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EMINENT WOMEN CHURCH LEADERS LOOK BEYOND THE DECADE FESTIVAL - Part I
The Festival, which met 27-30 November on the campus of Belvedere Technical Teachers Training College, preceded the Eighth Assembly of the WCC which meets at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare 3-14 December. More than 1,000 women - and some 30 men - participated in the Festival.
Several prominent women took time this week to reflect on successes and setbacks over the past 10 years, and to focus their sites on future developments for women in the churches.
"During the past ten years we were doing an awareness project. Now that the church is aware of the concerns of women, it is time to act to correct and to act to transform and this is a challenge that will take a long time," said Dr Mercy Oduyoye of Ghana, a former Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches.
Dr Oduyoye said it is time for the churches to implement all the recommendations that were made in the past Decade. She challenged churches and church-related organisations to strengthen their women’s desks so that the recommendations can be acted upon.
The energetic Oduyoye sees no particular obstacle for women to fully participate in the ecumenical movement. "We have to work hard to get there, there is no rule that says women should not be in top leadership of the church," she said. "The sky is the limit."
Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, general secretary of the World Young Womens Christian Association (YWCA), said the Decade was significant because women from all over the world were able to sit together and discuss issues that affect them in their diverse realities.
In the Festival’s opening worship service, Kanyoro told the participants that women are no longer just calling for solidarity but for change. "We can no longer just call for solidarity," she said, "but rather we need to be part of a redefining and redesigning process for all the changes we hoped for during this Decade. Even though we celebrate the end of the Decade, we must be sure not to accept being dismissed, but rather be ready to listen even more carefully and speak more articulately. We will not accept our gifts being minimized, but rather we will lift up all the gifts of the people of God."
Talking about the future role of women in the church, Dr Kanyoro said she was happy that women in the ecumenical world were now empowering themselves theologically, through formal and informal training, women were also familiarizing themselves with the structures of the church. This, she said was strengthening the position of women in the church. "Our strength is going to be visible to the church. We have been knocking silently but now we are not outside anymore," Kanyoro said.
Mrs Tendai Chikuku-Nyahoda, the Director of the Ecumenical Documentation and Information Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa (EDICESA), said the Decade was a success in that it has enabled women to collectively harness their energy. She added that the Decade has shown that there are no doors that can remain closed if women work together.
Nyahoda, the first woman Director of EDICESA, said the Decade was able to strip off the traditional roles of women in the church so they can participate meaningfully. However, she noted, women have to gain more confidence in themselves and to be more willing to be part of the leadership in the church. "Women are in the majority in the church," Nyahoda said. "We are the ones who elect the leadership, we are just not sure of our power."
Dr Aruna Gnanadason, who heads the women’s programme of the WCC and was the primary staff person planning the Decade festival, said she sees more challenges in what she calls a "decadeless future . . . we no longer have a Decade project to depend on, we cannot use it as a crutch," she said. "We still have to create the spaces and keep up the energy to talk to the churches so as to keep their commitments alive. This we have to do because there is yet much to be done."
Bishop Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl of the South Dakota synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America declared the Decade a success. She explained that if people generally look at whether women’s lives have changed or not, they may dismiss the Decade as a failure. But if people really look at what has been happening, they will realise that a lot has been building up and that one day there will be a big change in the lives of women all over the world.
The Bishop cited positive examples in her own church, which has installed six woman bishops in the past decade. She explained that her church has been ordaining women in the past 28 years and it is only in the past 10 years that women Bishops were installed.
DeGroot-Nesdahl said one of the realities of the Decade was the realisation that we could not do what we wanted to do in 10 years and that we could not do what we wanted to do alone as women. This, she said teaches us the importance of partnership, discipline and to learn to rely on God.
Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.