Clergy Wives Weekend a Success!
Beautiful fall weather greeted approximately 70 wives of clergy from many jurisdictions on the weekend of November 5-7 at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania for what was hopefully the 1st Annual Clergy Wives Weekend. Wives of priests, deacons and seminarians from 17 states and one Canadian province gathered to hear speakers and to share prayer and fellowship at a weekend event arranged in memory of Kh. Joanne Abdalah, who during her lifetime was an inspirational counselor and friend to many clergy, clergy wives, and countless other people. The idea for the Weekend grew from the desire of Kh. Joanne’s son Joe wanting to find a way to honor his mother’s memory, and a similar idea from clergy wives who knew and loved her, too. It proved a most fitting and successful tribute!
Friday night was a relaxed time to be together in the Lodge building at the Village camp, with dinner, snacks, and a log fire. On Saturday morning everyone gathered in the camp church for a Divine Liturgy on the feast of St. Raphael of Brooklyn, whose shrine could be seen out the church window.
Mother Christophora, abbess of the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, was the weekend’s first speaker. She recalled her friendship with Kh. Joanne, and with wit and compassion acknowledged her listeners’ special calling, urging them to serve others but also to make time to be alone with God in prayer. Mother Christophora also reminded us to realize our limitations, something Kh. Joanne taught her, as well as listening with a compassionate ear without expecting to be able to fix things for others.
Matushka Juliana Schmemann addressed the group on Saturday afternoon, sharing wisdom from her many years of being a clergy wife and working mother. She advised the wives always to be thankful for good things, and quoted her husband, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, who said, “Anyone who is capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation.” Such an attitude allows us to accept the unfairness of life, and gives us the ability to “turn the page” on those unfair and unfortunate events and encounters in parish life and life in general.
Fr. John Abdalah also participated in Saturday’s program. In his session, he asked each wife to create a “metaphor” about herself and her ministry. What the women realized is that we are unique. There is no cookie cutter for a clergy wife, and being and becoming who we uniquely created to be is a very good thing. No one’s expectations for a clergy wife should be imposed. The fun of this exercise also helped the women know each other more personally. He noted that jurisdictional differences seemed to “disappear” over the weekend, allowing everyone just to be Orthodox together. The feeling of oneness, of friendship, and of a shared ministry indeed pervaded the weekend, which culminated in the Sunday morning Divine Liturgy in the Conference Center chapel.
The Village staff, headed by Paul Finley, did a great job of making everyone comfortable and welcome, which was no small task because the number of attendees far exceeded the original estimates.
The Coordinating Committee for the event included Khouriyas Laila Ellias, Melanie Bell, Janet Shadid and Stephanie Yazge (Antiochian Archdiocese); Mira Filipovic (Serbian Orthodox Church); Valerie Zahirsky (OCA); and Becky Touloumes (Greek Metropolis/Pittsburgh).
Plans are already underway for a gathering next fall!