An impressive team of women of faith are responsible for a new multi-generational celebration of spirituality, leadership and individual purpose at Christ Presbyterian Church (CPC) in Edina. “We’re not talking about your typical church basement potluck,” says Debbie Ducar, leadership team member. “From the start we imagined it as an evening out—tablecloths, refreshments, entertainment.” An evening, continues team member Brooke Toftoy, of “inspiring women to be courageous in becoming who God created them to be in every season of their lives.”
It’s called the “Women Who Inspire” speaker series and it’s the brainchild of several leadership team members. “We were very purposeful in selecting the Women Who Inspire leadership team,” says Meg Boehne. “We wanted both our leadership team and our audiences to represent every decade of a woman’s adult life.” Carrie Gleeson adds, “We were looking for a way to be more inclusive in our congregation, particularly of young, single professional women.” And Claire Wyatt says they’ve found that: “Our speakers bring in 20-somethings to 70-year-olds.”
Leadership team member Diedre Van Nest was the series’ first keynote speaker. In early 2014, she and former team member Meghan Tamte kicked off the speaker series with “Fire Your Fear.” Tamte was interviewed about her experience starting the clothing store Evereve (formerly Hot Mama). Van Nest, an expert on fear’s destructive role in decision-making, spoke about banning fear’s influence on the choices women make. Ducar recalls that many returning participants commented on Van Nest’s speech and its positive impact on their lives.
The team was divided on estimates for that first event’s draw. Ducar thought they might attract 100 women. Van Nest was hoping for 150. “More than 300 women came,” says Toftoy. “It was so successful, we followed it up six months later with a more casual, outdoor gathering where women could ask individual questions. It all grew organically,” she says.
As the multi-generational leadership team had hoped, participants were women of all ages, from the CPC congregation, from other faith traditions and still others with no particular faith affiliation. “All women are welcome,” emphasizes Ducar.
Other past speakers have included Sarah Bessey (author of Jesus Feminist) who spoke, says Toftoy, “on women leaders leaning in to their calling, purpose and value.” Also speaking that night was CPC congregation member Lee Wolfe Blum, author of Table in the Darkness and an eating disorders counselor. “She shared her faith journey and how it [helped] her to do what she’s done with her life,” says Gleeson. Pairing a nationally or internationally known personality with a local one is done as often as possible.
Vicki Escarra, the highest-level woman executive for Delta Airlines and the current CEO of Opportunity International, spoke at a Women Who Inspire event in 2015. September 11, 2001, was Ms. Escarra’s second day in office at Delta and she spoke, appropriately, on “how to transform our mindsets,” says Toftoy.
The next Women Who Inspire event is planned for November 13 at CPC. Local musicians will perform and Rhonda Britten, an international expert on fear, will lead “Fearless Conversations: Talk to Anyone, About Anything, Anywhere.” Britten is a best-selling author and was formerly a life coach on the TV series Starting Over.
Reflecting on developing the Women Who Inspire speaker series, Wyatt is amazed at “how well we all work together, how we let each member’s strength rise to the surface.”
“Women will find a spirit of unity here,” Gleeson says, “a spirit often otherwise missing in our culture. People are just cheering for you.” Ducar may summarize it best with a biblical reference from Ephesians 3:20, “…to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus…” “This is how many of us feel,” she says, “when we see the variety of life stages of the women who attend our ‘Women Who Inspire’ events.”
Women Who Inspire admission is $15 at the door. Register at cpconline.org. And check out the CPC “Women Who Inspire” Facebook page.