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In a sense, the story of Jesus’ resurection is a wives’ tale, the Rev. Rebecca Stevens told some 150 Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of Los Angeles in her sermon at the Eucharist that concluded their annual conference. “Because the women are the ones who showed up.”

That’s what women do — and specifically that’s what Episcopal Church Women do, said Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms and Magdalene, the largest social enterprise in the United States run by survivors, in this case of human trafficking and the sex trade. Stevens and several members of her staff took part in the Feb. 25 – 26 conference at All Saints Church, Pasadena, where she also led a workshop on healing and the use of healing oils and described her ministry, centered in her hometown of Nashville, Tenn.
Stevens founded Magdalene, a two-year residential program for abused, trafficked or drug-addicted women, some 20 years ago. Finding that the women had few marketable skills, she established Thistle Farms, which manufactures and distributes a range of products such as soaps, candles, healing oils, lotions and bath salts, all handmade by women. The company is run by women who once were trapped on the streets or enslaved by pimps. (Read more at thistlefarms.org.)

A journey toward wholeness

“All of our whole point in being here is sharing our stories of hope, and talk about how it is that women recover from trafficking, addiction and prostitution and become powerful witnesses,” said Stevens in her slight Southern drawl.

“If there is a witness to the Episcopal Church Women, it is they are persistent. They are there, always,” said Stevens.

Stevens evoked Mary Magdalene, for whom her ministry is named, as a model of persistent faith, to the point that she was the only undisputed witness of Jesus’ resurrection.

“Healing is not a miracle cure for us at Thistle Farms and Magdalene,” she said. “It is a long journey, a walk toward wholeness, a journey that begins and ends with God. And through it we serve women who have known the other side of bridges and the back side of anger and the inside of prison walls and the short side of justice. And we know that if we persevere and keep coming and loving, amazing fruit blossoms.”

She told about Doris, who had lived on the street for 20 years before coming to Magdalene, and who had her first encounter with the ocean when speaking on behalf of the ministry in Florida.

“As her feet hit those sugar sands, she feels the tide of the ocean for the first time — feels that strength and that pull. She reaches her arms out and lifts them up and lifts her head, and says, ‘Has this been doing this my whole life?’

“But stronger and deeper and more persistent even than that tide is love; it never lets go. But sometimes it takes a community to help us get down to the shore to feel that power and that pull.”

A video of the Eucharist, including Stevens’ sermon, may be found here.

The conference also featured a workshop on creating Prayers of the People, led by the Rev. Nathan Biornstad, assistant at Transfiguration, Arcadia, and St. Luke’s, Monrovia. Cathy Salser of A Window Between Worlds, the main presenter at last year’s conference, returned to lead a session on creating healing artworks.

Speakers at the Friday night dinner were Lisa Towle, president of the church-wide ECW, and Margaret Nolde, president of the Los Angeles diocese’s Girls Friendly Society.

Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce presided at the Eucharist and installed the ECW’s officers for 2017: Linda Amerault (St Alban’s Yucaipa), parliamentarian; Diane Askren (St. George’s, Riverside), UTO coordinator; the Rev. Julie Bryant (rector, Transfiguration, Arcadia), chaplain; Christine Budzowski (St. Francis’, Palos Verdes), president-elect; Shelly Crilly-Benner (St. Andrew’s, Torrance), vice president; Dierdre Duke (St. Luke’s, Monrovia), co-treasurer; Kim Ericson (St. George’s, Riverside), Memorial Fund coordinator; Canon Martha K. Estes (Transfiguration, Arcadia), president; Barbara Harris (St. Mark’s, Upland), corresponding communication secretary; Nora Harris (St. Mark’s, Upland), co-treasurer; and Courtney Tan (St. Mary’s, Lompoc), recording secretary.