Laughter, Tea, and Goodness
Emily Derstine, Fall Intern 2008

In this season of giving thanks, I have much for which I am grateful. As I reflected on what I am thankful for, it occurred to me that I have experienced all of these things and more through my semester-long internship at WATER: laughter, good conversation, community and relationships, health, warm tea, delicious food, meaningful work. I have been blessed in countless ways by interning at WATER. I have had so many wonderful experiences and memorable moments, and know I will look back on this semester as formative, transformative, undeniably great.

A semester spent at WATER would be difficult to describe in the length of a short book, let alone in a corner of a newsletter. Thinking back over the last few months at WATER, numerous highlights stand out in my mind: the energizing, invigorating, life-giving work of the WATER office; leaving the women’s harvest ritual gathering feeling full of life, love, and gratitude, after a beautiful evening of sharing together as women, responding, and remembering those who have come before us; singing autumn carols in the office, with mugs of steaming mulled cider in hand; participating in yoga, with women whose ages span the generations, under the sure light of Sister Moon; sitting and talking, over tea, with women from the local Silver Spring neighborhood and from around the world; being empowered, supported, and encouraged each day in the work I do, respected for who I am, and treated as an equal and a valuable member of the WATER team; becoming impassioned and motivated anew by the strong sense of justice and confident sense of hope present at WATER.

I already know—and have known—that it will be hard to leave WATER. The relationships I have built and developed at and through WATER have been meaningful and life-giving; I will miss them greatly. But I also know that, with all of these memories and moments of insight and vivacity, of conversations over tea, the experience of this semester’s internship will live on and will continue to impact my life, for days and years to come. Through the opportunity and privilege of interning at WATER, I have been richly blessed. My time spent at WATER is an experience for which I will always be thankful.

Reflections on a WATER Summer
Megan Sullivan, Summer Intern 2008

I am fortunate enough to call myself a WATER Intern Summer 2008! I am a soon-to-be junior at Tufts University ( Boston, MA ) where I am majoring in Religion and minoring in Drama. I am at WATER for six weeks before my upcoming semester studying at the University of Ghana.

I was introduced to WATER through my major advisor, Professor Peggy Hutaff, who is a long-time friend and supporter of WATER. Knowing of my interest in feminist theologies and non-profits, she thought WATER would be a perfect fit. And girl, was she right!

It is hardly possible to describe the amount I am learning and absorbing here at WATER. It’s as if I’m getting a year’s worth of experience and knowledge in just one summer. My work with WATER has put me in contact with so many people in the religious and feminist communities and helped me forge relationships and make connections that will continue in years to come.

I jumped in with both feet when I arrived in June, helping to prepare for our Summer Forum, cosponsored with Feminist Studies in Religion, Inc. It was truly surreal to realize that I was eating lunch or discussing the weather with some of the most influential and intelligent feminist theologians in the field. Witnessing the discussions and conversations that took place during that week was so enriching and eye-opening. Here I am, in the early phases of learning about feminist theologies, and I am already dancing the “YMCA” with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza! Six months ago I never would have even thought it possible!

Days at the office are now filled with computer tutorials and troubleshooting as we update WATER’s technology base. I’m happy to lend whatever skills I may (or may not) possess in that department to help WATER continue to thrive and grow.

It has been an immense pleasure getting to know everyone in the WATER community during my time here. Even as I begin my adventure in Ghana , the WATER network is not far away. Mary and Diann have put me in contact with several supporters and theologians who are active in women’s work there, which will surely enrich my experience while studying. Working with WATER has not only given me a solid support system but may have finally given me a solid answer to the constant question, “What are you going to do with a degree in Religion?”

Sister Sabbaticals at WATER
by Marge O’Gorman, osf

I chose to come to WATER for an internship as a part of my post-leadership sabbatical to utilize their extensive feminist theology library, to reflect with Mary and Diann, and to be in touch with the women with whom they collaborate. Being at WATER is one piece of a sabbatical that for me is focused on exploring the stories and rituals of women as they bring their faith to the concerns of their everyday lives.

The experience at WATER was mind expanding and life changing. My daily tasks involved being a support staff to Diann and Mary, learning new computer programs, and aiding Diann to secure copyright permissions for her book, Return Blessings. In addition to that, I was able to sit in on planning meetings for two national conferences, visit other social justice agencies, attend a local forum, a book reading, a symposium, and engage in prayer and protest for women’s ordination. And besides all of this, I had the opportunity to play each day with Catherine Fei Min, Mary and Diann’s newly adopted daughter.

I met women from Peru , Brazil , the UK , and the Netherlands . I heard speakers from Bolivia , Japan , Kenya and Nigeria . I read womanist theology, Asian feminist theology, Celtic spirituality and Jewish women’s rituals.

The pedophilia scandal dominated the news during my January through April stay at WATER. The breaking of this news happened at the same time I was reading about feminist sexual ethics. The vision these women presented gave me hope for the future as I watched the moral authority of patriarchy collapse under pressure.

As a result of my time at WATER, I feel an urgency to work for the affirmation of women as responsible moral agents, the promotion of feminist moral values, and an end to the sexual oppression of women.

Being at WATER has given me the time and space to inform my mind and become recommitted to the cause for justice in an environment of collaboration and support. I am grateful for the opportunity to be church and to build church with Mary, Diann and all the women who make up this discipleship of equals. I know that as we continue our faith journeys, the benefits from this mutual exchange will unfold more fully in our lives.

From WATER to Wilderness
by Lora Nafziger

Northern Manitoba , where I am currently working with Mennonite Central Committee, is in many ways another world than the one I experienced during my WATER summer internship. However, the lessons I learned and the skills that I take from my internship at WATER are relevant.

