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Establishing a new Chapter of Antiochian Women?

Who are we?  All women of the Antiochian Archdiocese are considered Antiochian Women. More technically, any group that a parish council recognizes as being for women under our constitution is given the full name: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Women of North America (AOCWNA, commonly pronounced: “A” “O” “Nuh”.) The most widely used name within our organization is simply “Antiochian Women.”  At the national level, we are governed by The North American Board (NAB) of the Antiochian Women, which is directly under the covering and direction of the Antiochian Archdiocese.  The NAB functions to provide consistency of information, programs, etc. throughout the whole archdiocese by mailing out information to the seven regional boards.  The regional boards seek to help individual parishes establish women's groups at the local level and pass along mailings of materials from the NAB and participate in the annual group “Project”.  We are in the Eastern Region, which consists of 37 parishes or missions in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and parts of Connecticut and New York.

When to meet? This is strictly a decision of the group and experimentation may be best to see what is the most popular time and place, as well as frequency of meeting.  On paper almost anytime to have a meeting seems to work.  In the real world, meetings are perceived by many, as being about as enjoyable as a root canal—and excuses to avoid meetings can quickly grow. This is greatly to be considered when first establishing patterns for “meetings”.   Some groups have meetings right after Liturgy when ladies are already there, to avoid having to make a trip “all the way back to church” especially if you draw from long distances.  Some ladies prefer to meet during a weekday, to avoid night driving, but this will greatly limit the available women—and cut out all ladies with day jobs.  Some groups choose a certain Saturday of the month and meet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Having a place for young child care can be a great way to involve young mothers who really could use a break for adult fellowship and active participation in something other than child care. Meeting Reminders: about 1-2 days before meeting appoint, assign or get a volunteer(s) to phone or e-mail everyone to remind about the meeting. If you e-mail, just request they reply with a “yes” or “no” so you can have a count for planning.  This makes all the difference in helping overcome our busy lifestyles and the forgetful problem.  Often just the personal voice inquiring about the meeting will bring someone to a meeting that might not have come without the “personal invitation” or reminder.

What to do at a meeting? Once ladies “try out” the typical meeting, you have only a few if any other chances to win their loyalty.  Some groups always have food, others avoid it due to expense, or trouble, but food does tend to bring unspoken interest.  Some groups ensure attendance by making sure some part of the meeting contains something interesting to hear, see, do, or make, that is not “typical Roberts Rules of Order” fare.  Brainstorming ideas for meetings is good, but someone must come to the planning meeting with a prepared list of ideas to get the discussion flowing.  There is nothing more difficult than starting with no ideas and just staring at each other trying to think creatively at the meeting.  Some groups have an annual planning meeting at the beginning of their year. For a month or more before, they take suggestions in a box or via phone, e-mail etc. and get people thinking about the whole year…even exhibits, workshops, women’s health speakers, etc. that might be coming to your area that would be of interest of Orthodox Women.  If you plan in a wide variety of ideas, you are more likely to hit on at least one thing that every woman will want to participate in at one time or other.  See the separate lists of ideas for good planning discussion starters.  If you plan the whole year ahead, accepting that changes will occur, you will avoid dull meetings and only a few people doing all the work at the last minute each month trying to think of what to do.   Of course you will also be receiving information that is meant to be passed along to individual members as well—see coordinators.

Why are we having a group? You can find the organizational goals elsewhere, but on the practical side; the chapters seem to be as varied as the needs of the women in them.  Most have a "constitution" that helps in dealing with the legalities of fund raising, election & function of officers, etc., but day to day functioning is pretty much left up to each group to decide what is best for them.  Many of the women's groups in the past perceived that their main function was fund raising.  Indeed, some groups desire that role, while others have it thrust upon them with some resentment.  Still others function solely as a humanitarian, fellowship, or inspirational arm of the local parish and rarely or never do any fund raising.   Some groups create a small survey which they give to all the women in the parish to see what kind of a group they would like to participate in and what they would enjoy doing that year.  This can include: an interest survey (even ideas as choices to see what they prefer if they had to choose), time preference, and even a skills survey etc.) i.e. Would you like to learn to arrange flowers for church or weddings, would you like to cook for Post Liturgy meal/coffee hour, only bake for special events, can’t cook…. Would you like to be on a team to clean the sanctuary, or polish brass, or weed and plant the gardens, sew for the church, etc .  Would you like to take tours with the group, go to monasteries, volunteer at soup kitchens, crisis pregnancy centers. The list of ideas is endless.

Structure: The following table will help you see our structure and also what kinds of mailings to expect from NAB and your Eastern Region Board of Antiochian Women.  There is no specific schedule and mailings from Coordinators can be infrequent.     

