taught by another dancer, not visible.In Atlanta, the Numinaria liturgical dancers were part of a day-long ecumenical program honoring Mary of Nazareth-"beyond meek and mild" and Mary of Magdala.

Varied, Mostly Catholic Venues.  Prayer services were held in a variety of venues-wherever planners could create a welcoming, prayerful environment.  Over 51 were held in Catholic parishes, 15 in convents and 34 in private homes and small faith sharing groups.  Fifteen were held in Protestant churches while many others celebrated in retreat centers, gardens, and classrooms.  Celebrations were also sponsored or co-sponsored by 14 Call To Action chapters, several Dignity chapters, the Women’s Ordination Conference, Pax Christi and the Catholic Worker.

Educating Communities.  Sr. Mary Baird, PHJC of Donaldson Indiana writes, “For many of the women religious participating, it was their first experience of honoring Mary of Magdala without the stereotype of penitent sinner or scarlet woman. In our ritual we took our lighted candles by rowboat out into our lake and let them loose to float on the water.  This signified the letting go of old pictures and scripts of this woman and letting the new light of her life as disciple par excellance and faithful believer shine out in the world.”

In Uganda, the Christian Women’s Fellowship had a special choir to grace the occasion then concluded their celebration with a fellowship lunch. The organizer, Christine Kintu Mulimira wrote, “Tomorrow I continue to teach about Mary of Magdala, because some of our new members confuse the different Marys of the Bible. There is always work to be done!”

A photograph of a Sr. Chris Schenk standing at a podium in front of a stained glass window, as she delivers an presentation. Sr. Chris Schenk speaks to a full house in Cleveland about Women of the Word: Women Leaders in the Early Church.

In Cleveland, FutureChurch executive director Sr. Chris Schenk discussed some of the important women in Jesus’ life as well as female leaders in the ministry of St. Paul.  The stories of other women leaders can only be deduced from their beautiful catacomb frescos and sarcophagi friezes depicting Torah scrolls, codices, and gospel stories which Schenk displayed via Powerpoint slides.  These provide mute but touching evidence that these early leaders were indeed, Women of the Word. To the strains of a simple but powerful Litany of Anonymous Women, everyone processed forward to receive a small scroll on which was inscribed words that Jesus had said to women or that women had said to Jesus.

Bread Not Stones. At Blessed Sacrament parish in Midland, Michigan participants were each given a stone upon entering with the reminder that “the memory of women in the Scriptures has been distorted over the centuries by misunderstandings of all kinds.” They were then encouraged to think of a time when a woman they know was given a stone of rejection or ridicule rather than the nourishment of affirmation or encouragement.

Parish Outreach.  Stella O’ Carroll of Escondido, California, decided to honor Mary of Magdala and other women of faith by submitting their stories to the parish bulletin for publication on a regular basis.

“We Look Forward to This.”  Janelle Lazzo of Heart of America Call To Action writes, “Some mentioned to me that they look forward to this every year because it encourages them to think there might still be hope for the universal Church in relation to their determination to stay close to the message of Jesus.”

FutureChurch and our amazing Mary of Magdala organizers work to stay close to Jesus’ message and to the witness of his early female disciples and apostles, particularly Mary of Magdala. We’re grateful that raising awareness about their leadership helps us co-create a more inclusive church and world.

A photograph of two women dressed in theatrical costumes, looking at each other, with hands in dramatic gesticulatory poses.
The theme of the celebration at the Elizabeth Seton Women's Center was Mary of Magdala, Passionate Proclaimer of the Resurrection.

Focus on FutureChurch

Summer 2008


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