One in mission | Linda Valentine
Leading by example
Presbyterian women find inspiration in a legacy of leadership
Nearly a year after Cynthia Campbell—president emerita of McCormick Theological Seminary and pastor/head of staff at Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville—spoke at the 2011 Big Tent event, I have continued to reflect on her remarks about role models and opportunities for women in leadership.
Addressing a luncheon devoted to young women’s leadership development, Cynthia shared that when she was growing up in Pasadena, Calif., she had never experienced a woman in a leadership role in the pulpit of her home church.
“There were no role models of women; no women doing baptisms, weddings or funerals,” Cynthia said. Even when she started her faith journey at Harvard Divinity School, classes at theological seminaries were not taught by women.
Because it continues to be my privilege to serve with Cynthia—and other remarkable women in leadership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—I began to wonder not only what role models helped to shape their formative experiences but also how their example is speaking to a new generation. Without question, Cynthia is a role model for young women in the church today.
And so is Catrelia Hunter. I had the joy of working with Catrelia when she served as an elected member of the General Assembly Mission Council during her term as moderator of the Churchwide Coordinating Team of Presbyterian Women (PW). Whenever our debate on an issue failed to adequately reflect the perspectives of women and racial ethnic Presbyterians, Catrelia would always bring us a helpful word. These were teachable moments, in which Catrelia’s gifts as an educator and ruling elder were greatly in evidence.
A graduate of the PC(USA)-related Barber Scotia College in Concord, N.C., Catrelia—who also has an M.B.A. and an Ed.D. in educational leadership—first served in a professional role at Barber Scotia. She later joined the administration of Livingstone College, where she served for 29 years, retiring in 2006 from the position of acting president.
“Interestingly enough,” Catrelia says, “the three women in my life whom I would call my role models were mentors to me not only in my professional career but also in the Presbyterian Church.” She came to know each of them—Sara Cordery, Thelma Adair and Mable McLean—through their mutual associations and history with Barber Scotia. Of Cordery, a former chair of the college’s department of business education—and the first African American woman to become moderator of PW—Catrelia says, “I like to think that I followed in her footsteps.”
It’s deeply humbling for Catrelia to imagine that young women may now be following in her footsteps. “I wouldn’t say that I’m actively mentoring anyone,” she says, “but over the years I’ve tried to engage younger women to help them to understand how PW can contribute to their growth and development, not only spiritual but also professional.”
Catrelia speaks fondly of two young women—Kristen Campbell and Michelle Simmons—whom she first met at a PW synod gathering at Massanetta Springs Camp and Conference Center the year she was nominated as PW’s national moderator. “They both seemed to be in such awe that I had been nominated,” Catrelia says. “They told me, ‘We’re coming to the Churchwide Gathering to see you be elected and installed.’ ” When that day arrived in the summer of 2006, Kristen and Michelle were right there on the stage with Catrelia, taking her picture. Michelle has since become PW moderator in her home presbytery, and Kristen, now a graduate student, traveled in 2008 with the PW Global Exchange to Eastern Europe to share her sisters’ faith experiences in another part of the world.
“PW has helped to prepare a lot of women who are in leadership roles today for the whole church,” Catrelia says. “I hope that will continue, because the opportunities are limitless.”