I am told it was an unusual summer at WATER, quieter than most with Diann Neu away on study leave and Cindy Lapp working as a pastor. As far as I was concerned, all was normal in the WATER office. The flow of people through the door may have been slower, but the flow of things to be done in the WATER office did not dwindle. The water kept running.

Among other projects, WATER was involved in efforts to expose and eradicate sexual abuse of nuns. So I received my “Catholic education,” as Mary Hunt affectionately called it. Before stepping into the WATER office I had never met a nun, I did not know who or what the Holy See was, and I had never heard of Catholics for a Free Choice. I soon became acquainted with these, and the titles for various people in the Catholic hierarchy. I even spoke on behalf of Sisters Against Sexism (SAS) at a protest at the Vatican Embassy in New York City.

Because the summer was so “unusual,” I got to spend time alone in the office with Mary or Diann (while the other was gallivanting to some other part of the country). With each I had many opportunities for conversations over tea, lunch, and just in casual passing. Diann and I even did a feminist critique of the movie Shrek. In organizing Mary’s copious writings I had the chance to read her articles. We talked about her work and the changes in it over the years.

I discovered abundant resources, community within communities at WATER, people longing for connections, people making connections. I discovered again what a privileged life I have led to have the opportunity to spend my summer learning, exploring and doing a lot of reading.

Currently, I am living and working in a small town in northern Manitoba (population 500). Here some days it seems as if life is about survival more than it is about reflective action or politics. But working with aboriginal high school students, I realize that, like any marginalized group, people here face issues that are very political. They struggle to recover from a system of political oppression that denied them culture, language, and the ability to function as a community, and thus as individuals within a community.

Here in the relative wilderness, with a small rural library, I continue attempting to grasp the privilege, love and support that fills my life. I try to work here with the same passion and revolutionary excitement that is so apparent at WATER even during a relatively quiet summer.

Lora Nafziger is currently completing a two-year voluntary service term with Mennonite Central Committee in Cranberry Portage , Manitoba . She is a student support worker in the residence of a high school that serves over twenty-five remote northern communities.

Experiencing WATER
by Kate Holbrook

“It was a felt thing, that I was traveling toward myself …returning to people I’d never met…Water going back to itself. I was water falling into a lake and these women were the lake…” – Linda Hogan, Solar Storm

Coming to WATER this past summer was for me like rain falling into a lake. It was a time of traveling toward myself, moving toward a home for which every cell in my body had been waiting. I became part of many bodies of WATER, part of a lake, a community of strong, justice seeking, creative women who have a passion for people, the divine, life and change; part of rivers of activists across the country, around the world, who are calling their religious traditions and governments to accountability and change through compassion and love. I became part of the life-giving network that WATER has created over sixteen years, that has given me a stronger understanding of being both rooted and having wings to fly in the herstory of women and religion.

Some time has passed since my internship, and I still find it difficult to articulate how meaningful my experience was, how much I learned and will continue to grow because of my time at WATER. Some of my feelings cannot be expressed with words; perhaps someday I can convey them with movements or with paints. For me, being at WATER meant being in an affirming, loving, empowering community of wise women who journeyed with me, a college student passionate about women, religion, spirituality, social justice and art. The openness and inclusiveness of WATER embodied in both work and play allowed me to be who I am, in a safe space. Involvement in the day to day work, from liturgies to research to office work, reinforced for me the importance, uniqueness and need for WATER.

Kate Holbrook interned at WATER after her junior year at Bates College in Maine. /n

Realizing the Next Generation: WATER’s Impact
by Grace J. Duerksen

I feel very privileged to have kept company with such wonderful women as those I encountered during my all too short 9 month internship at WATER. I feel very privileged to be part of the next generation of women working toward justice and equality, realizing that much of my way has been paved by the strength, solidarity and action of women of previous generations.

In my view, WATER can be summed up in two words: solidarity and action. WATER is a place, both physical and abstract, where women can find community, a “safe place” if you will. A place where women can find their voices, speak, be heard and understood. A place where women can eat, drink, sing, dance and cry uninhibited and unrestrained. WATER is a place where women and men are taking action, working to merge this “safe place” with the larger world: to make our churches, synagogues, places of worship this safe place, to make our communities this safe place, to make our world this safe place. So come to the WATER in solidarity, come prepared to hear and be heard, to dance, to sing, to bridge the gap, to work toward justice, to work toward equality, to work toward integrity.
Grace Duerksen interned with WATER during the 1997-98 academic year.

Cooking with WATER
by Monique Miyake-Maier
Those familiar with the office know it is located over a cafeteria adjacent to a hair salon and a dog grooming parlor. (Mary dreams of one day expanding into the cafeteria which we will call “Bread and Water,” or, as Diann favors, “W-I-N-E: Women In Need of Everything”). Yet in this tiny office we connect with hungry women all over the world. The faces and lives I met at WATER continue to be a source of power: subversive nuns not at all apologetic for activities in making justice happen; women who not only think theology but do theology; women who are funny, angry, and lovely; women who dare to name themselves and their holy.

I have come to the conclusion that the wise woman who coined the term “she who laughs, lasts” must have been a feminist theologian. While butting heads against the often stubborn institution of the androcentric church, laughter is a welcome release at WATER.

I could spend years at WATER enveloped in the care, warmth and strength of Mary and Diann, Mother Scinto, and Cindy. But, like the visiting German and Dutch delegation in July, I came to WATER thirsty and left a little more connected and whole with a lot more things to think about. Having met WATER on my path makes it somewhat easier to face the Patriarchs.

Monique Miyake-Maier interned at WATER during the summer of 1996.