 Antiochian Archdiocese North American Board (NAB) of AW: Pres, VP,  Secy, Treas.  (elected at Arch. Convention- 2 yr terms); NAB Coordinators: (appointed); Humanitarian, Religious, Project, Membership/Public Relations

Eastern Region (1 of 7 regions): Pres., VP., Secy, Treas. (elected at Parish Life Conf. For 2 yr terms); 6 Eastern Region Coordinators (appointed/volunteers); Humanitarian, Religious, Project, Membership/Public Relations, Eeman Newsletter, Website

Parish Level Chapter:  Officers (as need or group constitution determines); Individual members

Humanitarian- ideas to promote acts of Christian love and charity in your community; Religious- devotional material to use at meetings, reprint in bulletins, or use as discussion topics; Project- Each parish is asked to participate in the annual “Project” challenged to us by Met. Philip.  Watch the “Project” mailings to see long list of past projects from outfitting the Antiochian Village to helping fund health and education facilities here and around the world; Membership/Public Relations- ideas for keeping your members and others aware of activities; Regular Newsletter- 1 page bulletin size newsletter of inspirational items, & upcoming events; Website; Dues: Each region establishes the amount of dues to be charged per parish.  The Eastern Region is one of the lowest at $150./year/parish. (Missions are not required to pay dues)  Some parish chapters assess individual members to come up to the $150.  Other parishes just budget the $150. under the general annual budget.  Other groups have a fund-raiser to raise the dues money.  The dues money is divided between the NAB (an assigned amount) + the balance goes to the functioning of the regional board and sponsored activities, i.e. annual fund for seminarians, donations to other special causes etc.

Having a Patron Saint and Spiritual Advisor for your group. Your Priest is the spiritual advisor for your group, and should normally be present at your meetings.  But you may also want to choose a patron saint that can be the special intercessor for your group.  She (or he) will help guide you in a very special way and lead you to closeness and away from petty separations and give your group a special spiritual identity.  Pray as a group, talk with your priest, and read the story of some saints to see which Saint is perfect for your group. Some groups report, that after prayer, it became obvious to all who was the one for the group….the saint may well “choose” you, so be ready

Ideas: The following are general ideas done by groups in the Eastern Region. (See also Humanitarian Ideas)

  1. 1. create an herb garden: grow biblical & liturgical herbs, i.e. Basil for Feast of Holy Cross on Sept 14
  2. sew costumes for the Sunday school plays
  3. Tours of mutual Orthodox interest such as Icon exhibits at various museums, i.e.
  4. Dumbarton Oaks Byzantium Exhibit—DC
  5. Merriweather-Post, Hillwood Mansion & Gardens-icons- DC
  6. Education Day- St. Vladimir’s seminary, NY
  7. Visit Tabernacle display by Mennonites in PA
  8. Ethiopian Icon Exhibit- Smithsonian,  Ethiopian Lunch
  9. Monastery retreats
  10. Class on weaving pashca baskets
  11. Class on making prayer ropes
  12. class on floral arranging
  13. meeting on funerals, burials, help establish a guild.
  14. invite speakers: missionaries, authors, priests w/ special ministries-college students, prisons, etc.
  15. reception/retreat inviting pan-orthodox women’s groups i.e. A patronal feast of the women’s group—
  16. meeting on child rearing
  17. Lenten Food tasting and Recipe Exchange to get ideas—especially if not used to doing Lenten cooking or just tired of your old recipe ideas.  May make up mini cookbook of the ideas.
  18. meeting w/ speaker on Lenten nutrition
  19. annual, “Beautiful Egg Breakfast” to make Ukrainian Style Eggs- open to public…outreach
  20. annually, plan, plant & tend the flower beds
  21. take home and “plant-sit” potted palms used on palm Sunday
  22. annual “Breakfast in the Garden”, fancy food, lace table cloths, stemware, etc. eaten in Flower gardens we tend.
  23. various wedding and baby showers, birthday parties for elderly, etc.
  24. host or pilgrimage to annual Lenten retreats and advent retreats
  25. hosting and baking ethnic cookies for booth at local fare to benefit local food pantry
  26. “Lunchless Luncheon” mailed out “invitations” for Lenten Almsgiving or Nativity Almsgiving for Orthodox orphanages throughout the world.
  27.  tutoring offered
  28. letters to college students
  29. themed luncheons where sponsor of table decorates and sells tickets to their table. They have elaborate and unusual themes on each table, even golfing!! With time women vie for the opportunity to host tables!
  30.  plant sale
  31. jewelry fashion show and sale
  32. Traditional bazaars, both for fund-raising and just to introduce your parish to community
  33. Retreat on dealing with stress Orthodox Women in Healing Ministries
  34. Group discussion based on material from Religious Coordinator or parish generated