GA News: Women of Faith celebrate three visionary women

SAN JOSE, June 22, 2008 — “As I raise my three daughters, I am reminded every day what it means to be a woman in this world,” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) moderator, the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, told the packed room gathered to celebrate “Visionary Women Transforming the Church and Society” at the Women of Faith Awards breakfast.

The three recipients honored this year were Theodora (Thea) G. Jackson, a member of First Church in Katonah, N.Y., the Rev. Magdalena I. Garcia, pastor of Ravenswood Church, a multicultural and bilingual congregation in Chicago, and the Rev. Ann L. Hayman from of Santa Monica, Calif., founder of the Mary Magdalene Project.

“I want to publicly acknowledge there is no shortage of faith-filled, spirit-filled women of vision,” said the Rev. Rhashell Hunter, director of the Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women program area. “But when the awards committee came upon the nominations of these three women, the choice was clear. This is a celebration.”

And celebrate the room did, as the ministry of each of the women was highlighted. “We thank you, God, for their love, which is visible and palpable and savory,” prayed the Rev. Steven Yamaguchi, executive presbyter of Los Ranchos Presbytery.

The Rev. Rose Miles-McCrary introduced Jackson by saying, “Thea has been the embodiment of God’s smile—smiling upon me all of my life.” Jackson spent decades in work with senior citizens, growing a part-time church job into service as executive director of a comprehensive system of services for the aging. She then went on to pioneer reform in the correctional system for incarcerated women.

Since Jackson was unable to be present to receive her award due to ill health, representatives from her presbytery joyfully accepted on her behalf.

In Jackson’s recorded acceptance speech she said, “After decades of work with seniors, I have become passionate about the need to reform our criminal justice system, which is criminal but not just. Why I should be singled out as a woman of faith, when most of the women I know are women of faith, I do not know. Perhaps because I believe that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the criminal justice system can be reformed.”

The second recipient, the Rev. Magdalena Garcia, was celebrated for her multi-faceted service of preaching, writing and teaching. Among her vast array of accomplishments, in addition to her service as a pastor, the Rev. Garcia has served as adjunct faculty at several theological schools, and as a freelance writer and translator for denominational resources. She is author of the compendium, Toward a Liberating Faith: Introduction to Mujerista Theology, published by the PC(USA)’s Women’s Ministries office. In her acceptance speech, Rev. Garcia highlighted the visionary women who introduced her to faith as she journeyed from her native Cuba, to life as a refugee family in Spain, to the United States. She joked that when she first heard she had been selected for the award, she asked, “Am I that old?” She went on, “I accept this award as a reminder of all that remains to be done. We must continue growing into the truth that we speak.”

The third recipient, the Rev. Ann L. Hayman, spent more than 25 years as program director for the Mary Magdalene Project, a residential program providing alternatives for women involved in street prostitution in Southern California. In her acceptance speech, Rev. Hayman credited humor, flexibility, unceasing prayer and dogged determination for the lives transformed by her ministry. “As people of faith, we are called upon to take risks,” she said. “God does God’s best work through the unlikely. “

The Women of Faith awards were established in 1986 to honor female members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) whose lives exemplify their Christian commitment through witness, service and leadership.