My uncle, a retired Presbyterian Minister, spoke often and enthusiastically about the role that women played in his congregation. There are not too many groups or organizations that don’t swear by the dedication and hard work of the women working tirelessly behind the scenes to organize food drives, to raise money and to recruit volunteers.
There is a good book, She Hath Been Reading, about women who organized and worked in community projects across the U.S. long before it was fashionable for women to have jobs. They would organize by meeting in groups, often called “Shakespeare Clubs”, where they not only discussed literature, but also ways to raise money and create the first kindergartens, libraries, schools and learning centers in their communities.
The role of women in organizing the first churches has been well documented. Jesus spoke often of the devotion and dedication from the women who followed him as he traveled and taught. And even Paul, who has been criticized frequently for some of the passages that have been interpreted as demeaning to women, is shown in a different light as we look at many of the times in his letters where he praises and lifts up the women who helped to form the early churches in the Christian religion.
The women, with names like Tryphosa, Priscilla, Apphia, Chloe, Phoebe and Junia are all mentioned in Paul’s letters And their roles were vital in many ways, as Paul is counseling and encouraging, giving advice and helping to organize these groups of Christian men and women who met in homes and gathered together to worship, often in secret, as they were persecuted under Roman occupation.
He speaks in Philippians of Euodia and Syntyche as women who have ‘struggled beside me’ in the work of the gospel. He asks the Lord to help them. He speaks in Romans of Phoebe, who is a deacon of the church in her home town. And he mentions how hard Mary has worked, and also Priscilla and Aquila who ‘risked their necks for my life.’ Paul does acquit himself in these passages of simply talking down to women. It is evident in his letters that these women are vital cogs in the wheel, and without them, without their daily courage and dedication to spreading the word, then Christianity would not have been able to endure as a lasting religion.
That is the importance of women to the cause. And we give thanks to the many groups, the ‘women of the church’ who have dedicated themselves from small tasks such as arranging flowers and handling child care (no small task), to organizing Sunday School classes and teachers and raising money, as well as visiting the sick and elderly within the church community. These are the thankless tasks that have carved out and defined the reality of what the Christian religion has become. And it would not have been possible without the women who laid the foundation, the Church’s strong foundation, upon which our faith is built. God bless the women of the church, and all hard-working and dedicated women who are struggling each day to raise their families and make the world a better place for their children.