Nearly 30,000 women assembled inside the Rose Bowl in Pasadena May 16-17 for "Chosen Women: Daughters of the King," the largest women-only stadium rally since the birth of the Promise Keepers (PK) men's movement six years ago.
Though attendance fell short of the 80,000 organizers had projected, participants enthusiastically joined in the activities. In many respects, the gathering resembled the enormously popular PK men's meetings—which drew 1.1 million to 22 stadium events last year.
In Pasadena, women of all ages sang, danced, did the wave, blew bubbles, batted beach balls, prayed, and applauded the all-female lineup of speakers.
The conference's emphasis was on revival and renewal. Chosen Women founder and executive director Susan Kimes said she hoped that attendees would "go home and transform our families, our communities, our churches."
Organizers recruited a roster of sought-after speakers, including Jill Briscoe, Bunny Wilson, Elisabeth Elliot, and Anne Graham Lotz, to address a wide range of topics, such as servanthood, submission, and personal holiness.
MOVEMENT GROWTH: Chosen Women is the latest in a number of events for women that have followed on the heels of the enormous success of PK.
Since 1995, groups such as Heritage Keepers, Women of Faith Joyful Journey, Promise Reapers, A Promise Kept, Praise Keepers, and Keys for Abundant Living: A Promise Keepers Counterpart have held smaller rallies around the nation (CT, March 3, 1997, p. 62).
Joyful Journey—until now the biggest player—drew 15,000 to Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati in January and hopes to attract 150,000 women to arenas and stadiums in 14 cities this year. Joyful Journey director Laurie Knox told CT that her group and Chosen Women share the common goal of encouraging women. "Women need this kind of weekend, obviously," Knox said.
Dee Bright, of nearby Torrance, one of the Chosen Women attendees who paid between $56 and $71 in registration fees for the experience, found the teachings to be substantive. "The dedicated-to-Christ emphasis is something you don't get very often," Bright said. "A lot of stuff for women seems to come off as kind of milquetoast. Women are hungry for this."
Wilson challenged attendees to "unite in prayer for racial reconciliation." Elliot urged women to relinquish their own rights and accept duties that are distasteful. Briscoe told participants to recognize God's kingship in a wicked world.
While PK often preaches that husbands should treat their wives better, Wilson discussed in depth women submitting to their husbands.
"Submission means God intervenes," Wilson said. "When I first began to practice submission in my marriage, [my husband] said it put the fear of God in his heart."
TOO MUCH LIKE PK? Eastern College psychology professor Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, who has studied PK and similar movements, believes women's gatherings such as Chosen Women and Joyful Journey should avoid tackling the same issues as PK, such as women taking new responsibility in the home.
"Men have not been facing their responsibility, while women have been doing double duty," Van Leeuwen told CT. "Women don't need a wake-up call. They just need to be encouraged."
For women's conferences to have any sustaining power, Van Leeuwen said they must not be "theologically shallow."
While Kimes made two behind-the-scenes visits to PK before organizing the Chosen Women event, she said her vision for a women's rally started seven years ago, before PK began. Preparation for the Rose Bowl rally started in earnest in July 1995 as an outgrowth of her Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry in conjunction with Calvary Church in Santa Ana, through which she has held conferences for women since 1985.
Kimes said years of counseling women and listening to their problems made her realize, "It's time to bring them together in a large way."
ONE-TIME EXPERIENCE? Organizers said the rally drew women from as far away as Russia, Mongolia, Australia, and South Korea. Unlike some early PK gatherings, the crowd was visibly multicultural and multiracial. Translation was provided in Korean and Spanish.
Despite the enthusiasm, Kimes said bluntly that she is not planning future Chosen Women events.
"People are saying, 'Let's do it again,' " Kimes told CT. "I'm not set up to build a program or an organization. Unless the Lord said differently, this is where it'll end."
In February, organizers projected an attendance of 80,000 and later scaled the estimate down to 50,000. The reality that attendance had fallen well short of those figures became evident when Chosen Women board member Bob Shank near the end asked the crowd to contribute to offering buckets passed by ushers. Chosen Women official Joanne Herdrich said registration fees should cover the costs.
But Kimes expressed satisfaction at the Chosen Women turnout. "For women to come together to stand together in unity and say, 'I believe in Jesus Christ and I take a stand for that,' that's success."
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