Recently I returned to my alma mater, Yale University Divinity School (YDS). In the taxi from the train station to the school, the driver expressed his interest in my ministry. He wanted to know if I was Presbyterian or not. When I told him I was Baptist and that I felt called to work with all Christians, he expressed his interest in giving me a gift. I was curious. I then realized that he wanted to give me some Biblical wisdom and encouragement. The gift was the following and how apropos given the new work of PAWEEN at this time!
- Philippians 1:6 New International Version (NIV): "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
Who would have known that when I began my academic journey at YDS many years ago that a good work with and for Pan African Women and the Christian unity movement had begun?
When I first arrived at YDS, I had never heard of the World Council of Churches (WCC). It was Professor Letty Russell who first mentioned the WCC to me at YDS during class. Not long after that I was invited to a lecture at Harvard University Divinity School to hear the Rev. Dr. Emilio Castro, WCC General Secretary at that time. I came away from that presentation thinking WCC had a passionate pastoral visionary.
Not long after that, I met the first African American woman to graduate from YDS, the Rev. Dr Rena Karefa Smart, who became a global Christian leader in the USA, Africa, Europe and the WCC. It would not be until after my graduation from YDS and three years of pastoral ministry that WCC would emerge again in my life.
After the pastoral work, I became the Executive Director of the Trenton Ecumenical Area Ministry (TEAM) in Trenton, NJ. To my surprise, my national church, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., WCC and the National Council of Churches of Christ as well as many others took notice.
At the time, I was the only full-time Executive Director of a Council of Churches in the USA who was in her 20’s, of African descent and a woman. Before I knew it I was a delegate to my first WCC Assembly.
Upon my tardy arrival to the Assembly, I encountered a plenary that was disorderly. After experiencing about twenty minutes of this, a sense of disappointment came over me. I was grateful for the moment when the session was finally dismissed.
In about thirty minutes we were re-convened without the previous Moderator. This time the Moderator was Dame Nita Barrow, former Governess of Barbados, former global leader of the Health Ministry at WCC, and a WCC President at that time. The tone and disposition changed dramatically and the business of the Member Church delegates was accomplished!
After witnessing this I knew there were aspects of her leadership I needed to know and follow! This set me on a path of research and investigation to find out about other global Pan African women who were committed to ecumenical empowerment “ahead of their time!” Dame Nita Barrow was one of a larger group of Pan African women leaders who have led the churches globally when the social and cultural climate would suggest they should not have existed. The quest to identify and research some of these women during the period of 1935-1980 has been a passion and joy for me since that World Assembly. A book is forthcoming and a new church movement has come together to intentionally build on the great legacy of women like Dame Nita Barrow with the churches and for generations to come.
This year a WCC Core Group met to conceptualize what this could mean based on this premise. The result is the Pan African Women’s Ecumenical Empowerment Network (PAWEEN).
The Pan African Women’s Ecumenical Empowerment Network (PAWEEN) seeks to serve as a platform of academic study, spiritual reflection and action for women of African descent in all regions of the world. PAWEEN seeks to affirm and invite the deeper nurture of the community of men and women.
PAWEEN sees the season of the WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. as a kairos moment for deepening the churches’ understanding of the contributions of Pan African Women to the history of the churches and the ecumenical movement.
You are invited to be a part of this expression of the pilgrimage of justice and peace with the churches. A schedule of upcoming events, blogs and other highlights will be shared. Please visit us online to learn more.