I hope many of our women enjoyed the time at our PW Spring Retreat to worship, learn and fellowship with other women. We had 46 participants, including our guest preacher Julie Peeples from Congregational UCC. We honored our past by recognizing the 25 living members who have been awarded the PW Honorary Life Membership. We also thought about our future, challenged by Julie to see ourselves in a polarized world as “menders of the breach.” (Isaiah 58).
Most of us have been part of a church all of our lives. Some of you are fairly new to Guilford Park and we are very happy to have you. Many of you came here to this church as young women and have grown up here in this fellowship of women. And those years have brought a lot of change in the role of women in the church.
- Some of us grew up in churches where women could not serve as elders; today the church is filled with female ordained elders.
- Many of us remember the congregational vote to call to GPPC our first woman pastor, Joanne Hull, and the concerns some had about the appropriateness of calling a woman; at our retreat we worshipped led by two women pastors.
- Some of you may even remember when in 1979 Guilford Park hosted the then-remarkable wedding of an African American woman, Judge Elreta Alexander, to John Ralston, a white man; today we rejoice to have African American members and those who are married to members.
- Just a few years ago we could not have imagined openly gay people in the church; today we worship with gay women, as well as men, who were married in our sanctuary, one of whom will soon be ordained as a pastor with our support.
There is no doubt that the role of women in the church has changed. We see it, we have lived it, both here and at other churches where we’ve been a part. Where once the role of women in the church consisted primarily of teaching the children and cooking, women now serve as pastors, elders, and leaders in every way. Women trek out on mission trips and sleep on cots, write letters to the editor and to Congress to advocate for the hungry and marginalized, and send money to support mission projects all over the world. And where once those mission projects consisted mostly of supplying Bibles and medical supplies and supporting schools, our money now also supports drug treatment programs, clean water efforts, inner city youth programs, programs to help keep young men out of prison and a host of other good works in a hurting world.
On the bulletin board out in the hall nearest the crib room is collection of voices from Christian women about their understanding of church and faith. A little further down are posters that highlight both our past and our present as Presbyterian Women. I hope you’ll take a look at both. I know you’ll be surprised by some of the women’s voices, but some will resonate with what you know and celebrate. They remind us that the church, and the role of women in it, continues to change.
And we can see this with our own younger women, as they make their place in the church. Few of them were able to join us at the retreat – we were delighted to have those who could! But we know that many younger women face the daunting task of working full time while raising busy active families. Some are not interested in belonging to a circle, as has always been the case. Those that are members of circles may not have the same kind of circle activities we older women have traditionally had. Many choose church leadership roles other than PW. And in my observation, very few are interested in cooking as a primary expression of their faith!
And all that may be just fine.
Our challenge is as it always has been: Just as we re-interpret scripture for each new age, we re-imagine the role of women in the church. But some things have not changed, and that is something we celebrated at our retreat.
We are still, all of us, called to prayer and worship, called to mission, called to work for justice and peace, and called to build an inclusive caring community of women.
That is who we are as Presbyterian Women, and that is the heritage we hope to pass on.