Presbyterian Women: a pioneering movement for women of the church, an historical organization with over 200 years of dedicated service, and the missional heart of so many congregations.
The legacy of PW is one of strong advocacy on behalf of the hungry, the poor, and the un-churched. As a young clergy woman I owe so much to those women who, when they first organized as a mission society in the early 1800s, defied societal and church conventions by confronting the norm that women should remain at home. These women felt a call from God to ministry, to evangelism, and to mission. They knew what God was calling them to do and they were bound and determined to follow that call even if it meant ruffling a few feathers. They still are.
With a history like that it is no surprise that the signature determination of a PW woman would make her a force to be reckoned with in any church. Any pastor worth their salt knows this important truth—it is always better to have the Presbyterian Women in your corner than the other way around.
When I hear the words “Presbyterian Women,” I conjure images of women my grandmother’s age in Indiana resolutely rolling out homemade pasta noodles with arthritic hands to sell at the preschool fundraiser. I see those rummage sale piles of sorted clothes and books and, let’s face it—junk, that tireless women seem to effortlessly turn into funds for the annual building maintenance. I think of countless lectures, bible studies, luncheons, and quilting circles that make up the life of Presbyterian Women around the country.
But I also see worry. I feel the anxiety that amid the changing tides of what it means to be church in a new era that the tried and true ways of being women, of being Presbyterian Women, may be changing. I see the frustration well up in their eyes when they tell me stories of how those luncheons and bake sales used to be full of crying babies and playing children. I hear their disappointment that the younger women of the church do not seem to be interested in homemade noodles and midweek luncheons.
I wish I could figure out how to convey to them how much we need them—how much women in their twenties struggling with student loans need to hear someone who has made it to 80 tell them they can do it. Or how many new mothers, who spend their days feeling guilty that they are at work rather than at home with their baby, need another mother to pray for them. I cannot convey how much we need their examples of what it means to be Presbyterian, of what it means to be women, of what it means to be followers of Christ.
But despite our need for each other the lines just don’t seem to connect. It can be like we are speaking different languages. Like how “Come to the luncheon on Tuesday!” just sounds like “Why can’t you be two places at once?” to a working mom, or how “Can you join our committee?” just sounds like “Do you have the money for four extra nights of childcare this month?”
Sheryl Sandberg in her recent book has invited women of the upcoming generations to “lean in,” at the workplace. Something that she acknowledges is only possible with the support of a committed partner and support network. I harbor the secret hope that the women who have gone before us might be the ones to help us figure out how to “lean in” to many aspects of our life including our faith and that they also might be the ones who support us as we do it. But first we have to figure out how to let down the walls built up by mutual disappointment and learn to speak the same language. We are all Presbyterian Women after all—and that is a lifelong bond.
Caitlin Thomas Deyerle is a Lake Fellow Resident at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.