Women of the Word turns 100

Nov. 28, 2013 @ 02:24 PM

It started with 21 women in the home of Mrs. A.M. Crowell. It was Nov. 28, 1913, and the Women of the Word were just getting started. In those days, the group from St. Luke’s Lutheran was called the Women’s Missionary Society, and each woman was responsible for the five-cent dues.

The Women of the Word — as they came to be known in 2011 — just celebrated 100 years with a lunch banquet at the Monroe church.

Betty Erickson was one of the women honored at that banquet. At 87, Erickson is the oldest member of the group and a church historian. She joined Women of the Word in the 1940s.

“I wanted to be a part of the church, and plus I was having children and that’s the only time I got out of the house,” she said.

Erickson moved to Monroe from Startown, N.C., in 1946 for a job as a medical secretary. She married her late husband, Irvin, two years later, and had four children.

Many families they got to know through the years visited St. Luke’s on Nov. 17 to honor the work their wives, mothers and grandmothers have done with the women’s group. Katie Mae Oleen was recognized for starting a Religious Art Festival in 1965. Others were acknowledged for starting the Union County Literacy Council. Grown men were in tears remembering how much the group has meant to their mothers.

The history of St. Luke’s goes back to 1889, when the church was organized. The following year saw the first brick laid near where Faulkner’s Drugs now stands. After 1896, St. Luke’s was the only Lutheran congregation in the county for nearly a century. The current building on Circle Drive was built in the early ‘60s.

Another women’s group, the Ladies Aid Society, began in 1938 with seven members, but, along with the Women’s Missionary Society, eventually blended into the one women’s group still around today. Women of the Word are affiliated with Carolinas Lutheran Women.

Through all the changes, the women of the church have kept going strong. The first roster taken in 1913 included Mrs. Pearl Young who was a devoted member until her death in 1991 at 100 years old. Today, the group has about 30 members, most in their 50’s and up.

On a recent evening, Erickson and Vicki Fink met at the church. Both are slow to take credit for any of their work with the group, and both are quick to talk about each other’s humble service. They make it clear that the group doesn’t meet to share gossip but to share each other’s lives and get things done.

Women of the Word meet for Bible study and worship but also have a long list of mission work.

In 1919, the women sold needles and thimbles to purchase the church bell still in use. Today, they make prayer shawls, feed the homeless, hold devotions at a nursing home and cook meals for people who lost loved ones. In 1966, they made personal care kits for Vietnam soldiers, and the year before, they made gold and white Chrismons, ornaments depicting Christian symbols made to go on a Christmas tree.

Throughout the years, the women have also funded scholarships, provided for missionaries and supported a girls’ school in Japan. They have collected items for victims of natural disasters and supported the local domestic violence shelter Turning Point.

But one of the most notable accomplishments stemmed from a conference in the mid-’90s. That’s where some of the women learned about adult literacy, and one woman, Evelyn Owens, wondered if St. Luke’s could help. In 1996, the church had trained volunteers to tutor the county’s illiterate and bought a mobile phone that volunteers carried to answer calls from prospective students. The church’s own Linda Moyer served as the Union County Literacy Council’s first executive director.

While the Literacy Council has expanded to assist hundreds of people throughout the county, one ministry that has stayed in-house is the Prayers for Children project started in 2007. Every year, the women — and sometimes men — draw names out of a hat. Those names are all the children in the congregation “from crib to college,” Fink said. When a person draws a name, she commits to praying for that child every day.  

Erickson has kept all the names she’s pulled since 2007 and prays for all of them each day, ... “unless I forget,” she said. But after all these years of serving the church, that doesn’t usually happen.