Last weekend, as the sun danced on blue of yellow, orange and brown, 38 women left their homes and families back in the city, to set themselves apart from the rest of the world and commune with each other.
They went to study the Bible and think about themselves and God at a 310 acre farm retreat near Buckeystown. To their surprise, they found touch more.
A few, in their 20s who work full time raising their children, had never been a night away from their husbnads before. Some others were office workers, administrators, teachers, a former Catholic nun, an artist and a pathologist. One was an 81-year-old retired nurse who lives alone.
I still feel like it was a very powerful experience which I'll be working on for some time, some of the insights that I got into myself and some of the things I experienced," said Doris Thompson, 46.
"The sharing that we did with each other was an open kind of sharing and yet, I think a lot of what happened is very deeply personal," she said.
Muay said it was one of the most meaningful experiences of their whole lives. All of them, writing anonymously to the retreat leaders on evaltation sheets, were overwhelmingly enthusiastic. A large space for negative feelings was left blank on all 38 sheets.
Estelle McCarthy, who helped lead the retreat and works in the National Capital Union Presbytery, it sponsor, was asked what it was about the expectience that evoked such strong reactions.
Retreats for women are not a new idea, she said, but their purpose, structure and results have changed ever the years.
"Twenty-five years ago, women on retreats did general Bible study, and probably went back home feeling pretty much the same about themselves," said Estelle McCarthy, of the National Capital Union Presbytery, sponsor of the retreat.
"Between five and 10 years ago, women said, lets's draw apart, get out our anger (at the male dominated world).' They came back with a very great aggressiveness, ready to make the world shake," she said.
"But this time it was different.They came back saying, 'I am somebody. I am worth something. I will take my place in the world, whatever I decide it should be, and do it with love.' Not anger."
They studied the positive qualities of Biblical women, providing an image many of them said they never received in their churches. "They tell you what Peter did and what Paul did. Women are kind of overlooked," said participant Vicki Bowers. 28.
"One of the things we, as women, have to overcome is the way in which we have been so influenced by male translators," said the Rev. Margee Adams, who led the retreat with McCarthy.
They were told how varied were the roles of Biblical women. Then, the stories were updated to see how they might fit in today's world. Ruth, who left her homeland to go with Naomi, her mother-in-law, in Biblical times, became, in the modern story, a doctor trained in the U.S. who chose to work in a black sector hospital in South Africa. They dramatized scripts. When they were through, they began to see themselves in the stories.
"We make decisions based on who we are, what we're good at, how we fit in," said one mother of two young children. "I never realized before how smart I had to be to live my life."
One session, called "A Guided Day-dream" was particularly moving for the women. They were told to close their eyes, relax and imagine they were taking a walk in a meadow. The walk consisted of beauty-filled descriptions. Then, they were told of a beautiful white light on the path, which was depe within themselves, and a being emerged from the light, smiling and friendly. The being, they were told, was their innermost selves, their best friend. McCarthy discovered the exercise in "Blueprints for Worship" by W. Robert McClelland.
"This was for many their first experience with women clery . . . Some of them came with prejudices, they had no models," said Adams. "Then afterward, they said, 'you've helped me smash the stereotypes," added McCarthy.
"It was meaningful to me to see communion presided over by women," said Bowers. "I had never been to a service with a woman minister. That in itself was an exciting thing for me."
Many of the women were uneasy the first day, and most of them attribute it to wondering about hostility from women with other life styles. "No one who's working likes to be told she should be home raising a family," said one "and vice-versa."
In the end it was differences that brought them together.
"We learned about the choices women make. These are hard choices," said one woman who raised children while working every day. "One woman chose to stay home with a severely handicapped child."
The woman said they discovered that although they made different choices from each other, their individual reasons were much the same.
Adams is convinced that the retreat will have some impact on/the leadership of the 24 area Presbyterian churches from which the women were drawn. "I see changes already taking place in my own congregation." She is copastor of Rockville Presbyterian Church.
One woman said, "I've learned that I can and want to serve in the decision-making part of my church."
Two women from one church want to organize similar sessions for the women in their church, hoping it will encourage some of them to join the board of trustees or deacons.
"I think this gave a lot of women the support that they needed to go ahead with putting in their two cents," said participant Bowers.
On Sunday, at the final worship service, the women rose in turn to conduct various parts of the service. In place of a sermon, three women volunteered to tell the story of a modern disciple (follower of Christ).
One woman stood up and said, "This is the story of a woman who is growing, but who is also warm and loving, but her name is rather complicated, so you'll have to help me.
"Her name is Mary, Martha, Bathsheba -", she said. Then she pointed to the woman beside her, and together they said the woman's name. The she pointed to the woman next to her, and so on, until every woman's name had been called.