Presbyterian Women kicks off its 2021 business meeting

The first online triennial gathering celebrates innovative ministry during challenging times

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — On Wednesday, Presbyterian Women opened its 2021 Business Meeting and online Churchwide Gathering with greetings by the 2018-2021 board leadership team of Moderator JyungIn Lee; Joy Durrant, Vice Moderator for Justice and Peace Concerns; and Jo Ann Burrell, Vice Moderator for Mission Relationships.

The gathering, which continues Thursday, is PW’s first online Triennial Business Meeting.

Prior to the start of the business and worship, participants began with a land acknowledgement led by PW board member Danelle Crawford McKinney. In her acknowledgement, McKinney said, “Long before settlers came to what is now known as the United States, people were inhabiting this land, providing for their families and future generations.”

“Native people were intricately connected to the land, which they knew as Mother Earth. Mother Earth was a living being, and she nurtured and cared for the nations as only a mother could — providing nourishment and support, as well as teaching her children the importance of taking care of the land for future generations. This land was meant to sustain all during times of plenty and times of scarcity.”

McKinney acknowledged that the Doctrine of Discovery was created to justify “ownership” of these lands.

“Anyone who believed in Christian doctrine was privileged by the doctrine to do whatever it took to establish their claim over land they wanted,” she said. “To this day, the same systemic racism at the foundation of the Doctrine of Discovery is still used to justify claiming land and shielding those who seek to wipe out families and tribes occupying the land.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has officially repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, McKinney noted, and “seeks to continue to recognize conscious and subconscious racism and systemic racism in every order of our business within the Church.”

The Judgment of the Nations

Using Matthew 25:31-46 as a scriptural basis, the preacher during worship, the Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter, former director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, said, “This year’s Celebrate the Gifts of Women resource suggested honoring women who work to disrupt systemic poverty.”

the Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter

“It’s hard to disrupt systems of poverty,” Hunter said, “but when women can earn at least a living wage, when systems of ‘toxic charity’ are replaced with partnerships, when disadvantaged children are educated, when people have food to eat, then families, communities, and nations are lifted.”

“During this pandemic, millions of women have left the workforce to take care of children, other family members or because they had high-touch jobs and that work stopped. In the United States alone, 1.8 million fewer women are in the labor force than before COVID-19. And despite labor shortages in many industries nationwide, many women remain unemployed.”

 Hunter says children from low-income families face an opportunity gap. “Systemic poverty is a cycle of reinforcing mechanisms that cause poverty, once it exists, to persist,” she said. “It persists across generations unless there is outside intervention. It is nearly impossible for many to break the cycle of poverty because these families don’t have access to economic, social, or even political resources. But many of us do have this access, and we have a voice.”

 According to Hunter, in the PC(USA), “We believe that poverty can be significantly reduced by identifying its root causes and looking for solutions to these causes. We have worked hard, but there is still much to do to shift church ministries from historically patriarchal and paternalistic models of charity to collaborative models of respect, mutuality and support.”

“The church’s approach to addressing poverty — and racism, sexism, classism and gender identity discrimination — must continually be reformed and decolonized,” Hunter said.

Letters tell the story of PW’s efficacy

The 2018–2021 Secretary and Historian for PW, Helane Warren Church, then reported correspondence received by the organization.  The correspondence highlighted the critical support and partnerships of Presbyterian Women, Inc.

Photo by Alex Perz via Unsplash

A letter from the Fellowship of the Least Coin, a global ecumenical prayer movement for justice, peace, and reconciliation long supported by Presbyterian Women, included these words:

“Dear beloved Presbyterian Women (PC[USA]) Sisters,

“Warmest greetings and hearty congratulations on your Triennial Business Meeting! God surely looks upon you with great joy as you continue to commit to loving this world that God so loved!

“Allow us to take this opportunity to convey our deepest appreciation and many thanks to PW for partnering with the International Committee for the Fellowship of the Least Coin (ICFLC) in its treasury work, and for providing a conduit in managing finance transactions on our behalf. Especially, we thank you for “sending” one of your own, the competent and wise one, Mary Martin, to help us out in this important work of responsibly managing the FLC Offerings and finance work.

“You are a consistent and faithful accompanier of the Fellowship of the Least Coin (FLC) since its birth up to this day. Praise and thanks, God, for

you! We covet your continuing commitment to work with us, to bear more passion and grace in witnessing to the world — through living out the FLC spirit of unceasing prayer, of gracious receiving, and generous giving — especially at this critical time and onwards. God’s strength and courage be poured on you!

Our hearts are full. Thank you ever so much.”

In another letter, Gemechu Beyene, the principal of Gidada Theological College in Dembi-Dollo, Ethiopia, thanked PW for the 2020 Thank Offering grant of $43,650 to construct a dormitory for the college’s female students. Construction was completed on the Gidada Theological College Ladies Dormitory in May 2021.

The board of Shower the People, a nonprofit organization in San Luis Obispo, California, received a 2018 Thank Offering grant of $44,000 from Presbyterian Women. The nonprofit’s board president, Gwen Watkins, reported that Shower the People got its start in 2018 due to the generous award it received from a Thank Offering grant.

With PW’s assistance, the organization purchased a mobile shower for people experiencing homelessness in San Luis Obispo County, Watkins wrote.

“After buying and outfitting our three-unit shower trailer, we started shower operations in November of 2018,” Watkins wrote. “Since then, we have provided over 6,000 showers to the homeless in their community.” Shower the People closed in 2020 for two months due to the pandemic, then restarted in June 2020 with new protocols, including full personal protective equipment for all volunteers. Currently Shower the People operates four days a week at three different sites. “The need for showers among the homeless remains great,” Watkins wrote to PW.

Presbyterian Women also partnered with the Cottage Village Coalition, a tiny house community for low-income residents in Cottage Grove, Oregon that received a 2018 Birthday Offering of $100,000.

“Thanks to Presbyterian Women,” wrote the organization’s Bruce Kelsh, “for getting us started, believing in our tiny house village project, and helping us make this amazing project possible.”

“Rejoice in Hope” is the theme of the online gathering, which continues Thursday. View it here.

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