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This tribute to the power of Theta sisterhood honors both Ritual Celebration Week and the Year of Sisterhood.
Theta is one of the BEST things that ever happened in my life!
I was just with a group of my closest friends over the weekend, all Thetas. All Indiana University grads from 1974 and 1975. We went to the IU vs Minnesota basketball game Friday night and then spent the weekend together. One just experienced the death of her son, one is going through a divorce, another is caring for two grandchildren who lost their mother to cancer four years ago, another's husband just lost his job, one's son is going to get engaged this weekend, and another's daughter-in-law is due to have her first baby tomorrow! All these things and so much more we share and have shared for 45 years. I don't know what I would do without them ... for their love, advice, and support, I am beyond THANKFUL!
You don't know what "Theta for a Lifetime" means or is going to mean when you are initiated. It's not until you live it that you truly understand.
Theta for a lifetime,
Carey Thielemann Criswell
Today is the start of Ritual Celebration Week, a time for Thetas to consider not only how our ritual services reflect our Fraternity values and vision but also how they offer guidance to further develop our Theta membership.
Many of us who have served as president of Kappa Alpha Theta can talk of challenging moments. Norma Jorgensen, who was our leader from 1968 to 1972, experienced more than a few challenging moments; in fact, she guided Theta through a challenging era. At the same time we were preparing to celebrate Theta's centennial, Norma was fighting for the Fraternity's very survival.
Because sororities had been in existence for more than 100 years, one might think we would have been an integral part of the fabric of higher education by the 1970s. Remember, though, that this was a tumultuous time. Colleges and universities were the site of protests, and sororities were seen as part of the "establishment." Chapters were closing, and many—both inside and outside our membership—questioned if we could keep going.
I knew Norma in her later years and deeply respected her stature in Theta history. She was known to be a good listener who saw all sides fairly. She traveled all over the US and Canada, listening to our collegians and alumnae, trying to save as many chapters as she could. From these experiences, she developed the idea that everyone should enter Theta fully aware of the expectations of membership. Accordingly, she wrote the Loyalty Service in 1970; it was the first piece of ritual to be written since the early 1900s. It became and remains part of the preparation for initiation.
Our ritual is a reflection of the time in which it is written; yet amazingly it also stands the test of time. While our members no longer must persevere through harsh winters without heat, running water, or electricity, the independence we learned from our earliest leaders bolsters our leading women today. When entering classrooms, we don't experience jeers like Bettie did, but we still rely on our sisters for love and support during difficult times. The protests on today's campuses may not have the same themes as they did in the 1970s, but I have faith in my sisters to represent and understand the forces of change.
Serving as Fraternity ritualist, I am charged with keeping our ritual alive. Every time I participate in an Initiation Service, I talk to our newest members about the impact Theta will have on their lives. I'm bolstered by the continuing relevance of words that were written so long ago. Thinking back on that centennial year, I marvel at how much things have changed, and yet that which we cherish remains the same.
Most of us recognize 1 Corinthians 13 as the "love chapter," often read at weddings, funerals and other life events. It also has a place in Theta ritual. I'm sometimes asked why we haven't changed it to adapt to the more diverse membership of the present. After all, many Thetas today do not subscribe to the New Testament. My response is that even though our membership is beautifully diverse, this particular piece of literature is universal. To understand why this passage is part of (and remains in) our services, one must first contextualize its place in our history and understand its meaning beyond the literary home.
Our founders were Christians; Bettie Locke's father was a Methodist minister. So, it's safe to say she was familiar with the content of the New Testament. But, she was not founding a religious order. So, why would she put a passage from the Bible in our ritual?
She was founding a values-based organization and was looking for a way to express those values. Bettie was a student in post Civil War America, when books were expensive and treasured. Given her family background and her lack of other resources, the Bible was probably her first stop. And, when she found 1 Corinthians 13, she did not need to look further.
Why 1 Corinthians 13? Most biblical scholars agree that this passage does not refer to a romantic love nor, despite its context in a collection of religious writings, does it have anything to do with any prophet or religious belief. Instead it was probably chosen because the love represented in the passage refers to:
- A regard, respect, and caring concern for another person that does not depend on the worthiness or "lovableness" of that person
- An act of the will which places the welfare of others above the interests of oneself
(Short Bible Studies, purifiedbyfaith.com)
Bettie and her friends had a need for support during what was probably the most difficult time of their young lives. They turned to each other and took vows that are the same as what we say today. Did they know that nearly 150 years later, these sentiments would still mean so much to so many? Our values have stood the test of time, and continue to remain relevant.
There have been millions of pieces of literature written about love since 1870. We haven't changed our ritual because to do so would be to lose that connection we have to that snowy day in Greencastle. To think we could do better than the women who experienced the beginnings of this organization would be disrespectful to the valor and devotion of our Founders.
Now that 2015 is behind us, we've had the chance to collect all the data and assess our blog content from last year. Believe it or not, Theta staff, volunteers, and members wrote quite a bit in 2015—more than 140 posts! Let's take a quick look back at last year's blogs to find out which ones you liked the most. Doing so gives us a little insight into what you, our members and site visitors, find most interesting and useful. (This list was compiled by assessing page views, or the number of times the story was clicked on the Theta site.)
1. Overcoming Tragedy with the Help of My Sisters (Sept. 11, 2013). Even though this story was first published to the site in 2013, we posted the link again on our social media sites in September, and it clearly continues to touch the hearts of many of our followers and readers.
