Why can’t we get those young women involved?

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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.

They produce great curriculum, and have interesting retreats. Their magazine’s good too.

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.

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4 thoughts on “Why can’t we get those young women involved?

  1. At a church-that-shall-remain-nameless my lovely wife was told (very much a quote) “there is no place for you here” by the head of the PW of that church.

    Tuesday nights is for the over-40 crowd.
    Thursday evenings is for the over-60 crowd.
    Friday mornings is for the moms.

    She was heartbroken and never truly forgave that church. Yes, the church was represented by that one phrase that we have never forgotten. “There is no place for you here.”

    The mission statement for our new church is “Wherever you are there is a place for you here. Our church means it, and we’re happy to be there. (Still not in PW, but have found other outlets to participate!)

  2. At my previous church we started a circle for “young career” women that met at night–the only one. But the big joint PW Christmas thing was at 11 a.m. on a weekday. A couple people took off from work to show a presence there so when we asked “could we please move this to an evening/weekend?” we’d have some credibility.

    No dice.

    Then there’s ChaplainMom’s former church where the women delegated the making of the tradition dessert to the young women. They apparently didn’t do it “the right way” so one of the older women took apart what they did and put it back together.

    Good Lord. It was dessert.

    I could go on and on but sermon calls.

  3. In my experience these groups always meet at some absurd time like 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday. How many women can meet during a weekday in the morning. Yet, when you suggest that they change to support younger working mothers they balk and question these women’s commitment. It has always seemed a bit Victorian to me, but I am not a woman.

  4. Yes, yes!!! I am Episcopalian, but the same holds true for Episcopal Church Women (ECW). If a mom doesn’t work full time, she may have some part time thing, and daytimes just don’t work. Even in the most conventional families, evening, when dad is home, is a better time. But older ladies do not want to venture such a thing as an evening meeting. Some of this is reasonable, as older people drive less well at night. But these needs should be attended to, and they’re not.

    The national organization keeps posting suggestions on its web page to keep this group relevant to younger people, but the leadership (NOT in the younger generation) does not use a computer with skill, so they do not know of these efforts.

    It may take another generation to make a difference. Things in the church are SLOW.

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