First Territorial Conference for Women Leaders Held in Orlando
By: Laura Poff
Four hundred women gathered in Orlando for the first territorial conference for young women leaders, held September 23-25.
The weekend was packed with bible studies, general sessions, program launches, networking events, creativity and community. With special guest speakers Colonel Janet Munn and Lt. Olivia Munn-Shirsath, Commissioner Debi Bell and musical guest Lara Landon, the conference featured intergenerational speakers, teachers, leaders, musicians, artists and delegates, united to affirm the right and need for women leaders in the church and to grow in that capacity together.
The weekend opened with a video call to action that both identified the significance of the event and set the tone for it, saying “we have become caricatures of our gender and once in a while, we wonder what it would be like if there was a place for us in the church.”
What followed was a series of united sessions, each incorporating creative arts, music, speaking, teaching, prayer, dancing and shouting as female officers, soldiers, cadets and employees gathered all together and planned and executed a united conference for the very first time.
The opening session, led by Commissioner Bell, reminded the delegates to humble themselves before God even as they assert themselves as leaders, saying “before we rise, we must bow.”
Lt. Heather Dolby led morning bible studies, speaking first on the book of Esther and then on the issue of whether women should be allowed to speak in the church. She affirmed the importance of this gathering and of authentic community among salvationist women.
“I believe that one of the things that God is going to do here is solidify the importance of relationships with other women,” she said. “We may not be close geographically but we are close spiritually.”
She spoke to an intergenerational crowd about the importance of honoring the women who came before, who were not affirmed as leaders, but whose sacrifices, service and leadership paved the way for this conference.
“It is easy for us as young women to judge the women who came before,” she said. “But there would be no We Will if it weren’t for them. And where was their women’s leadership conference?”
The intergenerational theme was echoed throughout the week as each session was led by women of different ages, seen most clearly in the co-teaching of Colonel Janet Munn and her daughter Lt. Olivia Munn-Shirsath.
The Eastern Territory duo, training principal and corps officer of the Times Square corps respectively, was introduced to the southern delegation in the Saturday morning session when they spoke on the importance of women using their voices.
“I came very close to being silenced,” Munn-Shirsath said. “I came very close to losing my voice. I started the believe that, as a woman, I was weaker and my place was in the home. Ask the questions, figure out the answers, because you do have a voice and God doesn’t want you to be silent.”
As Lt. Colonel Munn took the pulpit to continue the teaching, she affirmed her daughter’s words saying, “few things are more important to me than daughters finding their voices. There are some in this room who have been silenced. Declare now – I will speak; I will not be silent.”
The two continued to lead three more sessions throughout the packed weekend, speaking about the need for perseverance through injustice, and the walls, of hatred, misogyny, violence and discrimination, that women must tear down together.
“Our battle is not against men; it is against the enemy,” Lt. Dolby said. “He wants to minimize us, to steal our power and our words.”
In her final word to the women leaders of the southern territory, Colonel Munn spoke over the generation to come.
“I’ve been prophesying over the daughters for many years,” Colonel Munn said. “I’ve been praying for our sons and daughters but maybe more intensely for the daughters. That you will bear more fruit than the generation that came before you.”
The 400 delegates responded by anointing each other with oil at altars around the room. In tears, in prayer, in shouting and bowing, they gathered in groups to affirm each other as leaders and to encourage each one to go home and lead.