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Women invited to share their wisdom, worries


The terminology might sound a little trendy -- words like "empower" and "network" -- but what organizers of a day-long women's conference tomorrow at Westminster High School are planning is an old-fashioned talk fest.

"Women have a storehouse of solutions to problems, and it's time to start talking," said Jackie Collins, pastor of Union Street United Methodist Church.

The Westminster church is sponsoring "Empowered," an interfaith conference, which has been in the planning for a year. It is expected to draw about 500 women, said chairwoman Barbara J. Thompson.

"There is such a need for women to come together," said Ms. Thompson. "As females, we share common issues that cross racial, denominational and economic lines. The more we planned, the more we realized how much women need to share outside their own circles."

Ms. Collins, one of 10 ministers of different faiths who will attend the conference, stressed that the women will "share commonality, not differences."

A 100-voice women's choir will set the tone for the activities, which begin at 9 a.m. at the high school. Choir director Shelly Ensor met many of the women at the first and only rehearsal Wednesday.

Conference participants can select two of 15 workshops on various topics.

"Some workshops will be led by experts in a particular field or by a woman whose life experience has taught her to deal with a certain issue," said Ms. Thompson, who will lead the workshop on blended families.

"We want to raise women spiritually and help them deal with everyday life issues."

With hundreds of women sharing the same concerns, she said, "Let's draw on each other's wisdom and experience."

She expects the workshops will give some the first opportunity to talk about such subjects as domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse and co-dependency.

Discussion participants will only know each other by first names.

"Last names are not important," said Ms. Thompson. "What is important is discussion on sensitive issues."

Those unwilling or unable to talk may find solace in the prayer room, staffed by pastors. "We want to cover many bases of help for women," said Ms. Collins. "Some will not be able to share in a large group. Maybe prayer with a pastor can help."

About 25 vendors will also be on hand, said Ms. Thompson, who has encouraged several women to sell handwork and crafts.

"Too many women are too humble when it comes to their work," she said. "This will give them an opportunity to sell and realize their talent."

The pastors will end the day with a service of renewal and dedication.

"Success of the day will be measured in how uplifted women come away from this," said Ms. Thompson. "We hope women find ways to cope with daily problems."

"We also hope we get a mandate to do this again next year," said Ms. Collins.

The $20 admission includes a catered luncheon. Tickets can be bought at the conference at the school at 1225 Washington Road. Information: 876-4484 or 848-1450.

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