When the Unity Women’s Desk began its work in January 2011, it was the realization of a dream that was born within a group of 40-plus women who had gathered in Kernersville, N.C. in 1995. When those women first met, it soon became obvious that the problems women face around the world were too complex to be addressed by a one-time event and that they needed more attention than could be given in a two-day informal format. The idea of establishing a “Women’s Desk”—a central clearinghouse where information about the needs of women could be collected and addressed in a systematic way—was born.
To continue its work, The Unity Women’s Desk began its Standing With Our Sisters capital campaign in the Southern Province in March, with a goal of raising $250,000. The funds raised will be allocated with 40 percent going to scholarships, 20 percent to support more projects initiated by the women of our Provinces, 20 percent to business loans and 20 percent to leadership development.
With the support of the members of the Moravian Church Southern Province, the Moravian Women’s Unity Desk will be able to fund more scholarships, initiate projects dedicated to women’s needs, provide loans for women-owned business start-ups, hire a part-time coordinator to lead our vital work, and continue consultations with Moravian Women around the world on the issues of: Education, Violence Against Women, Overcoming Poverty and Finding Employment, Health Issues of Women, Parenting for Justice and Supporting Women in Ministry.
“I firmly believe, from my life experiences doing medical mission work in various developing countries and my education as a physician and degree in Public Health, that the most important thing we can do in the 21st century as compassionate and caring human beings is to assist in the empowerment and protection of our Moravian Sisters around the world,” says Phillip McKinley, co-chair of the Southern Province’s Standing With Our Sisters campaign. “We need to stand for them, to support them in education and their health and to achieve their equal station in life, treated with the respect that they deserve. In the past six years, the Reverend Patricia Garner has developed an amazing worldwide program to assist Moravian women around the world in achieving these goals. What she has begun will have a positive impact on our world and better women’s and family’s lives here and around the world for generations to come. I am a strong supporter of the Unity Women’s Desk and her wonderful work.”
Adds Sallie Greenfield, a Unity Women’s Desk Advisory Board member representing the American Region and co-chair of the Standing With Our Sisters campaign, “If there are Moravian women anywhere in the world today (literally A to Z- Albania to Zanzibar!), who desire an education, then I believe it is my God-given challenge, for the rest of my life, to help those women.”
Why is the work of the Unity Women’s Desk so important? Let’s look at some Moravian history of women in the church and also look at events happening in the world today. Although no official statistics have been compiled, a sample survey suggests that Moravian women comprise 60-75 percent of our total membership. Many have become leaders within our congregations and provincial boards, and serve as acolytes or as ordained ministers in our congregations. Since the early days of our church, Moravians have considered every human soul a potential candidate for salvation and every human being had to be educated.
In 1632, Bishop John Amos Comenius wrote that not the children of the rich or of the powerful only, but of all alike, boys and girls both noble and ignoble, rich or poor, in all cities, towns, villages and hamlets should be sent to school. Believing that women deserved an education comparable to that given men, which was a very radical view for the 17th and 18th centuries, schools were established to educate them.
During the 18th century Moravian Church, leadership roles were developed through the Choir system. One of the primary reasons for the choir system was so that women could be guided by other women rather than by men. Women were in charge of women’s education, discipline and devotional life. Choir houses for Single Sisters and for widows provided room and board so that women were not forced into marriage by economic necessity. The choir leaders helped women deal with physical, emotional and spiritual needs as they progressed through the stages of life. Women were supported in every aspect of their physical, social and mental health by women who had leadership roles in the church.
In a world dominated by social media and technology, women throughout the world are often living in conditions worse now than those of American women 250 years ago. Our Sisters have received very little attention to their specific needs over the years and the needs are greater now than ever. It is time that these needs were addressed.
God has truly blessed this new ministry of the Moravian Church.
Barry Self is a member of Fairview
Moravian Church in Winston-Salem
Ed. note: In last month’s UWD article, we quoted Muriel Held. The quote should have been attributed to Angelene Swart, UWD Advisiory Board Member representing Africa.