Learning How to Rock with Black Mennonite Women

We—Shine Project Director Rose Stutzman, Shine Curriculum Editor Chrissie Walls, and Shine Managing Editor Rachel Nussbaum Eby—had the privilege of attending Central District Conference’s annual women’s conference entitled “Black Mennonite Women Rock!” Women across Mennonite Church USA were invited to come to Camp Friedenswald, September 12–14.

RetreatImage We wanted to go because it was an opportunity to learn from black women and celebrate our common humanity. The gift of this particular retreat was that it was planned and led by black women.

We danced together Friday evening.

Dancing(Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page. Chrissie is second from the left.)

Dancing2 (Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page. Rose is third from the left.)

We worked on a block for the identity quilt.


(Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page.)


We worshiped together, with singing led by Dr. Crystal Y. Sellers Battle, assistant professor of music at Bluffton (Ohio) University. (Photo by Rachel Nussbaum Eby.)

We listened to some incredible speakers:


Hyacinth Stevens, keynote speaker and co-pastor of King of Glory Tabernacle in the Bronx, New York (Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page.)


Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, graphic designer and website specialist at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page.)


Sarah Thompson, executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams (Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page.)

CyneathaMillsapsCyneatha Millsaps, pastor at Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois (Photo from Camp Friedenswald Facebook page.)

We came to find out what we weren’t aware of before.

Someone asked me (Rose) “Did you hear anything new? Learn anything new?” My answer was that knowing something on an intellectual level is very different from letting the stories and experiences of black women wash over you.  I have been committed to anti-racism, but this weekend—filled with fun, worship, and stories—took that intellectual assent to a new level. The stories, voices, and gifts of these particular, beautiful women will stay in my heart.

ThemeQuiltQuilt made by Hively Avenue Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana, and Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois, showing the history of African-Americans in the U.S. (Photo by Chrissie Walls.)

This retreat will impact our work as a Shine curriculum team. It deepened our commitment to sensitivity across color lines. When we write, we want to do so with care and humility knowing that each person’s life and story is a sacred trust. When we choose art and photos, we will be even more diligent in making a curriculum where all children can see themselves.

Images and language form children at a very young age. In Dark Girls, the documentary we watched during the retreat, we noticed just how early this can happen and were impressed with the importance of careful communication. We hope that Shine can be sensitive to the nuances of images and language. We want children of the next generation to know that all people are beloved children of God.

I (Rachel) knew that the color black often has negative connotations. The weekend made me even more aware of the pervasiveness of this idea, and together, Shine staff discussed ways to be more aware. We will handle the metaphor of light and darkness with even greater care. Dusk and evening can be a cool and comforting time. And darkness can be like a blanket, covering us and giving us rest.

I (Chrissie) witnessed openness to the movement of the Spirit. Women who came prepared to lead songs and share a particular message were able to remain open to God’s spirit moving in that particular time and situation. In curriculum we write a plan for Sunday school. We ask for God’s guidance when doing that. But we want people using the curriculum to be open to the Spirit as they use the curriculum in a particular time and space.

How have you been open to the Spirit when teaching Sunday school?

Rose, Rachel, and Chrissie
Shine curriculum staff