By Wendy Mallette
Wendy is a Loretto Volunteer serving as Staff Associate at the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) - a community of justice-seeking people who promote the use of feminist religious values to make social change.
Going into WATER for the first time, I had a very vague picture of what my work was to be. Not for lack of trying. I had spent a great deal of time on WATER’s website, and I had talked to a few former and current WATER interns to ask them what their work was like. Since arriving at WATER, I now understand their challenge, having been asked the question, “What do you do?” by friends, family, and prospective interns. Part of the challenge stems from the variety of WATER’s programs and work: teleconferences, rituals, a contemplation group, articles, courses, conferences, counseling, and a library. The medium of this work is also highly varied. We offer some programs in person, others by phone, and some in both forms. Some of our work is in classrooms or at conferences, while some of our work is online or in books. And then you have to throw Facebook and Twitter into the mix. It’s sometimes hard for me to keep up with it all, but listing these programs is simple enough.
Describing the work that WATER does, however, is more difficult. WATER’s mission is to use feminist religious values for social change. Of course, how a person defines “feminist religious values” or “social change” varies widely. I think it is the lack of preciseness of these words that makes WATER’s work to be as exciting, although sometimes elusive, as it is. For example, the first teleconference that I participated in at WATER was with Judith Plaskow, a retired professor of Jewish feminist studies in religion who shared with us an autobiographical narrative theology that reflected on her changing understandings of God and feminism throughout her life. The last teleconference we heard from in 2012 was on the subject of “Translating Womanism into Pedagogical Praxis” with Katie G. Cannon. Dr. Cannon talked about the ways she incorporates and embodies womanism and her own history in her teaching practices. The discussions of the teleconferences were equally varied with professors, students, and religious leaders from across fields shared their thoughts and questions.
I think WATER’s teleconferences demonstrate the kind of work that WATER seeks to do. The teleconferences create virtual spaces where divergent and intersecting voices of feminist, womanist, mujerista, and queer works in religion are shared and made accessible to wider audiences. While I still struggle to describe what “using feminist religious values for social change” means, I can at least point to examples like WATER’s teleconferences as one example of such work in action.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.