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‘We don’t have to wait until they come into our church building’

Presbyterian Women of the Presbytery of Geneva is the 400th to accept the Matthew 25 invitation

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Presbyterian Women of the Presbytery of Geneva participated in the USA Mission Experience in the Finger Lakes region of New York last year. One evening the women prepared dinner for Family Promise of Ontario County, New York. Presbyterian Women Moderator Linda Werts is in the center. (Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Women)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Women of the Presbytery of Geneva in New York’s Finger Lakes region has become the 400th congregation or group to accept the Matthew 25 invitation.

Linda Werts is moderator of Presbyterian Women in the presbytery and was a commissioner to the 223rd General Assembly (2018) in St. Louis. That’s when she heard the Matthew 25 call and took it home with her.

“Sometimes something sparks your interest and fits with your thinking and it just takes off. That’s what has happened,” she said.

The focus for the women will be on eradicating systemic poverty. Her home church and other congregations are involved with Family Promise, an organization that works with families experiencing temporary homeless by offering skills and resources as well as sustainable employment and affordable housing.

“I know when someone comes to the food closet at my church, I can feed them for a day or up to two weeks, but that is just going to give them food,” she said. “How do we focus on eradicating systemic poverty? How do you really break into the system, really connect with the people who just need a hand up, not just a handout? How do you help them become self-supporting?”

When Werts first began her teaching career, there was a homeless family living in a station wagon who dropped their children off daily for school. Years later their memory is still with her. She was a young teacher then and always felt badly she didn’t do more. Now she is.

“We already have a feeling for things we can do to help and support our communities, but I feel there is calling to get deeper into eradicating systemic poverty,” she said. “Or there are new calls for new opportunities to make relationships with people that need to be served.”

“A lot of those people are unchurched. I think we can provide a good role model for what it is to be a Christian, just because we meet them where they are,” she said. “We don’t have to wait until they come into our church building. We can go out and serve where we see the need. A lot of our women feel that calling and want to show their compassion.”

The 222nd and 223rd General Assemblies (2016 and 2018) directed the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor. This gave birth to the Matthew 25 invitation, “to actively engage in the world around us, so our faith comes alive and we wake up to new possibilities.”

The three focus areas of Matthew 25 — dismantling structural racism, eradicating systemic poverty and building congregational vitality — have been adopted by the Church, and its vision for the future will reflect that commitment.

Geneva Presbytery is in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of New York. Werts said when most people think of homelessness, they think it’s just an urban problem. She said churches can easily get the statistics on poverty from their local school district.

The Presbytery of Geneva is comprised of 60 churches and one emerging immigrant fellowship, as well as Camp Whitman on Seneca Lake. Their churches are in the areas surrounding Canandaigua, Keuka, and Seneca Lakes, as far north as Lake Ontario and within a short distance from the Pennsylvania border on the south. The presbytery is located in the Synod of the Northeast.

Werts and many of her fellow Presbyterian Women have also participated in international mission, which has also had a profound impact on her.

“You see the world in a different way. You see the possibilities that are there to build relationships and to learn from others,” Werts said. “Every time I go someplace, I think I learn more from their culture and their understandings of life than I can possibly add to theirs.”


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