After discussing the topics as small groups, each group made a presentation to the larger assembly and then "planted" its produce in the friendship garden.
Saturday morning opened with rousing congregational singing, led by Linda Carter of Birmingham and Heather Kemp of Virginia Beach, Va., and special music by Sharon Ledy of Spring Arbor, Mich., who sang "Where He Leads."
The keynote speaker, Carol Boyer of Perry, Mich., encouraged all to listen to the specific music God has for each of us and to follow His lead as life-long dance partner in her presentation titled "Dancing Through Life."
After more congregational singing, June Felix of Alabaster, Ala., presented "Love Letters From Jesus," reminding the group of the importance of messengers of God's love in this sin-weary world. She ended by singing "Thief of Always."
After a hearty lunch of sandwiches, potato salad, chips and brownies, the conference opened again with congregational singing and special music by Mrs. Boyer and Mrs. Ledy.
Brenda Howard of Southington, Conn., then gave members of the group the tools they need to start and lead in-home Bible studies in her presentation "Leading a Bible Study: Who? Me?" She outlined a simple three-question method, then encouraged the ladies to practice in small groups.
Afterwards Mrs. Blevins encouraged all to serve their communities back home and outlined the activities of a special selection of friends she works with called the Family Readiness Group in a program to support the families of the National Guard who are deployed around the world.
Miss Kemp then blessed the assembly with her singing of "I Will Praise You in the Storm.'
The final presentation of the day was by Nancy White of Big Sandy, Texas. Her speech was "It Ain't Heavy, It's Important, or The Weightier Matters of the Law."
Mrs. White outlined the link between judgment, mercy and faith. She showed the importance of each and that each plays a vital part in the Christian walk.
(A video of her full presentation is downloadable at DynamicChristianMinistries.org or by writing DCM at P.O. Box 1062, Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A.)
The conference then took a two-hour break to rest, refresh and fellowship and change into comfortable clothes for Saturday evening.
Dinner, featuring prime rib, baked potatoes, steamed squash, broccoli casserole, rolls, lemon meringue pie and chocolate cream pie, was served at 6.
After dinner came "A Gift of Relaxation" by Rebecca Blevins and Carol Boyer. The relaxation therapy centered on breathing exercises, tension-releasing stretches, arm and foot massages and essential oils.
Although some melted right on into bed for the evening after that program, others stayed up to watch a program by Christian humorist Shonda Pierce, "Staying Alive ... Laughing."
Sunday morning opened with a song from Mrs. Ledy and then open-mike time for anyone inspired to share with the group. Miss Kemp sang "We Are the Body."
Mrs. Ledy presented "Extreme Makeover: Empowerment Through Embracing Femininity," which encouraged the women to get in touch with true femininity and how that impacts their lives and behaviors.
After Mrs. Ledy's presentation Linda Carter sang "Shouting Time" and concluded the conference with a prayer circle for friends and family near and far.
Sharley Pettit of Atkins, Ark. (who died of cancer Aug 13, only a month after the conference), said the conference for her was "nourishing and uplifting."
"When you are going through severe trials, especially that we are now so scattered," Mrs. Pettit said, "it is so easy to start becoming defeated or not nourished.
"The wonderful garden theme for the first night of the conference was so appropriate. The conference simply has replenished my soul with all of the love, support and encouragement.
"All of the acts of love that I personally witnessed just reinforced that the Holy Spirit is so dominant in these ladies' lives. The stories shared helped us all to know the love and support that God the Father has for us. We were all so filled and loved that we know God certainly blessed this wonderful conference."
What to expect
Mrs. Howard commented about her experience this year of attending the Birmingham conference for the first time.
"I'm not sure what I really expected," she said, "but what I received exceeded any expectations.
"I knew there wouldn't be a huge gathering and was delighted when I learned there would be a small group of around 25. This helped provide a loving, intimate environment.
"From the opening-night activity--which got every person attending to participate--to the concluding session on Sunday, you could feel God's Holy Spirit flowing.
"Since I live in an area void of Sabbath-keeping women, it was extra special spending time with sisters in the faith. I received a shot in the arm of spiritual rejuvenation.
"The challenge is now to apply everything I learned. It was great seeing some old friends and making many new ones. Thanks to all who made the conference possible, especially Peggy and Aggie. I'm looking forward already to next year's."
Women, after all
Mrs. Ledy said the conference inspired her.
"I have attended five of the six women's conferences held in Birmingham and have built relationships with these amazing and wonderful women over these years," she said. "We are all growing and seeking to live our faith.
"The expression of that faith and the love we have for Jesus translates into such a deep love for each other. We are women, after all; we can feel that love, we can touch it, and it touches us deep in our hearts.
"In sharing and bearing each other's burdens, we also share our vulnerabilities, and that risk has the powerful reward of receiving love, encouragement and sustained prayer throughout the year."
Regarding Sunday's sessions, Mrs. Ledy continued: "Carol's song 'Redeemer' brought us to tears. Heather's song was, in my opinion, the best she's ever done.
"The open-mike session was quite intense. Some of the ladies really opened up about things they were struggling with and asking for prayers about situations they were in. They talked about losing and regaining faith through discouraging illness, feelings of despair and inferiority--and got lots of encouragement there: family struggles, etc. Very, very moving."
Touched by trauma
Mrs. Boyer said she was "really touched" by the women's comfort and support for each other.
"Some ... met for the first time at that conference. Every life is touched by loss, trauma, various types of suffering, but, thankfully, through the women at that conference lives were also touched with love and understanding as each became what June Felix described as a unique manifestation of the grace of God.
"It is encouraging to see people stretch their limits and find out that they do, in fact, have gifts."
There has been some discussion of holding next year's conference in Sevierville, Tenn., which is also the location for the 2008 United Christian Ministries Feast of Tabernacles.
For more information about next year's women's conference go to www.4ucm.org.