2. Being Inspired at Theta's Emerging Leaders Institute (Sept 16, 2015). Claire Russell, a junior at Albion College and member of Pi Chapter, shared her experience at last year's Emerging Leaders Institute.
3. Sexual Misconduct on College Campuses (Feb. 13, 2015). Fraternity President Laura Doerre encouraged discussion of the growing problem of sexual assault on college campuses and clarified Theta's role in addressing this problem.
4. Five Ways to Apply Ritual to Your Everyday Life (March 4, 2015). Fraternity Ritualist Amy Kates reminded members during National Ritual Appreciation Week to come back to ritual often when seeking guidance to further develop our Fraternity membership.
5. Kate Voegele: Singer, Songwriter, Actress, Leading Woman (Apr. 22, 2015). Kate shared how she launched her career, why she chose Theta, and how her membership has impacted her life and career.
Thank you for visiting the Theta website in 2015, and please continue to read, comment, and share our posts in 2016! If you'd like to hear about specific topics in the coming year, or contribute content, feel free to leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com. Happy New Year!
As Thetas, we are proud of our inclusive membership and our non-discriminatory recruitment policies. As Thetas, we are dedicated to social, intellectual, and moral growth, and we hold each other accountable for offensive language and behavior. As Thetas, we must be thoughtful in our conduct and speech, not because there may be a camera nearby but because we espouse the ideals of noble womanhood, which include treating everyone with respect and dignity.
Everything we say and do is not only a reflection of who we are individually but who we are as Thetas. I am deeply honored to serve Kappa Alpha Theta as president, and I very rarely am given reason to be anything but immensely proud of the accomplishments and contributions of each of our college and alumnae members. In this, the 145th year since our founding, let us continue to take every opportunity to lead one another to personal excellence, to model behavior that reflects the principles of our Fraternity.
As a former Fraternity president and current Fraternity ritualist, I have had the privilege of speaking the words in our ritual services quite a few times. With each experience, I feel the meaning of our ritual more deeply, adding more substance to these layers of my life. Now that I'm older and have spoken to countless Thetas, I have found others who feel the same way.
But what about our ritual is relevant beyond the memories we've made in a ritual setting? How does our ritual cross that barrier from words to actions that further develop us as members of Kappa Alpha Theta?
- Train your mind and soul. I realized that through our ritual, Theta gave me the courage to be the leading woman I emulated. An all-women's environment can provide a supportive place to learn, experiment, succeed, and sometimes fail. Theta gave me that opportunity, and trained me to be a leader, giving me skills that I use every day at work and at home.
I challenge you to connect what you learn to who you are as a person. Be worthy of someone's emulation: "If life brings you in contact with all sorts of people, rejoice rather than repine, for if you have in you the elements of leadership and true nobility of character, they will shine forth and lead you to the performance of something worthy, the trained mind and soul." (Kate Stevens, Psi/Wisconsin, 1901).
- Earnestly and actively seek ways to serve. What if every Theta made our ritual such a part of her life that she "cultivated [this] power of giving [by] encouraging the honest performance of duty, and not just because of the high demands of Theta or our institutions?" (as suggested by Kate Stevens). What if her service not only benefited her chapter, but each person with whom she comes in contact?
I have witnessed the power of our organization and the difference we make. I am proud of and motivated by my Theta sisters to be a community servant. Theta brought me to the amazing work of CASA, which I support financially through Theta Foundation and with my time. It is a reward that has made my everyday life more fulfilling.
- Establish your truth. My integrity became more solid when I made my vows to Theta. I was fortunate that my parents helped instill values during my childhood. But it was the group sharing of ideals that reinforced the foundation and made me more self-assured in my own personal ethics. Seeing the impact that individuals have on those who surround them has made me more caring and compassionate. Theta helped shape my ability to confront and support individuals and groups based on these values. Theta put her belief in my integrity, and I in hers. Do you believe in you? Theta does.
- Demonstrate the inspiration attained by being a member of our diverse organization. I aspire to do more because I am a Theta. Big or small, nothing gives me greater joy than to feel like I've made a positive impact in the life of another person. Theta ritual has taught me that I can turn any situation into a better one by being that inspiration. When I started to look at life through the lens of aspiration, things began to bloom like never before.
Every day we make decisions, and, as recent Ohio Wesleyan graduate Rachel Vinciguerra, Gamma deuteron, says, "Our ritual acknowledges that things are not always easy. Step back and realize that all we need is faith in one another and in ourselves, hope that we're doing something positive, and the love it takes to be there for one another through this journey." Ask yourself: What would the outcome be if I made each decision based on the woman I aspire to be?
- Further a spirit of unity within a group. Friendship takes on new meaning once you see the values described in our ritual, supported by those closest to you. As an organization, our first goal is friendship, which is an awesome standard. What if every organization started with friendship, and every action was rooted in that principle? Wouldn't the world be a better place? My Theta sisters know what true friendship means: peaks and valleys, celebrations and funerals. Throughout my life, Theta love has and will continue to enfold me.
I invite you to support each other in remaining loyal to the commitments we've made. Review our ritual, attend a service, and/or communicate with local college and alumnae chapters in your area for other opportunities. Do this not just during National Ritual Celebration Week, but whenever you need guidance. Come back to the ritual, for her sisterly hand will always be waiting to clasp yours.
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