[ENS] A group of Anglican women taking part in the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) assembled March 7 on the grounds of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, where the Episcopal Diocese of New York hosted a gathering of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) representatives to speak of their future goals as a united body and their individual work in ministering to women and children throughout the world.
Phoebe Griswold, lead Anglican delegate to the UNCSW and wife of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, explained that the UN Commission would be focusing on two issues: the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality and women’s equal participation in conflict prevention and peace-building.
Griswold explained that the Anglican Communion is participating in the UNCSW as a faith-based organization that says “we believe that all humanity is made in the image of God and that we are called to embody Christ’s reconciling love in the world and strive for peace and justice for all people.”
She added that she hopes the work of women in the Communion can continue. “We are listening to the voice of the spirit in this work for the future possibilities of an international Anglican Women’s Network.”
Griswold then introduced Archdeacon Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea, Anglican Observer to the United Nations, under whose auspices the ACC delegates have gathered. “This is the very first time that we work together as Anglicans to actually promote our stand so far as United Nations issues are concerned,” she said as she recognized the participation of the Mothers’ Union with the delegation. “At this time, we are seeking to become an effective voice within the Communion.”
‘The world needs to hear your stories’
Jane Williams, theologian, lecturer, author and wife of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, presented the afternoon’s address. She explained that her contribution to the group would be to hear the stories of the women of the Church. “I’m standing here partly to represent that the world needs to hear your stories.”
But Williams, as wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury, also wanted to extend the thanks of the Church to all the women who have given so much to the cause for peace. “You peacemakers are blessed, you are children of God,” she said. “Being a peacemaker is not a relaxing occupation,” nor is it something at which more women are naturally better. Their success with and desire for peacemaking, she said, results from women experiencing conflict and war differently and having “different access to power and decision-making.” It also comes from the experiences women have as wives, mothers and sustainers.
Williams referred to the strength of the women who stayed at the foot of the cross during Jesus’ crucifixion. The women did not panic like the men, and they stayed together while the men scattered because, in the end, Williams explained, “they cared more about Jesus than about success.”
The Church also works for peace, Williams said, adding, “I want to praise my Church’s willingness to lose face in order to be a peacemaker.” Indeed, she continued, the Anglican Communion is a vehicle designed for peacemaking. It is held together even as members express differing opinions, because all are committed to the Good News the Church proclaims. Although such a structure can seem weak, it doesn’t matter, she said, because it is the Gospel that gives strength.
“We can rebuke each other, correct each other, argue with each other, deeply disagree with each other, and yet somehow let friendship prevail in keeping us struggling together,” Williams stressed. “All you peacemakers know that peace is always possible.”
Eliminate the ‘invisible wall’
After Williams’ address, the panel of delegates from around the Anglican Communion discussed their work for women in their home areas.
The first to speak was Jenny Te Paa, the Ahorangi/Dean of Te Rau Kahikatea and constituent of St. John’s Theological College in Auckland, New Zealand. Much of the work she is focusing on now in New Zealand and Australia is with migrant workers, as well as with women who are victims of domestic violence and other injustices. Among the significant strides taken in both countries, she explained, has been the complete integration and representation of Anglican aborigines within the Church.
Jyotsna Rani Patro, President of the Women’s Fellowship for Christian Service and the All India Council of Christian Women (Unit IV), spoke on her work with women in the Indian subcontinent. Women are still underrepresented in the Church, she explained, and she is working to eliminate this “invisible wall in the Church.” A serious problem for women is the lack of equal access to education, on which her ministry has focused.
Nema Aluku, an HIV/AIDS programme coordinator with the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, spoke of the harrowing situation facing Africans.
“We face a different war, each one of us,” she said, and the war she was called to fight is against the spread of HIV/AIDS. The devastating numbers foretell lost generations among the African population. “Deep down in my heart, I am shaking,” she said. Witnessing the work done by the women at the presentation, Aluku exclaimed, “We are a great army out here.” As women, she continued, “we are pregnant with ideas, but we need to put them into reality, before a child becomes a statistic.”
Speaking next was Clair Malik, Director of the Deaf Unit at El Malek el Saleh in Cairo, Egypt. The challenge for the Church in the Middle East, and what Malek has been striving to do, is to “reach the unreached,” including refugees. She works extensively with women, building in them confidence and self-reliance and helping them get jobs, allowing them to create their own security.
The final speaker from the panel of delegates was Margaret Rose, Director of Women’s Ministries for the Episcopal Church of the United States. “We need peacemakers because of the wars our country makes,” Rose declared.
She laid out three tools that bring about peace. The first is to tell the truth. By exposing and naming problems and conflicts, the different parties are then able to move on to the work of reconciliation. Second, people should speak their mother tongue in public, meaning that everyone should speak with the same candor they use in their own homes. Rose explained that this language is “incarnational” and deals with feelings and relationships, both of which are important to discuss. The third tool is conversation. “We must learn to talk to each other,” she said, “risking even aversion.” At the same time, through conversation, there is “no guarantee that one’s own position will remain intact.”