Organizing Business Women To Serve The Church

By Margarita Berzonsky

The Orthodox Church is rooted in the family. Every woman takes the Holy Theotokos as a model for herself, so that in some little way she may be in the home what the blessed Mother of God is to the Church.

Today, however, it is simply a fact that. Single and married women are working outside the home. That reality creates a bond among them - secretaries, teachers, office workers, professionals in nearly as many areas as males, working women are brought together because of common experiences arising from their employment in a world dominated by men. The Orthodox Church can either judge and ignore those felt needs, or it can provide a haven where those needs might be expressed and resolved.

It may well be that the expression of the Church as a family, with each family an extended “church,” in fact causes problems for those who, for whatever reason, live on their own. The widowed, divorced, or never married ought to feel not only welcome, but nurtured spiritually in the warmth of the spiritual community. Young unmarried women who decide to move out of the family home and take an apartment have a tendency to cut themselves off from the life of the parish as well. This need not be the case if they can relate to the parish as adults who have taken responsibility for their own lives.

Experience in Common

From conversations at the coffee hour following Divine Liturgy in our parish we realized that the women in the work force had so many experiences in common that they felt it appropriate to organize a group to deal with the realities of their workaday lives. “Holy Trinity Business Women” was chosen as the body’s name, since it was endorsed by the parish, included women, and related to the problems and aspirations of those women specifically in the business world.

Surprisingly, the group crossed several generations, including women already retired from the work field, as well as the younger set, not far beyond twenty years of age. Within that age periphery are mothers and grandmothers, those once married, and those who never have been wed.

In the beginning, the activities revolved around nurturing¬óbasically, sharing experiences in the offices and schools so that those who have been hurt in some way are taught to deal with conflict, as well as to be reassured that negative experiences happen to everybody. For example, it is not uncommon to hold the same position as a male, or at least do an equal task, and be paid much less, only because one is a woman. Secretaries frequently feel put upon to perform services that are of a personal nature: ordering flowers or choosing gifts for the boss’s wife; attending functions merely as window-dressing. At times one’s Christian values are put to the test. One may be asked to tell an outright lie (“I’m sorry, he’s not in just now”), and then there are the quite common sexual harassments that women are subjected to in every occupation.

Problems Studied

Subsequently the organization members studied human behavior, so that they might learn why persons behave as they do. It was fascinating to hear that history has a decided role in formulating the basis for our attitudes and the ways we come to understand a problem. Those near the age of my parents, for example, who lived through the Great Depression, are always concerned with the price of things. Money is always a matter of grave importance for them, just as children who are teenagers in the sixties and seventies when material goods were plentiful never imagine that funds will or possibly can be depleted.

Our group, then, evolved from self-concentration and dealing with the members’ immediate problems to discovering the causes of those problems, a process that involved self-awareness, study of the community, man - woman relations, society in general and our place in history. Of course it would be pretentious to presume we accomplished all of that, or even did the subjects justice; yet, we are learning, growing, and helping one another in the process.

It is a tribute to Christian maturity and spiritual development among our communion of believers here at Holy Trinity, that no hint of conflict or over-lapping of purposes arose between the established groups, such as the Women’s Club, and the Business Women; on the contrary, many ladies are members of both organizations, and the cooperation is sterling. From the men as well, support and encouragement manifested itself. Not a trace, at least openly, of any Archie Bunker mentality, insisting that women have no place in the work force. Truly, the spirit of understanding for our purposes among our communicants is a great blessing.

The Benefits of Organizing

What we have noticed, thank the Lord, is that women in a position to help others do so. One of our ladies in a position of authority in the local public school system has found ways to intercede on behalf of our younger persons in the teaching field. The loan for our parish’s expansion program was facilitated by another woman in the banking field. Quietly, effectively, we do aid one another.

Our mission has benefited by our organization. Not only are we keeping the young adults from drifting away and searching for more compatible settings to their life situations, but in a few instances our young ladies have involved their non-Orthodox friends in the life of the parish. Vital to our well-attended meetings is an array of topics men and women can utilize and apply to themselves. Past speakers have addressed the following subjects: How and When to Make Your Will; New Rules for Income Tax; How to Invest Wisely; Attaining Financial Independence; How Orthodox Is the Moral Majority. One of our own gifted young members spoke to the themes of Maintaining Self-composure; Ways and Values of Time Management; Nutrition and Exercise.

Suggestions For Organizing a Similar Group

If another parish is considering an organization such as ours, it would be in order to take into account these suggestions, based on our own experience:

A. Be sure a need for such an organization exists, that it is not being addressed by an already functioning group within the church, and that its purposes will not overlap or impinge upon any such body.

B. The organization has to be positive in its orientation, which means it is not apart from or against any person or class. Christians cannot be “against” men, for example, or the purported evils of society; rather, they are people helping people in specific ways. We serve one another by utilizing whatever we have experienced and learned. Especially in the church, no group will last long if it is perceived as a threat to others.

C. Obviously, it must have more than tacit approval from the pastor and church council if it is to achieve its purposes. The leaders must be convinced that the Gospel will be enhanced through the activities of a business women’s fellowship.

D. Strive always for inclusiveness. If a project can be done in cooperation with other groups, by all means do it that way. If the topic of the evening applies to men, invite them warmly. Love overcomes fear, as Christ reminds us, and all that we do must be seasoned with love and compassion.

E. Have a part in all that the parish attempts, without asking whether it serves the specific needs of most of the women. Expand your boundary at each opportunity.

F. Strive to serve the church in ways that your members in their secular capacities are able to. Can you help the unemployed find work, console those in depression, reach out to those who have been hurt¬órape victims, battered children, the abused or neglected?

The greatest satisfaction these past two years has been in providing a means of serving the Lord to many women who felt themselves on the fringe of the parish’s life. Rather than feeling excluded from an extended church comprised of self-contained family units who come in groups to pray, the working women who feel apart from a conventional family atmosphere now are realizing they are wanted, needed, and loved. They, too, have a purpose in the extended life of the parish. They are of value to others, not despite the fact that they live alone, but because of it. This gives meaning to their souls.

Editor’s Note: A similar group for “businessmen” might be equally fruitful. The already popular “Businessmen’s Breakfast or Lunch” might easily be adapted to take up concerns that Orthodox men find they have in common as they try to cope with the stresses and complexities of today’s society.

Margarita Berzonsky is the manager of production and inventory for an engineering firm: an active member of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Parma, Ohio and the mother of three sons.