WELS Women's "Ministry" Conference, Part 2: "How to Stop Surviving and Start Thriving in Singleness"

Part two of our look into the WELS Women's "Ministry" Conference takes us to a presentation by Hannah Schermerhorn entitled "How to Stop Surviving and Start Thriving in Singleness"

Luther had much to say about celibacy, of course, given his context: Roman Catholic priests were not allowed to marry, and monasticism was promoted as a more blessed estate than marriage. Luther recognized celibacy as a rare gift:
"such [celibates] are rare, not one in a thousand, for they are a special miracle of God" - Martin Luther (LW 45:21)

particularly in women: 

“Though womenfolk here are ashamed to admit this, nevertheless Scripture and experience show that among many thousands is not one whom God has given grace to keep pure chastity. A woman does not have control over herself. God has created her body to be with man, to bear children and to raise them.” - Martin Luther, “To Some Nuns,” Letter No. 756 (6 August 1524)
(Forget OTJATL: how has the feminist-sympathizing cancel culture not latched on to this quote!)

It is unclear from the description and preview whether Hannah is promoting singleness as vocation or making productive use of singleness looking ahead to marriage. We should recognize the estate of celibacy as St Paul does: if God gives the gift of celibacy, it's for the good of the Church and such a person likely needs no external encouragement! Therefore, it's likely the latter. That being said, I'm more interested in the circumstances surrounding the presentation. I'm going to share a few things about Hannah based on her website and her public social media presence. To be abundantly clear I am not assailing her character, but I do think the circumstances surrounding her book and presentation lend themselves to furthering the discussion of how this conference consecrates secular mores.

Hannah is married! We can thank God that she has been blessed with the vocation of wife and, God-willing, mother. This isn't an impediment to writing a book on singleness, as plenty of experts in their  field rely on past experience or in some cases (say, a doctor who specializes in the health care of the opposite sex) on something with which they have no personal experience. The book was published with Hannah's maiden name of Schermerhorn in February 2023 with no reference to her husband in her bio, and she refers to herself as single multiple times in the introduction.
"I have been single for six years since [a broken off engagement]" [10]
"Right here and now in my singleness" [11]
Unbeknownst to the audience of her book, she was married in November 2022, engaged in March of 2022, and taking road trips with her future husband in October 2020. She was engaged for a full year prior to publication, and "revealed" her marriage on social media in July 2023, after the publication of her book, stating that "social media is full of distortion and partial stories..."

She likely published the book under her maiden name to keep a "brand" with her previous endeavors, but it's curious that the WELS Conference continues to refer to her by her maiden name. Perhaps this would be something valuable to discuss at a women's conference: how do we view the confession of historic practices of Christian culture which reflect the "leaving and cleaving" process in a world where feminist ideology runs rampant, headship is inverted, and many women are the breadwinners, relying on their name and image to make money? 

Taking a closer look at the social media post, this aside pops out:

"I was working on a book on singleness. Why should I date?!?"

Hannah casually binds herself to the identity of woman writing on singleness as an impediment to not being single. This binding of identity to an internal revealed state is typical in the modern era of the 'psychological man' (The book to read is The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman, don't let the Rod Dreher forward discourage you ;-)). To quote Trueman:

"In earlier ages, personal meaning was something discovered by individuals through being educated in how to locate themselves within established external structures such as family, church, or nation. With the psychological turn, however, these things come to be seen as potential hindrances to personal authenticity."

That is, in the past we found our identities in the community of the family and the church, primarily, and not in our internal drives. Or perhaps better stated, our internal drives were tuned to the community of the family and the church, so they were entirely consistent and objective. Turning to the content of the book's forward, Hannah makes two recommendations to her readers: start journaling, and 

"Consider counseling. We are going to unpack some big and heavy topics. I promise you there will also be light and fun parts, but I am going to ask you to challenge yourself and think about some uncomfortable things. You do not need to do that alone. Counseling is a wonderful way to work through these subjects so that you can continue to grow and thrive. In fact, the reason I can share most of the information in this book is because a counselor helped me first" [12]

This is another popular secular take that would be worth investigating at a women's conference: with nearly 1 in 4 women seeking counseling in the last twelve months, with 17% of women over 18 on antidepressants, with women being diagnosed with serious mental health conditions at nearly twice the rate of men, a frank discussion on "why" would be useful. What impact has feminism - the kind of feminism that encouraged Hannah to pursue a degree in electrical engineering, to keep her maiden name - had on our Lutheran women?  What impact has contraception and 'the pill' exerted on the relations between young men and women? No conference will plumb the depths of depravity that is our modern society, but frank discussions among Lutheran women - especially with some wise grandmothers present - might allow for introspection and at least an awareness of what women are experiencing in their souls and among their peers.

Much as we saw in part one, there is a consecration of secular cultural principles embedded in the presentation of the content. While it is possible Hannah has something valuable to say about singleness - perhaps echoing St. Paul's recognition that those who are granted the gift of celibacy can use the time not pleasing a spouse to please God and serve the Church, or perhaps encouraging women who feel a desire to be married to pursue marriage in a Godly manner - it's clear we are consecrating secular culture implicitly in the process.