by Klara Tammany
Executive Director, Center for Wisdom’s Women
While hosting the Thistle Farm table at diocesan convention in October, I had a chance to talk with both clergy and lay people about the women’s center that is an outreach project of Trinity Church, Lewiston. One of several ministries that Trinity, a small congregation located in a neighborhood with a poverty rate of more than 40 percent, has spawned over the years, the Center for Wisdom’s Women is a week-day drop-in center that provides a safe and sacred space for the support and empowerment of women.
Sue is one of our long-time guests. She came to us as an angry woman who didn’t trust anyone.It is not surprising. She was the middle child of six sisters. When she was four, they were separated and put up for adoption. Hers was not a good home. By the time she was a teen, she was on her own. The sisters didn’t see each other again for 45 years.
Sue is now part of a core group of volunteers called Sophia’s Circle. Their jobs are to staff the front desk and help with tasks like housekeeping and cooking. When a gal who has visited the Center was sentenced to three years in the Windham prison, we asked the women of Sophia’s Circle if we might support her by writing and visiting. Sue was the first person who raised her hand.
“I think I can understand what she’s goin’ through” she said. “I know what it’s like to be alone. No matter what she did, she needs a friend.”
Sue is one of over 1,000 women who have come through our doors since 2008. Many are initially drawn to the center because we offer much-needed hygiene products, (donations gratefully accepted!) but the welcome they experience brings many women back for support, strength, and friendship. At the Center they build community and begin to help each other. Less alone and less afraid, everyone grows and changes and relationships are restored. It is an organic way of healing that tends to the inner spirit of women, something often missing in more clinical settings.
Since the Center’s first days, not a week has gone by when we don’t wish we could serve our guests better by providing housing. That wish seems poised to come to fruition in the next few years. We have a plan to start a residential project to serve both older women on fixed incomes and women who are healing from a life of prostitution, addiction, prison, and abuse. Modest apartments will be available to elders who desire to live independently, yet in community and with a purpose. The recovery part will be based on the model of Thistle Farms.
A feasibility study by the Genesis Community Loan Fund has determined our plan is very possible and that rental income would cover the cost of running the house. However, in order to confidently proceed with the Sophia’s House project, we must first fully fund the work of the women’s center.
Over the fall I gave some thought to how we might better reach out to the wider faith community in Maine, especially our Episcopal brothers and sisters across the Diocese. While we have eight partners from the Methodist, Presbyterian, Unitarian, and Lutheran traditions, our only Episcopal connections are with St. Michael’s across the river and the Episcopal Church Women groups in Rangeley and Hallowell.
On deeper thought over the holidays, larger questions emerged…
How might we better support each other in innovative, mission-oriented work in our diocese?
Are there ways we could share our ministries and collaborate to further the work we all do to meet needs of those living on the margins?
Yes, there are grants available in the diocese, but they are limited and competitive. And yes, in emergencies like floods or fires or broken septic systems, we all jump in to help. But there must be more direct ways – as individual Episcopalians and as congregations – we can regularly engage in the outreach we all do with the least among us right here in Maine.
As small as Trinity Church is, we have found powerful ways to faithfully meet large needs with much creativity and boldness, despite limited financial resources. We are happy to share our successful model with other congregations that dream of doing vital ministry in their local communities. But we could also use some support from Maine Episcopalians to keep doing what we are doing.
Here is a proposal: Let’s talk about how we might promote, support and share the baptismal ministries we have all been called to in our neighborhoods. We could learn from, inspire and encourage each other, pray for specific needs we have, make a list of contacts, share wish lists and resources etc. I bet it would help us be more effective and also lighten the burdens.
Meanwhile… As we expand to offer housing with Sophia’s House, our regular program of meeting the needs of vulnerable women requires all the help we can get.
Sue came to us and grew and changed. She is now tending to the woman now in prison. That woman may be our first resident at Sophia’s House. It goes full circle.
If you are interested in knowing more about our work, I would love to hear from you. I would be happy to visit your congregation and share our story. If you are in or near Lewiston, please come visit and see what we are up to. And if you are able to offer support, please do. Thanks so much.
Email Klara at firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch a new video about the Center for Wisdom’s Women and the difference it makes in women’s lives.
Download a brochure with ways to help