Welcome to Elizabeth Ministry! It’s good to have you with us.
Have we told you about the original vision of Elizabeth Ministry? You may be familiar with the work of Elizabeth Ministry, but there’s always more that you can learn!
The vision for this ministry came to Jeannie Hannemann, a family life minister at St. Bernard Parish in Appleton, Wisconsin, in the 1990s. She and her husband, Bruce, had experienced infertility and miscarriages, and found little support. Along with a priest friend, Fr. Kurt Gessner, they put their heads and hearts together and developed the ministry named after the visitation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Thus was the beginning of “Elizabeth Ministry” where one woman visits and encourages another woman in a common experience or challenge of child-bearing.
Jeannie (and she’s always “Jeannie, never “Jean”!) was especially concerned about the mobility of families, and rightly so, as newly-married daughters often move far away from mothers, sisters or aunts. How could the concept of familial support be replicated to benefit a new “on the move” family? Where does a newly pregnant (or continually not pregnant-but-wishing-to-be) woman receive the support she needs and seeks when her support system is miles and hours away? It was this desire for woman-to-woman support that brought about what is now “Elizabeth Ministry.”
Come with us to Kaukauna, Wisconsin, a short drive south of Green Bay, and visit the Elizabeth Ministry International headquarters. The details you’ll see here will tell you more of our story.
As you enter the two-story — and well-utilized — former parish convent (built in the mid-1950s) that houses Elizabeth Ministry, you’re greeted with a marvelous trompe l’oeil–painted foyer that brings you to the meeting of Mary with Elizabeth. You might also be greeted by staff members Mary or Mary Beth!
Now come with us into the Chapel. Here we learn “Chapter One” of personal relationships.
….but first we need some background; very far back indeed, to Adam and Eve. (Genesis, chapters 2 and 3)
We all know the story: God made Adam and gave him all the beauty and bounty of this marvelous “Garden of Eden.” Among all the trees in the garden were two specific trees. One was the Tree of Life, which for a time became ignored and forgotten. The other tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil with its enticing fruit, came with the warning: Do not eat, or you’ll die! Rational Adam nodded his head and said, “I can live with that — or without it! Not a problem!“
Because there was no suitable partner for Adam, God made one more person, Intuitive Eve, by taking from Adam one of his ribs, likely the one closest to his heart. Long story short: Eve took the advice of a Serpent who seemed smarter than God. (Not real smart of her!!) She took the luscious-looking fruit from the Forbidden Tree, ate it, and offered it to Adam, who was with her. (Unfortunately, Adam shrugged his shoulders. After all, who wants to tell a woman what to do?) Before this time, Mankind had known only Good. Now they also “knew” and “experienced“ Evil. (Interestingly, Hebrew has the same word, “yada,” for “knowing” and “experiencing.“) Evil opened their eyes. They knew, recognized, and experienced — responded to — their differences. They realized they were naked, became embarrassed and afraid, and hid. Since that time, all humanity, one by one, person by person — specifically, man and woman — experiences differences, becomes fearful, and hides from others. And from God.
How much wiser they (and we) would be to acknowledge our arrogance, as in “I’m so sorry, God; somehow I thought my way was better.” But as others have done, we have also learned to do, sheltering ourselves and our pride, and blaming the other. “He started it….!” How NOT to build healthy relationships! How like Adam and Eve we are!
In the chapel, we see an unusual altar; it’s laid on a wide stump of a tree, symbolizing both the Tree from which Adam and Eve ate, and the Tree of the Cross. In order to destroy the knowledge and experience of evil, God chose to experience the Tree of the Cross, the greatest evil, the most horrific death known: death by crucifixion. By Jesus‘ obedience to the Will of His Father, to take on human nature and the necessary sentence of death, evil was destroyed and God’s Presence was restored to humanity in the Gift of the Eucharist. Truly Amazing!
To the left of the altar, you notice Adam and Eve. Both are naked, turned away by guilt, crouching in shame, and hiding among the foliage. To the right of the altar is Mary greeted by the Archangel Gabriel. Mary is small; Gabriel is large, protective, and in a position of presenting Mary with an amazing choice: “Will you choose to accept the plan that God is offering you?” (The look on Mary’s face and the position of her hands over her abdomen tell of her consternation.)
