by Rie Allen Linton
I walked into my parish the other day not really thinking about my gender, so imagine my surprise in learning it was not what I thought it was. “This parish has no ECW.” If a parish has women in it, it has ECW. Apparently, since my parish has no ECW, then I must not be the female I have spent my whole life being. I admit that since this was on the day that the Church set aside to discuss racism and our penitence for such, it was perhaps timely that I be confronted with gender avoidance.
ECW, the Episcopal Church Women, is not a private club or a religious order. It is a reality, the presence of women in the Episcopal Church. At the 30th General Convention in 1871, the Board of Missions was authorized to organize a Ladies Auxiliary. “It is our desire to awaken deeper and more permanent interest in the Missionary work among the women of the Church. We long to have each one feel she, individually, has something to do for Christ and for the coming of his Kingdom, not alone or as a member of a single parish but one of that great company wherein, in their own special station, wait and watch and labor for their Lord. We do not seek to control or direct the labor of the offering of the individual, she designates. We seek to quicken the missionary spirit, and urge it to prompt and generous action. We offer you gifts of time, strength, intellect for our (your) Master. There are hundreds more earnest, faithful, devoted women who would be cheered if only they knew what is being done by their sisters in the church and see their offering, small and insignificant as it seems, increased and multiplied by the union with the gifts of others. We wish all to draw closer to each other, labor more unitedly, give more nobly, pray more fervently, follow Christ’s example.”
Historians point to the Axial Age as the beginning of what is called “indifference to women.” Regretfully, gender inequality remains a characteristic of the twenty-first century. In the USA, “poverty is a women’s issue”, the National Women’s Law Center reports. Over half of all poor adults are women: the statistics for single mothers, women of color, and elderly women living alone – almost two-thirds are living below the poverty line.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women reported good news and bad news in their recent report entitled “The Beijing Platform for Action Turns 20”. The good news is that major advancements have greatly reduced the number of people internationally that are poor. Extreme poverty can be eliminated in the coming generation if we continue our efforts to do so. The bad news is that gender discrimination creates greater burdens on women and gender discrimination is still very much in existence. This will result not only in the loss of female lives but in economic losses as well. The United Nations report illustrates this: “Women’s productivity is well known as one of the greatest generators of economic dynamism.”
We need ECW to be recognized and encouraged because gender equality is not a reality, neither in the world, in our states, in our parishes, nor in our pulpits. “A woman is human. She is not better, wiser, stronger, more intelligent, more creative, or more responsible than a man. Likewise, she is never less. Equality is a given. A woman is human.” These words of Vera Nazarian, an Armenian immigrant to the USA, echo ECW’s purpose, our goals, and our being. A strong ECW will mean a strong parish.
I hope we all join the campaign #WithStrongGirls in discouraging gender bias worldwide and at home. However, as we begin another fall season and our attention is drawn to various missions, we remember that charity begins at home. There is no place for ambivalence in our parishes. We will not continue to make positive strides towards gender equality at home unless we support ourselves as women and support our ECW. We are much more than simply Everyone has Cheese and Wine. We are Empowering, Creative Witnesses of our faith. We will be much stronger as a denomination and race when we Embrace Caring Women together. We are the Church Chicks and together we can make a difference in the world!
Rie Allen Linton, a member of the Diocese of Alabama, has been an active member of ECW for her adult life as well as having served her church in a variety of other positions at the parish and diocesan levels. A member of the National Order of Daughters of the King and graduate of EFM, she is a past contributor to Episcopal Café. She also writes for the website: www.n2myhead.wordpress.com.