Three decades later, a weekly women’s group is still going strong.
A small group of women in Kansas has been meeting regularly since 1981. Here they are pictured in 1984.
In July 1981, I attended a gathering of some fifty women from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka, Kansas, who were interested in forming a women’s group. After some weeks of debate, we decided to divide into groups based on what nights people could meet. The other “Monday-nighters” and I are now celebrating thirty-two years of continuous meetings.
There were ten of us in the original Monday Night Women’s Group. Over the years some moved out of state or stopped attending due to increased family demands, others joined us when their own groups disbanded, and one of our long-term members died. We currently have six active members: Linda Lucero, Sharon Read, Richie McDaneld, Lou Hoover, Emily Russell, and me. Each of us has been involved since that first organizational meeting in 1981, which makes our friendships some of the longest consistent relationships in our lives.
Our group established a routine of meeting weekly in each other’s homes. As time went by, the night of the week varied due to conflicting responsibilities, but we still called ourselves the Monday Night Women’s Group. At some point we began meeting only the first three Mondays of the month and, at some later point, we changed the second Monday to dinner at a restaurant. As one by one we reduced our work schedules or retired, we began meeting in the afternoons instead of the evenings. The Monday Night Women’s Group now meets two Monday afternoons a month.
Over the years we have discussed just about everything. Happenings at the fellowship are always hot topics. Politics, religion, social issues, books, and movies have all made their way into our discussions. Though often topic-oriented, especially in the beginning, we have also been a support group, centered especially on our roles within our families and on parenting. We have all struggled as daughters, and now we are all the mothers of daughters.
Probably the most in-depth search into our souls was when each of us spent one evening answering the question, “What is my essence?” Sharon brought her old dolls, Richie brought the first check she had ever written, and Linda served strawberries. I shared the contents of my jewelry box. You kind of had to be there to understand the significance of these choices. One member commented that making the effort to describe her essence to the group was equal to months of therapy.
While our group has provided an underlying structure for us, our activities have not been limited to our regular meetings. We have offered Sunday morning programs at the fellowship; we have stood or marched with other UUs at social justice rallies; there have been slumber parties, shared holiday meals that included spouses, collaboration on a book containing our histories, and one memorable moonlit sailboat ride. Our friendships have solidified as we have shared the joys and sorrows of our lives: marriages, divorces, the arrivals of children, and the deaths of parents, a group member, and a spouse. While a couple of our group members still attend the fellowship on a fairly regular basis, others attend only occasionally or spend Sunday mornings involved elsewhere. Still, our friendships are solidly rooted in UU principles.
For many years, attendance was considered sacrosanct. Now, not everyone can make every meeting, but we’ve all mellowed a bit, and it doesn’t seem to matter as much as it once did. The group has a life of its own, and it is always easy to catch up.
Every once in awhile, when we seem to be drifting, we refocus our gatherings with a discussion about what we want out of the group. It has been several years since one of these discussions has taken place. As we have gotten older, the meeting time is more often given over to a discussion of who isn’t there and why, and where we will be meeting next.
We seem to be growing older together rather happily. We celebrated our thirtieth anniversary at the RowHouse Restaurant in Topeka. Everyone remembered to come, and a good time was had by all. When we told our waiter that we were celebrating thirty years as a women’s group, he looked at us with surprise and told us that the next day was his thirtieth birthday. So, as we were starting out on one journey in 1981, he was starting out on another.
By the time of that celebration, we had well over a thousand meetings under our belts. What accounts for our ability to stay connected for so long? We are a group made up of educators, social workers, a nurse, and a psychologist, predisposing us perhaps to be good listeners most of the time. We have developed a group dynamic that provides a safe, uncritical haven in which to share personal issues. It has also helped that we share similar worldviews, and that we all know how to laugh. Or maybe there is just something magic about Mondays!
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Cathy Callen is a longtime member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka, Kansas. She is the author of Running Out of Footprints (Mennonite Press, 2013).
In praise of praise
Yes, even now, / when so much is struggle: / Praise bodies that sweat and tremble
How to survive the apocalypse
Under the weight of destruction, / we will need the strong shelter / of forgiveness and the deeper wells / that give the sweet water of welcome
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