Mary’s choice to be docile and obedient has freed humanity from the shame and the guilt of disobedience. God’s Loving Presence, in fact, God’s eminent and omnipotent Presence, is now restored to womankind and to all humanity! Eve’s choice has been reversed by the greeting, “Ave,” of Gabriel to Mary: “Hail!”
How grateful we must be to Mary! It is no wonder that we call her “The Queen of all Saints,” for it is from her that we learn obedience and humility. Undoubtedly it was from her that Jesus Himself learned obedience and humility as well.
Behind the altar we see Mary and Elizabeth joyfully greeting one another. By the meeting of these two Women, each bearing a male child, humanity is restored. Mankind no longer needs to hide from God’s presence, but rather can — in the person of Mary and Elizabeth, Jesus and John, young and old — rejoice in one another’s presence and support. Now there is no reason for guilt or shame: both women have perfectly obeyed God’s plan for their lives, amazing as it is and difficult as it may be. Although Mary is unmarried and in fact, has remained a virgin, she has conceived a man–child by God’s mercy and goodness, and consequently has no reason for shame. Elizabeth, although she had been childless and was beyond the normal age of child-bearing also has no reason for shame. Mary and Elizabeth’s communication is one of joy and camaraderie. They are taking great delight in each others’ presence, especially, perhaps, because Elizabeth’s husband, Zachary, hadn’t spoken a word to her for more than six months! How she (and John, jumping for joy in the womb) appreciates Mary’s joyful greeting! (The Biblical narrative can be found in chapter 1 of the Gospel According to Luke.)
In front of the altar is a most beautiful Holy Family: an exhausted Mary, a sheltering Joseph, and a newborn Jesus who rests in their embrace. The Greatest Gift to Mankind: Restored and Fruitful Relationships.
So we see that Elizabeth Ministry isn’t “only” a woman-to-woman ministry; it’s person-to- person, family-to-family. It’s a restoration of each person in a healthy relationship with another, based on a redeemed relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.
Let us continue this visit to Elizabeth Ministry International next month. Additional thoughts include learning about and dealing with “the curse” (which of course, it isn’t), sharing COFFEE and TEA, and being a family of Reclaimed men and women.
PRAYER NEEDS OF ELIZABETH MINISTRY FOR THE MONTH OF JUNE
For the health of Jeannie Hannemann who in early May suffered a stroke that has affected her eyesight and her left side. Lord Jesus, restore her to complete health!! Give wisdom to doctors and therapists, and to Bruce and their family, as they care for her.
For parents who struggle with decisions involving their children. Clear the fog in their minds, and let your light, Lord Jesus, lead them to wisdom and truth.
For an expectant mother who is leaking amniotic fluid but whose baby is not due until late June. Lord Jesus, please help her carry to term and keep her baby safe until he/she is ready to be born. Help this mother, and all mothers during their time of waiting.
Lord Jesus, there are so many couples trying to conceive who are unable. Give them consolation and wisdom. Help us to be sensitive to their pain and frustration in the comments we make. Give us supportive words, rather than judging words!
Jesus, help all those struggling to overcome addictions! Clear their minds; change their habits! Especially help those who fight against their dependence on pornography and other unhealthy sexual practices. Lord, help the students of RECLAiM Sexual Health to keep up their struggle and to be successful in changing their thinking and purifying their minds.
Lord Jesus, so many people and nations are in turmoil. We experience wars and struggles, violence, danger and the sword. Have mercy, Lord God! Give us your Spirit, and help us to love one another!
Lord Jesus, you did say that a time would come when earthquakes and fear would be common. Help those people who live in the shadow of death. Give us compassionate and generous hearts, that we might know how to reach out to those in need, both near and far!
Jesus, revive your people, and give us a greater appreciation and love of your Word!
For the needs of Elizabeth Ministry, especially that our phone system would work properly and consistently. Jesus, drive out the Evil One who tries to keep us frustrated!
….and Lord Jesus, provide for us more volunteers and more donations, that we might do all that you are asking of us! A philanthropist or two would be greatly appreciated!
Mother Mary, Untier of Knots, intercede with your Son, Jesus, that He would help us in the small and large needs of His adopted brothers and sisters.