Last week marked the end of an era. What began November 7, 1955 came to a close December 2, 2019. For 64 years, the Esther Circle has been part of the Women’s Ministry at ARC. According to church records, the Esther Circle began with almost 100% participation from the women of the church. That number has dwindled to less than 4% in recent years and now stands at zero. For a variety of reasons, the current members are unable to continue.
I became a part of the Esther Circle 23 years ago. I was not contemplating joining a Circle. I certainly wasn’t looking to connect with a group of ladies who were all old enough to be my mother or grandmother. I definitely didn’t have extra time on my hands. I was a busy young mother with a one year old, a four year old, and a half dozen other children running around my ankles at my in-home daycare. Maybe I was just desperate for adult conversation, but one of the women in the group stopped me on a Sunday morning and extended an invitation. As we talked, it turned out to be a mistaken invitation. She thought I was someone that I was not, but continued her invitation regardless. I accepted.
The following night, I received a warm welcome as I gathered around the table with the Esther Circle. I don’t remember what portion of the Bible we studied that first night. I don’t even remember who was all present. But I remember thinking to myself that these women were survivors. They had made it; made it through mountains of diapers (that weren’t even of the disposable variety), made it through years of cooking in quantities that I can’t even imagine, made it through laundry that was done without modern conveniences, made it through struggles and heartaches and woes that my generation has only read about. They had experienced a multitude of battles and stood firm. And maybe, just maybe, if I stuck close to them and paid attention, I could glean from their wisdom and I might be able to stand firm and survive as well.
The meeting was filled with conversation, reading scripture, discussion questions, sharing of celebrations and concerns, and I could sense a genuine love around the table. At the close of the evening, the ladies bowed their heads in a circle of prayer, calling out to God for the needs of one another and their church family. And I knew that it wasn’t the elderly lady who had invited me, it was my Father in heaven who knew exactly where I needed to be at that time in my life.
During the Esther Circle’s final gathering, we enjoyed a delicious meal at the Bluestem, shared Christmas cards with our prayer partners, reminisced on years gone by, and again closed the evening with a circle of prayer. As each woman took a turn to lift her voice to heaven, I recalled moments from the past when we interceded on her behalf… prayers for surgeries, heart problems, cancer, new babies, broken hearts, grief, divorce, deployments, floods, fires, fractured relationships, illness, and disasters. And through it all, God has been faithful and we survived and learned to enjoy the abundant life in the midst of our struggles.
The apostle Paul must have known something about having godly role models, passing on the faith and helping one another withstand the pressures of this life. He writes to his friend: “Teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.” (Titus 2:3-5)
I have learned much from the older women in my life and I appreciate their friendship greatly. May each of us take seriously what we are passing on to the next generation and do so for the glory of God.