While the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has come a long way in recognizing the leadership gifts of women of color, the church humbly acknowledges that it has a long way to go.
While the increasing numbers of women serving as pastors and church leaders is something to celebrate, gender and racial inequity in pastoral calls still exists.
In January 2001, the Racial Ethnic Women’s Dialogue of Presbyterian Women – which was established in 1989 to give presence to the voices of racial ethnic women throughout the denomination – made a historic decision to call for a gathering of racial ethnic women. As a result of this action, the first Women of Color Consultation was held in 2004. More than 180 women of color participated, including Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinas, Middle Easterners, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and new immigrant women.
The report of the Women of Color Consultation Task Force – Hearing and Singing New Songs to God: Shunning Old Discords and Sharing New Harmonies – was approved by the 218th General Assembly (2008). The first of the thirteen recommendations contained in that report was to “declare 2009 to 2019 a ‘Decade of Hearing and Singing New Songs to God’ in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which will call for transformation of the church, focusing on the intersections of gender, race, and class.”
“It is our hope that as New Year’s resolutions are made that Presbyterian individuals, congregations, mid councils, seminaries, campus ministries, conference centers and other related institutions will continue to recognize the Decade,” said Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council. “The Moderator and the Stated Clerk join me in inviting all Presbyterians to use the many resources that are available through the PC(USA) in their services of worship, conferences, training events and other activities to encourage the full participation of women of color at all levels of the church in the coming years.”
The 218th General Assembly also directed that a second Women of Color Consultation be held no later than 2011 and a report and recommendations be submitted to the 220th General Assembly (2012). The second consultation was held in Charlotte, N.C., from Oct. 20-23, 2011.
At that consultation, the Rev. Magdalena Garcia, pastor of the Ravenswood Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Ill., urged those in attendance to “turn aside and listen to your sisters from a different racial group because they are God’s burning bushes.”
Within the GAMC, the Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women (RE&WM/PW) ministry area is called to engage the church in its mission to become more diverse and inclusive of all racial, ethnic, cultural and language groups and to equip women for leadership in all ministries of the church. To that end, several new leadership institutes were planned and implemented in recent years, especially the first Racial Ethnic Clergywomen’s Leadership Institute in 2010, which was designed to strengthen and nurture the gifts of racial ethnic clergywomen and to inspire them to greater leadership roles in executive and senior leadership in congregations, mid councils, and in the General Assembly.
RE&WM/PW also offers a variety of tools and resources through its website to help entities of the church to grow in their ability to honor and celebrate diversity, such as gender equity audits and a Youth Cultural Proficiency Pilot Program, for which grants are available.
“I join with the members of the Women of Color Consultation Task Force in affirming the Decade and declaring that ‘we believe the time, both God’s and ours, is now – now for all members of the church to learn the songs of women of color in the PC(USA) that we might truly know them and justly include them,” said Valentine. “As the report states, ‘Only in hearing and singing new songs to God will we fully and freely know all our sisters who are women of color, and thereby more fully and freely know God.’”