In the PCUSA, there is probably no more powerful force than the Presbyterian Women. These ladies have money, time, and votes. On top of that, they’re incredibly smart. They keep their budgets outside of the control of denominational bodies, while at the same time, they demand voice and vote within the governing bodies. I don’t know how they pull it off, but it’s pure genius.
I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be standing in a pulpit without their vision. They have paved the road for me, and I am eternally grateful for all of the persuasive bullying that they did to get women ordained in all offices.
To this day, PW’s work hard to identify and uphold young, female leadership. But, they still end up asking, “Why can’t we get those young women involved?”
So, why do women’s groups struggle to reach out to a new generation? From my own experience of trying really, really hard to break into this airtight social construct, I’ll tell you three reasons:
(1) Childcare. This is a club for stay-at-home moms. Wait…this used to be a club for stay-at-home moms. Now it’s more focused than that. Now it’s for stay-at-home moms who can afford their own childcare.
From my experience, the women’s group does not like it when you bring your child to a gathering. I was more active as a PW before becoming a mom, but my participation abruptly ended when I tried to bring my little girl to meetings. The coordinators of the events said so many things about the astronomical cost of providing childcare (in front of my daughter) that I stopped going back. I couldn’t help but feel like my child was a burden for the women. And they’re right, babysitters are expensive. But if it’s expensive for them, imagine how difficult it is for a young family. It’s just a lot easier for me to stay home.
(2) Family structure. There aren’t many stay-at-home moms any more. Our family structures are changing dramatically. The last census shows that only ten percent of households have a mom, dad, child(ren) configuration. Young women are more likely to be single and/or working.
The times of most circles and gatherings are at 10 am on weekday mornings, instead of…instead of…you know, I just can’t think of a good time slot for a young working mom to join a Bible study. Although, they need the support as much as anyone.
(3) The vocabulary and club rituals. After being a pastor in the PC for almost a decade, I walk into a women’s gathering, and I can’t understand a thing that they’re saying. They talk about becoming “enablers,” and I wonder, “Isn’t being an enabler a bad thing?”
They have really strange rituals, like the “fellowship of the least coin,” where everyone pulls out a penny to contribute. I’m totally confused. I don’t know where those pennies are going, and it makes no sense to me. If we’re raising money for something important, shouldn’t we be gathering the green stuff?
They talk about people in terms of, “We all know Jane Parker Huber, and what a huge impact she’s made on the church.”
Then they repeat the statement about ten times, while I sit there, racking my brain, “Who is Jane Parker Huber?”
Thank God for the carpool, because I have to spend an hour decompressing the information, asking the driver, “Who were they talking about? What on earth did that mean? Why did they do that?”
The driver grew up mainline, so she explains it to me, but I can tell she’s annoyed that I’m annoyed. I find out that they’re trying to change the “enabler” terminology, but it’s hard when people have been using it for so long. Jane Parker Huber’s a hymn writer. And I still can’t explain the penny-offering thing….
So, PWs, there’s a couple of answers to your question. I hope I’m not rude in pointing these things out. I really respect you and the work that you’ve done. But, personally, I’ve had to give up trying to break into the club.