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Boston women gather to celebrate Circles of Names

By Kathryn M. Lohre 

Cambridge, Mass., November 1, 2010 -- On a beautiful New England fall morning, more than 40 women gathered at Harvard Divinity School to tell their stories about the women who have shaped their lives of faith, and to build a future for women’s ministries and gender justice in our churches and society.

The event, one of several local events taking place this fall, was part of the National Council of Churches Circles of Names campaign.

Women’s ministries and work toward gender justice are at stake in all of our churches as they grapple with the impact of the economic recession.

History is repeating itself: women’s desks, commissions, and programs are being severely reduced or eliminated. The Circles of Names campaign seeks to build a foundation towards long-term sustainability of women’s ministries and gender justice in the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), the 36 member communions of the NCC, and its ecumenical partners.  

This occasion in Boston centered on honoring the Rev. Dr. Constance Parvey, one of the first women admitted to Harvard Divinity School and one of the first women ordained in the Lutheran Church. Parvey is the author of the now-famous Sheffield Report on the community of Men and Women in the Churches for the World Council of Churches (1983), and was the longtime chaplain of the ecumenical Lutheran-Episcopal ministry at MIT.

Dr. Diana Eck, chair of the NCC’s Interfaith Relations Commission, who had herself been present at the Sheffield conference, paid tribute to Parvey’s work.

“It is such an honor to name [Connie’s] name so many times this morning,” Eck said.

Parvey was formally named by the NCC General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, to the Circles of Names when the campaign launched in November 2009. 

Parvey lifted up the ecumenical witness of Bishop Krister Stendahl and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, demonstrating how women’s ministries and gender justice is the work of women and men together.

NCC President Elect Kathryn Lohre, the local host and chair of the planning team, shared her own experience of being mentored by Parvey and Eck, and encouraged participants to think of mentoring as “what makes our circles concentric.”  

The testimonials that were shared during the event colored the rich relationships between women who are scholars and students, clergy and laypeople, ecumenists and interfaith leaders. Each story brought the Circles of Names to life in a rich tapestry of shared experiences, and visions for the future.

It is the hope that these stories will have a ripple effect, inspiring other stories in other circles, and enlarging the Circles of Names in order that women’s ministries and gender justice will continue to shape the churches’ work and witness in the world.  

Video clips of the event can be viewed at: 

Members of the Boston Circles of Names planning team included: Dr. Diana Eck, Chair, NCC Interfaith Relations Commission; Ms. Laura Everett, Associate Director, Massachusetts Council of Churches; Ms. Polly Hamlen, Boston Outreach Coordinator, Oikocredit USA; Ms. Karen Hessel, former Program Director, NCC Women’s Ministries; Ms. Kathryn Lohre, NCC President Elect; Dr. Jenny Peace, Assistant Professor of Interfaith Studies, Andover Newton; Rev. Dr. Rodney Peterson, Executive Director, Boston Theological Institute; Dr. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Krister Stendahl Professor of Divinity, Harvard; Rev. Katherine Shaner, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Delegate to the NCC; and Pastor Jay Williams, Board Member, US Conference of the World Council of Churches. 

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 36 member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell),

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