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Church women of color gather for virtual summit

Gender Summit is an opportunity to identify obstacles and brainstorm ways around them

by Maggie Harmon of the Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service

OAKLAND, California — So many things are “different” in 2020, and different can be a wonderful opportunity for transformation — which is something we heard quite a bit about during day one of Gender Summit 3, coordinated by ISAAC (Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity) and held virtually.

Funded through a grant from the Louisville Institute and sponsored by many organizations, including the Presbyterian Foundation, the Gender Summit is a three-day conference that seeks to bring together leading thinkers and resources to support systemic change that will bring more women and more women of color to the pulpit.

As panel moderator Dr. Kay Higuera Smith of Azusa Pacific University shared in her opening remarks, the experience of women creates space to think about a different way of doing church and what it means to be living in the kingdom of God. ISAAC and the Gender Summit event are actively working to bring those women’s voices to the fore.

Summit draws strong attendance

While there was some lamentation in not being able to be together in person as planned, with over 50 people in the Zoom room and hundreds more from around the world watching via Facebook Live, the opportunities for sharing, learning, and growing were deeply felt by all.

Dr. Kay Higuera Smith of Azusa Pacific University, left, and Young Lee Hertig, executive director of Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity (ISAAC), spoke during Gender Summit 3.

The Rev Dr. Young Lee Hertig, executive director of ISAAC, welcomed everyone to the event, introducing attendees to Rev. Dr. Edwin Aponte, executive director of the Louisville Institute, who opened the conference by challenging everyone with the words of Eduardo Galeano, “somos lo que hacemos para cambier lo que somos,” which he translated as “we are what we do in order to change who we are.” He tied these powerful words to Paul’s call in Romans 12:2, reminding participants, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”

There was much opportunity for renewing minds and considering opportunities for transformation as attendees then heard from a panel of women church planters from Asian and Latina communities.

The big questions that the group considered included why be a church planter, and how is that experience different as a woman and a woman of color? Rev. Jeya So, co-founder and co-minister of Anchor City Church in San Diego, spoke about her deep love for the church and her dissatisfaction that led her to reject complaining and embrace imagining what church could be. She shared that once she started imagining, “the affirmation of work started” and a different way of loving people by being “present and incarnational in the community” was born.

Jesus was in the community

Rev. Inés Valasquez-McBryde, chaplain at Fuller Theological Seminary, asked participants, “Where was Jesus?” and reminded everyone that he was “developing relationships in the community, eating and drinking his way through community,” as she explained that doing something in a way that destabilizes norms is the action the creates space for God’s Spirit to move in and transform.

There was a profound acknowledgment that in a church structure that has historically been male, being a woman and being a woman of color creates obstacles that can be very difficult to overcome. That, of course, is what the Gender Summit seeks to offer in creating space to discuss strategies for overcoming obstacles, but the acknowledgment of the challenge was empowering for the participants. Rev. Karla Stevenson, an Anglican priest, told participants, “Be confident in who you are and who God is guiding you to be.” Velasquez-McBryde proclaimed, “You have what it takes, but it will take all you’ve got.”

Even with the unique challenges faced by women in ministry and women of color in church planting, what was clear from day one of the conference was that the Holy Spirit was moving in ways that might be disturbing, but that would also be transforming.

Pastor Jennifer Chou of Los Angeles’ Jesus Knows my Name Ministry – The Church Without Walls offered a good reminder to everyone that if you are doing God’s work, the best thing you can do when you face what feels like an insurmountable wall is to pray, “This is your ministry. I don’t know how to do it. Guide me.”

Maggie Harmon serves as the Presbyterian Foundation’s Ministry Relations Officer for the Southwest. She works with congregations to create a culture of generosity, offers seminars and workshops, develops gifts and fundraising plans for ministries and provides coaching to leadership, finance, stewardship and endowment committees. Send comments on this article to

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