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LWMLC celebrates 20 years: An interview with its first President

August 23, 2013 No Comment

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2013 marks the 20th Anniversary of Lutheran Women’s Missionary League–Canada (LWMLC). To mark the event, The Canadian Lutheran (CL) contacted LWMLC’s first president, Eloise Schaan (ES), to talk about the history of the mission organization and its bright future. Schaan served as president from 1993-1997.

Eloise-Schaan

Eloise Schaan in 1993.

ES: It goes back to the 1940s. There were several societies in Alberta that joined Lutheran Women’s Missionary League in the forties. If memory serves me correctly, the first Canadian LWML society was formed in Bruderheim, Alberta [Bethlehem Lutheran Church]. [Editor’s note: Sixteen more societies formed in various parts of Canada the following year. At the end of five years there were 50 societies.]

CL: Why was the LWML founded?

There were women in the United States who lived near the seminaries, and the group that became LWML started out as a way to assist seminary students. Most of the students weren’t living at their homes (so, for example, they didn’t have laundry facilities, among other challenges), and the women of LWML provided assistance for these students away from home.

Then, very early on, the “mite offering” came into being. This was to be used only for missions. The “mites” that were gathered helped to finance some of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s missions. That’s how it came to be called the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League.

CL: You were LWMLC’s first president. What were the early years like?

ES: It was very daunting, actually. In some ways it was a little bit frightening. We had never done anything like this before; we had really relied on the women in the United States, because we were small. There were five districts, but there weren’t a lot of Canadians who had served in elected or appointed positions before forming our own Canadian agency.

One of the most challenging things was to take what we knew—an International LWML convention could have ten to twelve thousand in attendance—to take something of that magnitude and bring it to Canada, where we had hundreds of women, not thousands, to work with.

There was quite a lot of paring down; it was just too grand for us. We needed something simpler in structure. We had to mould it to something that would fit Canada.

When it came time to form LWML-Canada, we also had to bridge the East/West divide. There wasn’t really a great comfort level yet when it came to East and West working together (and I think the church at large experienced this as well). Each was a little bit wary of the other. One of the things we considered important in the first years of LWMLC was helping the East and the West work well together. And I think we managed to do just that.

CL: What is the purpose of LWMLC?

ES: As an official auxiliary of the church, LWMLC works with Lutheran Church–Canada in its mission outreach. That’s what the mites [offerings] do. Several small LWMLC groups have gone to the mission field as well, to do things with women there.

It also very much encourages women to be in the Word. Our vision statement is: “Members of LWMLC are actively encouraging women in the study of God’s Word, so they are passionate in sharing the Gospel through Word and deed.”

LWMLC exists to encourage women to be faithful and steadfast in their walk with Christ, and to share the gifts God has given us with the world. God didn’t put us here to keep everything for ourselves.

LWMLC exists to encourage women to be faithful and steadfast in their walk with Christ, and to share the gifts God has given us with the world.

CL: What LWMLC accomplishments are you most proud of from your time in office?

ES: I think it’s giving women the opportunity to use their gifts and abilities for Christ where they were. It helped them to realize that we don’t have to rely on somebody else to do everything and plan everything for us. The abilities were already here in Canada. The enthusiasm was here. The willingness to work together to make this work in Canada was here. And that was amazing. It still is.

Those early years when we were just getting started, we wanted something that was solid. We didn’t want to end up three or four years down the road saying, “Well, this just isn’t going to work.” There was a determination to make it work.

You put what you do in the hands of God, and we knew that if this was going to work, it was God who would make it happen. But we weren’t going to walk away early saying, “No, I don’t think we should do this.”

CL: As we celebrate the past, we also look forward to the future. What are you hopes for LWMLC in the years to come?

ES: I don’t think this is so unique to LWMLC—it’s being felt throughout the church—but there really is a growing tendency among people to not get involved with groups like LWMLC. They say, “Well, I don’t have time for this. It doesn’t really matter, and my life is very busy.”

Some women are looking to be involved with the church, but “over there” in new ways; they would never think of LWMLC. But if these women really looked at LWMLC, they would see themselves. An LWML-er is a woman in the church who uses the gifts God has given her in service to Him and to the people of the world.

An LWML-er is a woman in the church who uses the gifts God has given her in service to Him and to the people of the world.

It’s true that time is at a premium today. People with young families are living in a different society than when my children were young. The whole world has changed and you have to keep step with it. Attracting younger women is a challenge. But we have to keep working at it and not give up.

One encouraging thing happening recently in the Laurentian District has been the inclusion of younger women in leadership. On two of our three working committees that work with the vice-presidents, we have somebody under the age of 22. They’re excited about being there. The rest of us are absolutely thrilled, because they’ll bring something to it that we [older women] can’t.

CL: Any final words?

ES: God continues to place opportunities before us—sometimes very unique and very wonderful opportunities—and we should take advantage of them. The church recognizes the abilities of laypeople and gives them the opportunity to use their gifts in service to the Church. LWMLC helped me to realize what gifts I have, and has given me great opportunities to use these gifts. And if God can do that with me, He can do it with anybody.

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