Written by Associate Professor of Theology and Bible at Nyack College, Dr. Amy Davis-Abdallah
When Wanda Velez, Wanda Walborn, and I met in the fall of 2010 to plan a rite of passage for spring, 2011, I didn’t even dream that Woman would grow to be a year-long process, produce two journal articles and The Book of Womanhood (soon to be published by Cascade Books), and form a strong community of 20 mentors, 58 alumnae, and 26 current participants.
We started small! Women that I know and respect from varied backgrounds (ethnicity, age, marital status, etc.) gathered in my attic apartment to brainstorm what a Christian woman is, and those words created our intake survey. Ten participants completed the online survey, participated in a personal interview, and chose a mentor.
And the spring semester began with our first initiation ceremony! I was very nervous because I was sharing ideas and a process extremely close to my heart, only hoping that it would be life-changing for the participants.
We only met twice between the initiation and the final crossing over ceremony. But when I saw the women in their evening attire and heard them explain their projects that defined womanhood, I was floored by their transformation. I wrote “Development and Efficacy of a Rite of Passage for Women” and it was published in Religious Education in October 2012.
And so it began. The next year, the process grew from ten participants to eighteen and from four meetings total to six. They still read Lisa Mcminn’s Growing Strong Daughters, but in addition to developing their relationship with self (body image, voice, and confidence), we also discussed relationship with God and with others. We studied the actions and character of biblical women, interviewed women we respect about womanhood, and made goals for moving toward interdependent relationships. That year, I wrote another article, “A Rite of Passage: Helping Daughters Reach Their Godly Potential,” published in Priscilla Papers winter, 2013.
The third year of Woman was much like the first two, with one more meeting added as well as several activities that developed each woman’s relationship to creation. The fourth year (2013-2014), however, was pivotal for several reasons. Previously, the participants had included undergraduates and graduates, but this year, the lone graduate student asked for special permission to participate. And throughout the year, the women received chapters of the Book of Womanhood as I wrote it in the four sections that comprise our identity: relationship with God, with self, with others, and with creation.
When we initiated the fifth class of Woman in October of 2014, I looked out into a sea of eager faces—with 26 participants, it is our biggest class yet! As part of the initiation, the leaders, now Wanda Velez, Christina Wolfe (an alumna), and myself, always tell the story of when we “owned” the name, “woman.” This year, we invited the mentors that are Woman alumnae to tell their story, too, and their testimonies of transformation because of Woman were fulfilling for me and exciting for all witnesses. They told the new participants that being a woman is a journey that is never completed, and that Woman would grow their voice and confidence. One even stated that she wouldn’t have the career she now enjoys if it weren’t for Woman. We look forward to more testimonies of transformation this year as we continue to meet!