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Today in the Mission Yearbook

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

May 22, 2024

In a special sermon recently, 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 was part of a joint delegation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Women that took part in activities surrounding the 68th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

The global summit at U.N. 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.

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)

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.

Newbern-Williams, who took 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.

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.

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.”

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 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.”

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.”

Darla Carter, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: Rev. Dr. Mary Newbern-Williams speaks to the Commission on the Status of Women

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Lee Hinson-Hasty, Senior Director for Theological Education Funds Development, Presbyterian Foundation 
Dori Hjalmarson, Mission co-worker serving in Honduras, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency  

Let us pray

We praise and thank you for your marvelous Creation. We thank you for the committed men and women who carry out your work in this kingdom. Bless them. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.