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, North Carolina 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.
The first step was to apply to the Unity Synod of 1995 to gain recognition of the situation of women in the Moravian Church, to request that ongoing Consultations be held and that a Women’s Desk be established. The Synod wanted more information about our request; tentative permission was granted for both requests, but no funds were supplied, nor was any substantive plan devised for carrying out this work.
The women were undaunted. A second Consultation was held in South Africa in 2002 to address the most pressing problems of women. This time there was an organized effort to introduce resolutions to the next Synod that would assure the future of such Consultations and to move toward the establishment of an entity to deal with the problems: a Women’s Desk.
The third Consultation was held in 2008 in Herrnhut, Germany. The theme, “Valiant Women in a Violent World,” picked up on one of the most pressing issues for women—violence against women at home and in the streets of a violent world. Resolutions were once again sent to Unity Synod. The Synod of 2009 once again approved the proposed resolutions, and this time 500 dollars per year were approved from future Unity budgets to implement the resolutions.
In the fall of 2010, Sr. Cicely Athill-Horsford, a Moravian minister serving in Barbados who had attended all three Consultations, met with Sr. Patricia Garner (who had attended the first Consultation) for a discussion about the progress of the work from the Consultations. They realized that although the issues discussed were the same at all three Consultations, little progress was being made in resolving the issues. This called for action! Together they made a proposal to the Unity Board to proceed with the development of the Unity Women’s Desk. During the course of developing the proposal, Reverend Garner discerned the call to head up this process on a temporary and volunteer basis.
Approval was quickly granted by the Unity Executive Committee, and work began in January 2011. An interim advisory board set goals for the first ten years of the UWD and identified Priorities from among the issues that were discussed at the previous Consultations. “Education” was established as the number one priority—without education women would never be able to address the other issues—followed by “Violence against Women,” “Overcoming Poverty and Finding Employment,” “Health Issues of Women,”(particularly HIV/AIDS), “Parenting for Justice” (teaching boys to respect girls and women and teaching girls to respect themselves as children of God), and “Supporting Women in Ministry.” Putting the priorities in a logical order was important in determining how energy and resources would be used.
The years 2011 and 2012 were primarily devoted to finding women in the various Provinces, Mission Provinces, and Mission Areas who could facilitate information exchange with the UWD and who could assure that the funding that was sent was being properly used. At the same time, raising funds to accomplish this work was begun. Without permission from any of our Provinces to do full-fledged capital campaigns, we began the arduous task of visiting as many small church groups as possible and asking for individual contributions. A challenge grant helped us to raise the first $50,000 by the middle of 2012, and we began making scholarship grants and loans to women to start small businesses.
Our first year goal was to award two scholarships by July 2012. With successful fundraising efforts and the progress made in establishing goals and policies, we were able to grant 20 scholarships by that date. Slowly, we found capable women who were willing to visit their women in groups and to learn what their needs were and how we might assist them. We were very fortunate in Tanzania that each Province already had a “Secretary of Women’s and Children’s Work,” whose primary responsibility was looking out for the welfare of women and children. Unfortunately, most of them had little or no funding to do their work.
Following a training seminar in mid-2012 for these Tanzanian women leaders, the Women Secretaries were able to identify women and girls in many of the Provinces and Mission Provinces who needed assistance with their education. Slowly word of our work spread around the world, by word of mouth and through our website and monthly PrayerList. More Provinces appointed women to work with us, and we proceeded to grant more scholarships and make more loans.
The Advisory Board
Beginning in January 2013, a duly elected Advisory Board was selected and began work in earnest to fulfill our goals. The women approved by the Unity Board are: Sr. Angelene Swart of the Africa Region, Sr. Sallie Greenfield of the American Region, Sr. Muriel Held of the Caribbean Region, the Reverend Erdmute Frank of the European Region, with Sr. Jane Hutchings serving as a consultant from the previous Consultation. The Rev. Patty Garner serves as the Coordinator.
The advisory board meets quarterly via Skype to determine policies and practices of the UWD and distribute funds for scholarships, loans and projects. As of December 2013, we have granted scholarships to over 40 girls and women, some of them receiving support for the second year of their schooling. Although loans have taken a little longer to catch on and process, we have now granted five such loans. More information is available in the article, “Making a Difference,” which follows.
The Advisory Board meets in the intervening months to plan next Unity Consultation, which will take place in Suriname in February of 2016. At the Consultation, each Province will be represented by two delegates, and each Mission Province and Mission Area will be represented by one delegate. These delegates will be chosen by the Provincial Elders Conference in cooperation with the women’s groups in their areas. In addition, registration will be open to anyone who would like to attend at her own expense as an observer.
In each Province, Mission Province and Mission Area, there is at least one Provincial Coordinator. This woman is responsible for disseminating information about the UWD to the women of her area. She also receives all applications for loans, scholarships and projects. After reviewing them to see that they give complete and accurate information, she sends them on to her Sub-Desk Coordinator.
There are seven Sub-Desk Coordinator (SDC) positions. Not all of them are filled at the current time, but we have a sufficient number to set things in motion.
Addressing Resolution 12
The UWD was given the assignment to address Resolution #12 of the Unity Board meeting held in 2012. This resolution deals with educating our pastors about how to deal with violence against women. It also provides for advocacy in order to fight violence against women. Through the grace of God, we were able to work with Dr. Deborah Appler, who was already planning a sabbatical, to accomplish this task.
Dr. Appler, of the Moravian Theological Seminary, traveled to Mbeya, Tanzania in the spring of last year and worked with the faculty of Teofilo Kisanji University (TEKU) to develop this course. With our continuing support, she has arranged for a wide variety of professors from Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, TEKU in Tanzania, and several European and Caribbean theologians to make this an exciting part of the curriculum for all Moravian ministers—current and future.
God has truly blessed this new ministry of the Moravian Church. Through our monthly PrayerList (available by email, postal mail, or on our website), Moravian women (and men) around the world feel connected to one another with our sisters in Christ. We share our mutual burdens as well as our joys and thanksgivings each month as we pray for God’s guidance and blessing.
The Rev. Patty Garner is the coordinator of the Unity Women’s Desk.
From the March 2014 Moravian Magazine