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Sister Care seminar focuses on particular issues of college women

September 11th, 2017

by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Women at Bethel College had a chance to invest a Saturday thinking about their roles in caring for themselves and others when Sister Care for College Women came to campus.

“I just wish it had [come] sooner,” said one participant. “I’m a senior and I would love to do it again.”

The Sister Care for College Women ministry of Mennonite Women USA (MW USA) is based on the well-established Sister Care seminars that Rhoda Keener and Carolyn Holderread Heggen present around the world from India to Cuba. They along with Ruth Lapp Guengerich had the vision for Sister Care for College Women.

Claire DeBerg, communications manager for MW USA and editor of its magazine, Timbrel, prompted the 2013 visioning session when she reflected to Keener, “If something like Sister Care had been available to me when I was in college, my life might have taken a different, more positive route.”

This and other affirmation led to collaboration with MW USA board member Beth Martin Birky, a Goshen (Indiana) College faculty member, resulting in a focus group of college women that met on the Goshen campus in 2014.

The group identified 25 major concerns facing college women, and then narrowed them down to the top five. With this new learning, MW USA organized a pilot Sister Care for College Women in March 2015 and led another one last fall.

The latter was the first one in which MW USA executive director Marlene Bogard participated. She is now providing sole leadership to Sister Care for College Women while Keener and Heggen continue leading other Sister Care seminars.

Bogard’s first Sister Care for College Women seminar was the one at Bethel.

“So many wonderful truths are revealed during Sister Care that young women could benefit from as well,” said Bogard.

“There are differences in the two seminars,” she added. “In Sister Care for College Women, we’re considering where college women are in their lives and what issues they are facing right now.

“Sister Care for College Women is life-stage appropriate, for this precious stage of young adulthood. That’s different from Sister Care, where we take considerable time looking at the many significant experiences over decades of life that older women carry.

“Sister Care for College Women asks: What are the important concerns and issues facing 18- to 22 year-old women?”

The five areas on which Sister Care for College Women focuses are managing stress, working with personal and physical boundaries, life direction (expressed in the question “What will you do with your one precious life?”), care for others through compassionate listening, and spiritual life and growth.

At Bethel, two resource people came in to help with some of the areas.

Barbara Thiesen, co-director of libraries at Bethel and a trained yoga instructor, demonstrated breathing techniques that can help reduce stress. Beth Burns, an art instructor at Slate Creek Elementary School, led the group in an art project that connected to the faith formation segment of the day.

The best part was either the yoga or the art,” said a participant. “The yoga was calming and something that will be very useful in the future.”

The structure of Sister Care for College Women is “to have local women with skills and gifts to share with their community of young adult women come for the enrichment parts of the day,” Bogard said. Local women also organize and provide food for meals and snacks.

Bogard will present Sister Care for College Women at Hesston (Kansas) College in March and has been talking with people at Bluffton (Ohio) University and Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, about possible seminars, though they have not yet been scheduled.

The hope is to do at least one Sister Care for College Women a year at each of the Mennonite institutions of higher education.

After the Sister Care for College Women at Bethel, Bogard said “it feels more like I’m owning this,” while at the same time, she’s still refining the program.

The 15 women who were part of Sister Care for College Women at Bethel were overwhelmingly positive about the experience. Comments were divided about evenly between “the best” being the yoga/breathing exercises and art focus, or the things they learned about boundaries, how to set them and how to maintain them.

“This was a really fun day,” said one participant. “Are there ways for us to get involved more in this?”

After the seminar, Bogard said, three of the Bethel students “expressed their desire to have mentoring relationships with women in local churches. So the answer is Yes!”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2015–16 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2015–16. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.