The women were crying, praising God, and embracing one another as the four-day Southern Union Women’s Convention came to a close. They had written notes during sessions, recorded powerful musicians singing uplifting songs, and engaged in deep discussions. As they left the air-conditioned hotel conference room and stepped outside into the warm Orlando, Florida, air, there was one thing left to do: spread the news and sparkle for Jesus.
A few days earlier women from all over and beyond the Southern Union traveled to the hotel. Women flew, drove, carpooled, and rode in buses to attend. Some traveled alone, some came with friends, others came as a church. These women all came together on August 24, 2023, for one purpose — to connect with others and be blessed.
The opening night women were invited to join a praise team led by accomplished musician Gale Jones Murphy in lifting their voices in song. The praise team introduced the theme song, a piece composed specifically for the event by Murphy. Tentative voices united to sing the opening lines: “We are joining together, working together, praising our Father above.”
Following the theme song, Shirley Scott, Southern Union women’s ministries director, and Yolanda Smith, Southern Union women’s ministries advisor, warmly welcomed the women before introducing the eight conference’s women’s ministries leaders. The women were also welcomed by the Orange County mayor via a video message.
The women clapped as the first main session speaker took the stage. Heather Crews, part of the North American Division (NAD) ministerial association, spoke on ways to connect with Jesus, specifically focusing on the element of prayer. Her presentation was met with firm amens of agreement, laughter as jokes were told, and clapping in support of her message. The women left feeling inspired.
“Lovie,” a member of the Pillars of Faith Church in Ellenwood, Georgia, said she felt the love of God during the first main session and felt connected to the other attendees.
“When I got here, I saw all these women that glow, and they love God, they cherish God. And I want to feel that. So that was a good feeling for me to have during Heather’s talk,” said Lovie.
The next day was filled with seminars for women to choose from. Seminars were offered in English, Spanish, and French, and covered a variety of relevant topics including finances, studying the Bible, and mental wellness. These seminars provided the women not only an opportunity to learn but connect with other women of similar interests.
Kathy Hernandez, Southern Union ministerial and evangelism coordinator, led women in discussions on how to overcome fears of making new friends, and how to be a good friend. Nicole Stokes, a teacher, led a seminar focused on single moms. Renee Bishop said she appreciated the seminar and the open and honest conversations that took place, especially as single moms are often stigmatized.
“I love the fact that I had a conversation with Nicole Stokes,” said Bishop. “I loved it. And she did a very great job of presenting her information. It resonated with me.”
In addition to these seminars, young women and teens were able to attend seminars specifically tailored for them. A group of about 30 teens registered for the teen track, which was led by Erica Jones, NAD women’s ministries assistant director. Jones and her team wanted to provide a safe space for the teens to discuss difficult topics. The team created opportunities for both fun, like going to the pool and enjoying snack time, and deep conversations.
“We want our teens to stay in the Church. So, we want to love on them. We want to give them the positive side of life and [provide] a place where they can talk,” said Scott.
The main session tackled difficult conversations during Friday afternoon’s plenary session. The seminar was led in a panel style with four women of varying backgrounds. The panel discussed four topics which they said are commonly considered taboo within the Church: racism, mental health, LGBTQ+, and spiritual abuse. Following their insights on the issues and solutions, a microphone was opened to the audience for them to share their thoughts and solutions.
Leizl Saylon, a member of the Argyle Forest Company in Jacksonville, Florida, said she enjoyed the plenary session because she learned a lot. She also said a convention this large provided an opportunity for her and her church to meet and learn from women of other churches. She looked forward to learning about other church’s projects, and how the Argyle Forest Company could incorporate similar projects.“Whatever we’re learning here we can bring it to our different churches. And so, our women who were not able to attend, we can also bless them,” Saylon said.
Friday concluded with another main session. During the praise and worship time, “How Great Thou Art” brought women to their feet with raised hands and joint harmony. The powerful voices filled the room and evoked strong emotion. Later in the program, women were welcomed by the Inter-American and North American Divisions women’s ministries directors. This was a special occasion as it was the first time these two women had ever been together in-person. Following their welcome, Ron C. Smith, D.Min., Ph.D., president for the Southern Union Conference, also greeted the women and reminded them how valuable they are to the Union. The evening’s speaker was Gianna Snell, Breath of Life communication director. Snell spoke on her personal struggles with friendships and how she, with the help of God and therapy, has been able to rebuild healthy relationships.
The Sabbath morning meetings began with the youngest speaker — 16-year-old Eden Levoy. Her confidently delivered message was backed with biblical texts. The audience received her message well, and many women gave Levoy a standing ovation. As Sabbath meetings progressed, several women dressed in clothing representing various cultures greeted the attendees in different languages. Women in the audience who spoke the languages enthusiastically responded when they heard them. Sabbath morning also featured an almost 40-person choir. Again, the women heard a message from Heather Crews.
Following a lunch in the room next door, women rejoined in the main meeting room to hear a presentation on sexual abuse. The meeting equipped women with resources from the NAD, and featured a Bible study led by Amy Cirigliano, Georgia-Cumberland women’s ministries director.
At the end of the presentation, women were encouraged to gather at a baptismal pool located outside for baptisms and Vespers. About 400 women sat in a tent covered area facing the pool, waiting for the baptisms. Following three testimonies of women expressing how good God is, one woman entered the pool to be baptized. The crowd waited in anticipation for another baptism. As the minutes passed, women began to leave. However, another woman decided to be baptized. Repeatedly the same scenario happened: anticipation of another baptism and a tearful woman slowly walking toward the tank surrounded by supporters. In total eight women were baptized.
Kezzia Piocnacia was the youngest to be baptized. Piocnacia said she was profoundly impacted by what she experienced at the convention. She admitted she had recently been struggling with her character but had desired God. She said she felt empowered to make a stand for God after seeing other women’s faith at the convention.
“The messages just hit. I don’t have many words to describe it, it just influenced me in such a really good way toward God,” said Piocnacia. “I can’t wait to go back to my church and spread what this event has done for me.”
On Sunday there were three sessions before the event concluded. The first session encouraged women to cling to God even when it feels easier to leave Him. The second session spoke on the importance of women being together and supporting each other’s spiritual journeys. The final session took time to reflect on the event before asking the women to line up for a special anointing. Each woman individually received prayer and an anointing by convention speakers, women’s ministries directors, a deaconess, or elder. As prayers concluded, women embraced one another and lifted their voices in song.
Southern Union | October 2023