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Unleashing the power of women

Presbyterian Women plays a leading role in Presbyterian mission

Women painting a house

A vibrant mission commitment: Marta Rodriguez, churchwide moderator of Presbyterian Women, painting a Habitat for Humanity house with other volunteers for PW’s Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans project, helping people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Susan Jackson Dowd.

When I began working for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) more than two decades ago, I knew nothing about the women’s ministries of the denomination. Every other month a magazine called Horizons crossed my desk, but I was pretty clueless about who was publishing it. That all changed six years later, when I joined the staff of Presbyterian Women (PW) as associate editor of Horizons. Before my first day in the office, Barbara Roche, founding editor of Horizons and my new boss, sent me off to the 1994 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women in Ames, Iowa.

Still clueless about PW, weary from travel and too late to attend the evening’s opening plenary, I checked into my dorm on the Iowa State University campus and went to bed. The next morning, I woke to a campus swarming with nearly 5,000 Presbyterian women. This was my awakening to PW’s mission, which has evolved over the years but is as vibrant today as it has been throughout the history of the organization.

Presbyterian Women is filled with ‘loving, compassionate, strong women who want to make the world a better place for everyone.’

—Karri Vaughan Wicka

As I learned quickly on that Ames campus, PW is for all women. At 33, I did not feel out of place. Today, at 51, I still feel that I belong. Participants in PW may look older in many congregations, but the people and programs are guided by a timeless purpose: to help Presbyterian women nurture their faith through prayer and Bible study, to support the mission of the church worldwide, to work for justice and peace and to build an inclusive community.

There is no official membership. If you support the purpose in any way, you are part of Presbyterian Women.

Fifty-two-year-old Karri Vaughan Wicka, an elder at First Presbyterian Church in Puyallup, Wash., has been involved in PW since she was 30. She says the organization is filled with “loving, compassionate, strong women who want to make the world a better place for everyone.”

A network of relationships
Women signing papers

A history of global connections: PW Global Exchange chair Jenny Lee, right, and Neerja Prasad, secretary of the Church of North India’s Women’s Fellowship for Christian Service, signing a memorandum of understanding last October establishing a partnership between women’s organizations in the North India church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Photo by Susan Jackson Dowd.

Presbyterian women’s groups have supported the work of the church for more than 200 years. Today’s Presbyterian Women, a network with a vast domestic and international reach, has an estimated 300,000 participants in approximately 65 percent of PC(USA) congregations. PW’s Thank Offering and Birthday Offering support dozens of domestic and international projects each year, touching and transforming countless lives. PW participants pledge to the annual fund, a portion of which goes to support the PC(USA) mission budget. PW also issues grants to ecumenical groups and other ministries.

PW builds community through relationships. Every three years, for example, approximately 30 women experience the lives of sisters and brothers overseas through the Global Exchange program. Similarly, U.S.A. Mission Experience, launched in 2008, provides a one-week immersion experience that builds relationships while exploring issues such as hunger, poverty, violence and immigration.

A global footprint

Presbyterian Women has an estimated 300,000 participants in approximately 65 percent of PC(USA) congregations.

In buildings all over the world, cornerstones, plaques, banners and murals testify to PW’s global footprint. In 2010 the Women’s Ministry Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan licensed four editions of the PW Bible study to be translated into Mandarin Chinese for use in Bible study camps and in hundreds of Taiwanese congregations.

PW has launched influential ministries in the United States and around the world. For example:

Leaders of the Asian Church Women’s Conference call PW the midwife who helped birth their organization and the Fellowship of the Least Coin, a worldwide ecumenical movement of prayer for peace, justice and reconciliation.

Yodogawa Christian Hospital in Osaka, Japan, was started with seed money from a PW Birthday Offering in 1955 and continues to thrive.

A number of ministries of the PC(USA) have their roots in PW, including the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, initiatives to combat racism and promote dialogue, and a Mother’s Day project to improve the health of African women and children.

PW members often take the lead in addressing issues affecting women and children, including HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, violence against women and immigration. Each year, growing numbers of women travel to New York City to participate in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Presbyterian women are currently involved in water projects in Ukraine, dialogue ministries in Sudan and development projects in Congo.

Into the future
Group of women cheering

Memorable Gathering: participants from around the world joining in worship, learning and celebration at the Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women in 2009. Photo by Danny Bolin.

While participation numbers for PW events are lower than they used to be, reflecting the overall decline in church membership, the quality and reach of PW’s ministries have not changed. What is changing is the way PW works in today’s world. Besides building more flexible leadership structures for their organization, Presbyterian women are using Facebook and other social media to network and to build community. Virtual small groups not bound by geography, age or other limits are bringing women together for Bible study, mission projects and advocacy endeavors.

With so many choices for Christian involvement in the world, why PW? Here are a few reasons: In PW, women can celebrate the powerful legacy of their mothers and grandmothers and continue that legacy in new and innovative ways. Because of PW, another hospital will be founded, a child will learn to read, an impoverished woman in a far-off place will send her daughter to university, a trafficked woman will find refuge. PW will continue its work as long as there are women eager to invest their time, talent and treasure in sharing Christ’s love with the world. 

Susan Jackson Dowd is communication coordinator for Presbyterian Women.


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