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New York minister promotes loving as God and Jesus did to empower women

The Rev. Dr. Mary Newbern-Williams of the Presbytery of New York City speaks to the Commission on the Status of Women at Church of the Covenant

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — In a special sermon on Sunday, the Rev. Dr. Mary Newbern-Williams, transitional presbyter for the Presbytery of New York City, used love, as displayed by God and Jesus Christ, as a rallying cry for what must be done to improve the lives of women and other marginalized people.

Newbern-Williams is part of a joint delegation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Women that is taking part in activities surrounding the 68th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women this week.

The global summit at UN headquarters focuses on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and it often serves as a catalyst for Presbyterians to return home and rev up their advocacy work (local or otherwise) as Newbern-Williams believes people of faith are meant to do.

In a tone that was both motivational and firm, Newbern-Williams declared, “We will continue to work and struggle to leave no woman, no girl, no little boy, no young men, no family, no community” behind.

Why? “Cause God calls us to do that work,” she continued. “If we know what it is to be loved, we will love others as Jesus did. We will feed those who are hungry. We will clothe those who are in need.”

By doing so, “we will lift up — exalt — the name of Jesus Christ,” she said.

The Rev. Dr. Cornell Edmonds, pastor of the Church of the Covenant, speaks during last year’s Commission on the Status of Women. (File photo by Rich Copley)

Newbern-Williams, who is taking part in CSW68 with her daughter, Joy Williams, preached at Church of the Covenant, which the Rev. Dr. Cornell Edmonds, the church’s pastor, calls the best-kept secret on 42nd Street. Delegates were invited to worship there on the eve of the first day of CSW, which officially began on Monday and continues through March 22.  (Read a summary of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks here.)

The Sunday worship service, which was followed by a reception and special organ concert, included prayers and rousing music in multiple languages.

The Rev. Dr. Mary Newbern-Williams, shown here in a file photo from the 67th Commission on the Status of Women, preached Sunday at the Church of the Covenant in New York City. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Newbern-Williams largely based her sermon on John 3:14-21 and placed heavy emphasis on John 3:16, favoring the King James Version. She asked attendees to join her in reciting, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

It was one of the examples of the power of love and how it can be transformative and move people to action.

“For the remainder of our time at CSW68, we will continue to discover what it means to be so loved, to be loved so much, so deeply, that the Creator God, the Sovereign God, the Lord of light and love, gave God’s only son for the good of all humankind,” she said.

She challenged the audience, which included both online and in-person attendees, by asking, “How do YOU show humanity that all of us are so loved and worthy to be loved?” The answer, she said, is “by serving, by leading, by loving in the name of Jesus Christ. By working and fighting for human rights as we are doing, fighting for the rights of women and children around the world, securing voting rights and pay equity.”

Newbern-Williams also took time to lift up Jesus and his ways, noting that he’s the Lord of justice, love, mercy, forgiveness and peace. Similarly, “for CSW, we are concentrating upon love, upon justice, upon mercy and peace for women who are denied the very essentials of life, women all over the world, young girls all over the world, families in difficult situations.”

Jesus was willing to break social norms and customs of his day to make a difference in the lives of men and women, she said, pointing out that Jesus took the time to answer the questions of Nicodemus, who came to see him under the cover of nightfall, and to approach the Samaritan woman whom he asked for a drink of water despite her background. Other examples cited by Newbern-Williams included Jesus taking the time to heal a lame man and to request that children be brought to him rather than shooing them away.

“Is that the Jesus you know? The Jesus who said I don’t care if you’re rich or poor or you’re Black or you’re white … If you’re Hispanic, if you’re Asian. I don’t care what your background is. I don’t care if you’re Samaritan or Muslim or Hindu. I am the Lord almighty and I love you …”

Rousing music punctuated the service at Church of the Covenant Sunday. (Screenshot)

Newbern-Williams read aloud the CSW priority theme: “Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective,” noting that if attendees do any portion of that, they’re doing God’s work in the world.

CSW is seeking to empower, educate and enrich the lives of women and girls around the globe just as Jesus sought to empower women such as the woman at the well, she said.

“If we love him, we will work for the education, the empowerment, the economic advancement and the future achievements of women and girls and children all over the world,” Newbern-Williams said. “That’s what we’ll do.”

Follow additional coverage of CSW on and various PC(USA) Facebook pages, including those of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries, and the denomination.

Previous stories:

Excitement grows as PC(USA) and Presbyterian Women’s joint delegation heads to New York for the UN Commission on the Status of Women

Presbyterian delegation to the 68th Commission on the Status of Women convenes at New York City’s Church of the Covenant

We must speak up, speak loudly, speak together and speak always to transform our societies’

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