A New Face: Nurturing the Next Generation of Female Leaders

by Cheon Young Cheol

Eight women pastors from various CWM member churches across the six regions arrived in Taiwan from 2-22 November 2023 to attend “A New Face.”. A six-week course offered in two three-week blocks over two years (2023/2024), “A New Face” seeks to provide a safe space for established women to share, be empowered and ultimately equipped for female leadership in their respective churches.

Church Leadership a Boy’s Club?
It has been observed that one of the biggest obstacles to having an effective female clergy leadership is the presence of the patriarchal culture that still pervades the Church today.

That the upper echelons of Church leadership continue to be likened to a “boy’s club” does not bode well for the growth and development of successful female pastoral leadership. It continuously stymies female believers’ journeys in fully realizing their Christian potential and in exercising their unique spiritual gifts.

Participants from the first block, through exploring gender justice issues, as well as feminist and womanist theologies, and engaging in intercultural womanist discernment, were thus equipped for executive ecclesial leadership. They were also taught to identify and work around unique social nuances within a church’s ecosystem thereby developing their own style of leadership that will prove to be invaluable within their individual ministries.

As a form of knowledge transfer and a show of continuity and female solidarity, the first cohort will be invited to mentor the next group of participants during the second block of the course.

“Women have unique gifts and capacities that are sometimes unnoticed and need to be named and held dear as part of our ecclesial future,” explained Rev. Dr Amelia Koh-Butler, CWM’s Mission Secretary for Education and Empowerment, Pacific Region.

“There is a value in coming together as strangers with different experiences and forming new community. We learn together and grow, but we risk losing wisdom resources if we are returning to only a local setting. Therefore, we need global connections,” continued Rev. Dr Koh-Butler.

Not All Work and No Play
The programme is not all work after all. Participants were brought on to take part in fun, peripheral activities aimed at ice-breaking and to create a spirit of camaraderie and kinship. Nature and the appreciation of it were a significant focus of these activities.

Team-building exercises eschewed the usual stuffy conference room settings in favour of a hiking trip in the great outdoors of Smangus—a remote mountain village that is home to the indigenous Atayal people. Through the hike, the ladies discovered Taiwan’s abundant biodiversity and traditional methods of conservation such as those employed to protect the Yaya Tree, an ancient arboreal feature that is 2,500 years old!

Through the hike, the participants came to experience the spirit of unity displayed by the Atayal people who lived in a communal setting. The participants also got to interact with the local female population and learnt about the roles of women across the indigenous societies in Taiwan, giving them fresh perspectives to take home as pastoral women looking to minister in their own local communities.

“[The] women’s stories are diverse, powerful and inspiring. [It taught us that] we must keep speaking and listening to one another with openness and care,” said Rev. Sanya Sita Beharry, a participant from the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago.

The participants also got the chance to stay with the local tribes and ate with them through the programme. During the stay, not only did the participants got together to experience the day-to-day activities of the local women such as cooking and marketing, they also got to engage in deep and meaningful conversations surrounding difficult topics such as gender-based roles and gender-based violence.

One special moment was the visit to the church of the Paiwan tribe. The Paiwan Presbytery was one that was extremely unique as it has been utterly affirming of women pastoral workers for the past 25 years. The participants learnt that 52% of the presbytery’s pastors are women and they fill some of the high-ranking roles, giving them a picture of hope and infinite possibilities as key takeaways.

“[The programme] is the beginning of a key network that can encourage and influence the development of capable, Spirit-filled women who are full of spirit and commitment…We were privileged to encounter indigenous leaders and be witnesses to their faith and dedication to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Maker of all Creation. We read and explored scripture together, sang and danced, enjoyed banquets together, and walked and climbed several pilgrimage routes. The journey, however, has been one of beginnings and we all look forward to the ongoing work next year,” shared Rev. Dr Koh-Butler.

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