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by Rochelle Rawls-Shaw
Presbyterians from the United States and Aotearoa New Zealand prepared to lead this morning’s Ecumenical Women (EW)’s worship service at the 57th Session of the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW) for over a month.
As we met and got to know each other on conference calls, we shared our nicknames and their origins; we identified our special talents (or talents we wished we had). We shared what friends or family would say to describe us to a complete stranger. Our conversations were a great beginning for a group of women who were blessed and being used to bless others who would gather together for worship.
The EW worship committee who assigned each organization a scripture passage associated with women in the bible and guidelines for worship services during CSW. We received the story of the woman caught in adultery – John 8:2-11. This story became the focus of our liturgy. Exploring the story, we began to experience the Divine Momentum leading us.
The momentum built when we were introduced to Pamela Tankersley from Presbyterian Women of Aotearoa New Zealand. She had prepared a liturgy for International Women’s Day (March 8) based on our scripture and in remembrance of the brutal gang rape that occurred in India on December 16, 2012. She entitled the liturgy, “Laying down the Stones.”
The momentum continued to build as planning members suggestions to the liturgy. A prayer of invocation was added to the call to worship and assignments made to the various parts. Our team included talented singers who would lead congregational songs and a soloist who would sing “Safe Within Your Arms.” Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote a new hymn for the service: “Christ Would Not Cast the Judgment Stone.”
We planned that the worship service would involve people who were not even present at the Church Center for the United Nations. Planning team members were invited to bring at least 15-20 stones with them to New York. A planning team member from Puerto Rico had members of her congregation bring stones to church that she brought to CSW.
This morning dawned and we made our final plans. We placed larger stones around the communion table and gathered the stones brought by the planning team members into baskets. As worshippers entered the chapel, each received a stone.
There was something about the stones.
A single red candle was lit. The service began. I strongly felt the Divine Presence.
After scripture had been read, songs had been sung, and words had been said, the worshipping community was invited to bring forth their stones and put them down around the table as symbols to remember the violence that our sisters have endured, to express our intention to put aside our complicity in that violence and to renew
Reflecting on the service, Laetitia Wells observed, “As the women brought their various stones to the table, I was moved during worship when I heard the loud sound of the stones hitting the table. Symbolically I felt that WE were taking a definitive STAND against violence against women and girls. Hearing the loud sound of the stones allowed me to think that we were eradicating the horrors that come with violence against women.” Jill Bolander Cohen commented, “This was a deeply spiritual and moving experience. It was really something watching women and men lay down stones which seemed to release something–something that weighed them down.” Jaime Staehle said, “Working together with women from all generations, walks of life, and places in the world was quite meaningful and really helped the theme of the service blossom.”
There was something about the stones–something special about being able to release some things that have burdened us all our lives. The Divine Momentum presented the opportunity for us to release them during our worship here today. Thanks be to God!
Photos by Andrew Nam Chul Osborne
In a broken and fearful world
the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
- A Brief Statement of Faith, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Participants in March 3 Ecumenical Women’s orientation for the 57th Commission on the Status of Women remembered our sisters whose voices are and have been silenced.
In worship, we remembered.
In prayer, we remembered.
In art, we remembered.
As we marched in silence from The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission to the Church Center for the United Nations, we remembered.
Remembering, may we act.
Photo by Andrew Nam Chul Osborne
Peng Leong, volunteer at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, met Theresa Symons during the International Women’s Day March. She interviewed Theresa about her ministry. Here’s how Theresa responded:
I am working as the Executive Director of Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd (Good Shepherd Welfare Centre) in Malaysia.
The primary focus of our work is with women and children experiencing crisis situations such as domestic violence, pregnancy crisis, abuse and other forms of crisis. We also work with women who come from impoverished backgrounds especially those living in rural areas with minimal access to basic services such as education, healthcare, water, sanitation and decent wages. I oversee 5 residential services and 6 preventive programs in different parts of Malaysia.
This is my first CSW and it was an awesome experience for me. It was so good to with many women from different parts of the world, sharing the same joy, challenges and passion in advancing the status of women and girls; especially in the areas of human rights and basic necessities such as education, water and sanitation, health and decent wages. It was good to hear stories, to exchange best practices, to network with like minded women and to know that there is a wealth of information and resources available in different parts of the world.
I leave the CSW a different person from when I first came – equipped with more information, made some new friends and learned how to use human rights documents for advocacy and systemic change. I praise God for this opportunity and privilege to be here.
The picture shows Theresa (r) and Peng (l) at the International Women’s Day March.
Peng Leong wrote this article.
Presbyterian Side Event at the 56th Commission on the Status of Women
During this side event women from rural contexts share their stories connecting experience to issues, Global North to Global South, and the Bible to advocacy, with small group opportunities to learn more and determine actions we can take during the Commission on the Status of Women and at home to address poverty and hunger and work for just development. The side event was organized by Presbyterian Women, Young Women’s Leadership Development, Women’s Leadership Development, and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in the PC(USA), and the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York.
The event began with a Bible study led by the members of the Poverty Initiative.
Stories from East Jerusalem, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and the United States (North Carolina, Illinois, and Oregon) were shared. The stories focused on issues around employment, hunger and nutrition, infrastructure, human trafficking, and domestic violence.
After the presentations, participants gathered in small groups to discuss intersections between the Bible stories, the stories shared by the presenters, and their personal stories. Each group was asked to identify key insights and action plans and to share one of those ideas.
With thanks for all who shared their stories and with prayers for God’s continued guidance and strength, the participants went forth to work to overcome poverty and hunger and to work for just development in the context of the Commission and in their homes – Global South and Global North.
- Key insights from the side event From Story to Skills: Advocating with Women in Rural Areas
- Action plans from the side event From Story to Skills: Advocating with Women in Rural Areas
Photos by Andrew Nam Chul Osborne
The Ecumenical Women’s worship service at the Commission on the Status of Women on Friday, March 2 focused on the World Day of Prayer. This year’s worship materials were written by women from Malaysia.
Theresa Symons, Executive Director of the Good Shepherd Welfare Centre in Malaysia, provided a Reflection on Malaysia during the Ecumenical Women’s worship that took place in the chapel at the Church Center for the United Nations. She noted the changes and the progress that Malaysia has seen over the past two decades.
She also reflected on the challenges face by the 4 million migrants who have come to Malaysia.
These women migrants do not have a voice, poverty has silenced their right to be heard. My heart aches.
But, she affirms that there is a ray of hope:
I see people braving prison sentences in order that the voices of the helpless are heard. I see people of different races, religions, culture and economic status walk the streets, demanding for fair general elections. I hear people affirming that human rights are women’s rights. I see people helping each other.
She concludes with a vision and a prayer:
May Malaysia be a land where truth, justice, and compassion prevail for all who come to my shores.
Watch more videos from the World Day of Prayer Ecumenical Women worship service:
A new side event has been announced:
Enhancing Women and Girls’ Leadership: A Perspective from Rural Communities
28 February 2012
Chapel, Church Center for the UN
8:45 am – 10:15 am
Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee
WIPSEN-Africa’s Projects on Gender and SSR
West Africa Women Election Observation Team
Young Girl’s Transformative Leadership
Co-sponsors: The Lutheran World Federation and Ecumenical Women at the UN