Seeking peace. Striving for justice. Together.
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!
Rochelle Rawls-Shaw is a student at San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is serving an internship with the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. Photos by Andrew Nam Chul Osborne.