Led by a woman carrying a cross trailing ribbons, with everyone singing “Lift High the Cross,” a parade of church leaders and international guests marched through the crowd at the convention center – a colorful stream of women wearing capris and saris and bright African dresses, bedecked with sashes and turbans and flowers in their hair.
The congregation responded to the waves of the women in the parade by enthusiastically shaking their wands – popsicle sticks festooned with ribbons that each registrant received in the tote bag (made by the Women’s Handiwork Project in northern Thailand, near the border with Burma).
When international partners at the Gathering were acknowledged on July 12 – women from Iraq, Kenya, Korea, Madagascar, Colombia, Nigeria, the West Bank, Portugal, France, Rwanda, Uruguay, Zimbabwe, and more places – the crowd greeted them with a roar of welcome, stomping their feet on the bleachers.
In part, this was a celebration of what Presbyterian Women has done and continues to do, and a direct challenge by the preacher, Margaret Aymer, for Christians to move from words to action on behalf of those who do not have access to power, justice, and mercy on their own.
Around the world, supporters of Presbyterian Women have worked to support hospitals and clinics, to provide women and their families clean water and shelter and opportunity for better quality of life, said Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council. They have been advocates for the inclusion of women in leadership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), where “our work is not done,” Valentine said. Women’s gifts still are not fully welcomed or included in the PC(USA), she said, “and our churches and the world are poorer for that.”
From the first Easter morning, “women have had to tell the church what the good mews is,” said Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the PC(USA). “Thank you for continuing to push the church to be more than the church sometimes wants to be. Thank you for being pushy.”
One sign of the impact Presbyterian Women can have brought expressions of thanks. Those attending this Gathering brought with them $60,000 in gift cards from national retail stores and donated them for use by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Bellewood Presbyterian Homes for Children, a Kentucky non-profit agency that works with abused, at-risk and homeless youth. The gift cards will be given to people in need to buy clothing and household supplies, paint, or construction materials – a simple, direct way to help.
Aymer, who preached during this worship service, said she pretty quickly started learning Southernisms when she moved to Atlanta, where she’s an assistant professor of New Testament at the Interdenominational Theological Center.
Among those sayings: “Preacher, you’ve left off preaching and started meddlin’!”
But Aymer contended that meddling is exactly what Jesus wants and expects of those who are serious about their faith.
Using as her text the second chapter of Mark’s gospel, Aymer told the story of four men who brought their paralyzed friend to see Jesus, but couldn’t get in to see him because too many people were packed into the house. So they climbed onto the roof, dug through it, and dropped their friend down to Jesus.
What was at stake there, Aymer said, was access. “What the five wanted was access to the house, access to the teaching, access to Jesus.”
And today, more than 2,000 years later, the question of access remains central, Aymer said. What would happen, she asked, if Christians left off preaching and started meddling — pushing for access for all people to health care, medicine, education, food, and shelter?
Jesus looked at the paralyzed man, a man who suffered in a culture where many would have believed that his paralysis was the result of his sinful life and told him, in essence, “Child, your sins are forgiven,” Aymer said.
Are we willing to follow Jesus, to believe that his teachings transcend all rules and authority and to stop preaching and start meddling? Meddling happens, Aymer said, every time a Christian stands, as Jesus did, with those who are on the outside.