Zoom women pilgrimage

Exploring the theme “Stony the Road: Women’s Voices of Faith, Courage, Resistance & Resilience,” the online visit was the first of two sessions that comprise a programme organized by the World Council of Churches and its regional partners. The visit was organized in collaboration with the National Council of Churches (USA), which in October 2021 elected an all-female slate of officers for the first time in the ecumenical organization’s 71-year history.

Opening the programme, Rev. Nicole Ashwood, WCC programme executive for Just Community of Women and Men, asked the pointed question: “Why North America, one would argue?”

Through the course of the two-hour session, speakers and participants—who shared engaging and often challenging ideas—answered that crucial question. 

Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, leader of the Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and chair of the National Council of Churches (USA), offered opening reflections. 

Jefferson-Snorton expressed deep appreciation for the gathering, convened to address issues women in North America are facing now—and have faced for decades.

“We’re just so glad to see how God is bringing God’s people together to look at issues of justice, to look at issues that plague our community and our churches, and this particular Pilgrim Team visit is lifting up the way God is using women as his witnesses,” she said.

Leticia Hernandez-Linares, poet and activist, brought her work to the forefront, honoring her late grandmother, among other sacred topics.  

Naming the truth

Rev. Dr Karen Georgia Thompson, associate general minister for Wider Church Ministries and Operations and co-executive for Global Ministries, United Church of Christ, served as a keynote speaker, embracing the session’s poetry readings as part of our hearing from God. 

“This moment, I believe, is inviting us here in North America to name the truth of the realities in which we live as women and particularly as women of color,” she said. “If one among is not well we are all not well.”

Thompson added:  “We must account for the ways in which discrimination and harm are being inflicted on women and, in doing so, we must be prepared to act to bring awareness, healing, change and reconciliation to the world around us.”

Participants asked challenging questions, with a collective resolve to move forward together.

Rev. Dr Leslie Copeland Tune, chief operating officer of the National Council of Churches (USA), wanted to explore the #MeToo movement in the church context. 

“You mentioned the church having a #MeToo movement,” Tune said. “What would that look like? How do we get it started?”

Thompson, a Thursdays in Black Ambassador, replied that it requires the truth. “It requires the truth—and the truth is that, as women, we are so silent on these issues, and a part of it is, when we speak, we are not heard, because the places where we are taking this are where men continue to be gatekeepers around the very issues that we are talking about,” she said. “This has to be created from the bottom up.”

Education and awareness are very necessary in our churches, Thompson added. “There needs to be a dismantling of patriarchal constructs in our churches that continue to support this kind of behavior.”

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, vice moderator of the WCC central committee, said that hearing the reflections of those gathered was profound. “Right now, it’s particularly overwhelming because we see the nationalism in Russia, with Putin and the kinds of things he is doing, and the women and children and men at risk in the world because of the kind of evil power takeover that is happening in the world,” she said. “We see how we can get marginalized as we try to make a difference in that.”

Those gathered also expressed concern about racist treatment of African people seeking to flee from Ukraine, highlighted in a statement from the African Union, which is “particularly disturbed by reports that African citizens on the Ukrainian side of the border are being refused the right to cross the border to safety.”

As the session ended, the group left some open-ended questions for the work ahead.

Jennifer P. Martin, education in mission secretary for the Caribbean and North America Council for Mission, referring to Thompson’s poem, “Living Numb,” asked: “How can we as women move out of that numbness and speak even more profoundly to the structures that continue to keep us numb?”

A second session of the North America Women’s Pilgrim Team Visit will be held 8 March.