A gathering of about 50 people — mostly women — met at the Westdale Park Free Methodist Church in Napanee Friday afternoon to show their inclusion in something much bigger.
They took part in World Day of Prayer, an ecumenical service linking millions of Christian women in over 100 different countries in over 100 languages. The tradition took root in Canada and the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s before formally becoming World Day of Prayer in 1928.
Since 1930, women from different countries around the world have written the service. Their words educate others on life and worship within their country.
This year, the women of Slovenia wrote the service on the theme “Come — Everything is Ready,” sharing imagery of a plentiful banquet table with grapes, Slovenia’s best-known cake potica, and decorative heart made with honey from native bees — Slovenia was one of the first nations to understand the need to protect its bees as beekeeping is a major agricultural and tourism driver.
While the women give thanks for the natural beauty of forested mountains and the Adriatic Sea waterfront that bless the most northern and most wealthy of the former Yugoslavian states, they also give a nod to a more difficult time for Christians in their country. Following the Second World War, the communist government deemed religious convictions undesirable. Believers were imprisoned and persecuted until the country earned its independence in 1991. Women in that country did not celebrate World Day of Prayer for a first time until nine years later.
The service included six songs written in Slovenia and translated into English. There were also verses sharing the stories of members of the committee that authored the text —a worker forced to go abroad during by the communist regime who returned home, a young mother who wishes work-family balance was less restrictive for women, an elderly woman whose pension sustains her family, the daughter of an alcoholic, and a member of the persecuted Roman minority.
The Gospel message shared was the parable of the great banquet, from Luke, which speaks of a landowner offering a magnificent feast to those willing to attend.
Valerie Stenzl, a member of the Westdale Park congregation, led a service she organized alongside colleagues from St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, Trinity, Grace, and Selby United churches, and her own congregation. She enjoyed the experience.
“We’re all gathered for a common purpose. Despite maybe coming from different denominations and having different approaches, we all believe in the same God,” she said. “It’s really exciting when you bring like-minded people together to do that and everyone gives of their time.”
Stenzl said she was enthralled that her faith community was doing the same thing others were doing at that time, as close as Stone Mills and in far off continents.
“It’s exciting to think we’re just a little tiny piece in Napanee of what is happening internationally. The things we were talking about today are supporting women in a country that’s halfway around the world that have gone through completely different kinds of experiences as we have. They have experienced a history of a war-torn country with lots of problems and lots of depravation, yet they have this incredible faith they want to share.”
While appreciating the freedoms Canadians enjoy, Stenzl said it was interesting to hear the Slovenian women advocating for similar action as one might in this town.
“For people on the fringe — that’s something Napanee is talking about now — and marginalized communities, helping those people that don’t have much or are homeless. These are things people are talking about. It’s about acceptance of difference and supporting others in times of need.”
She said the Slovenian leaders could be like role models for Canadians going through difficult times. Marilyn Stafford, a participant in the service visiting Westdale Park, was also enthused about the enormity of the World Day of Prayer initiative.
“It’s nice to have so many people all over the world doing the same thing at the same time,” she said.
During the service, a free-will collection was taken for the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada, which organizes the day nationally. From those funds, the council hands out grants between $500 and $5,000 for projects that address violence against women, economic justice, health, education, racism, and peace.
Next year, the service will be written by women from Zimbabwe.