What is a women’s presbyterial? Is it a conference? A business meeting?
"For years, I did not attend because I misunderstood the intentions of the presbyterial," said Margie Alsum, a member of Grace Church in Hanover Park, Illinois. However, she has come to appreciate its purpose as "a gathering of like-minded women who want to fellowship in a special way."
"It's having a time when we can be challenged and encouraged in living the life of a godly woman in these challenging times and also to highlight, financially supplement, and pray for specific mission works in the OPC." Now Alsum serves as president of the Presbytery of the Midwest Women's Presbyterial Conference.
In the pamphlet "Welcome to the OPC: A Primer on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church," author Danny Olinger describes a women's presbyterial "a day of fellowship to listen to a speaker, pray, and share lunch. Missionaries often speak at presbyterials, and sometimes an offering is taken to support the work of foreign missions in the OPC."
Several OP presbyteries currently have presbyterial meetings. The Presbytery of the Midwest is one.
I attended a Midwest Women’s Presbyterial for the first time last fall. I stepped into my church, familiar with the surroundings, but unfamiliar with many of the faces. We ate together and, like good Presbyterians, had coffee. After a bit of new introductions and hellos to friends, we moved into the sanctuary to begin. We sang together, the harmonies of women filling the room. We prayed, and then Margie Alsum introduced the speakers: missionaries Mark and Laura Ambrose.
"When choosing a speaker, we often looked to see if a missionary was in the area to speak because I believe that the presbyterial should follow the missionary theme that is stated in our constitution," explained Jennifer deRu, a member of Grace Church in Hanover Park.
In 1970, one of the first recorded speakers at the Midwest Presbyterial was Doris Baker, missionary nurse in Eritrea, who showed slides about her mission. Over the years, speakers included Rev. David Cummings speaking on "Teaching our Families Biblical Mandate" in 1979; Michael and Jo Ann Knierem of Old Stockbridge church in Gresham, Wisconsin, in 1987; Robert Walker in 1997, who gave an autobiography of God's leading him from Scotland to Springfield, Illinois, where he pastored (that year Lendall Smith also spoke and gave an update on foreign missions); Rev. Jim Bosgraf and Jim Megchelsen, who spoke on Home Mission and Church Planting in 2000; missionaries Brian and Dorothy Wingard in 2003; Woody Lauer, missionary to Japan, in 2007; Lydia Brownback in 2008; and Margaret Falk and Jonathan Falk in 2012.
One memory particularly stuck out to Pat Clawson, a former Midwest presbyterial member. At a women's Presbyterial meeting in Oostburg, Wisconsin, "one of the men from Calvary OPC in nearby Cedar Grove shared about the day in 1936 that their pastor, J.J. DeWaard, preached his last sermon in their Presbyterian Church and the sheriff locked them out. This was part of the start of the OPC in 1936."
It was only a few years after that event, in 1939, that the first Women’s Presbyterial began, when Marie Kuiper, wife of Westminster Seminary professor R. B. Kuiper, started an organizational meeting called the Presbyterial Auxiliary of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. The mission of this meeting would continue into other presbyteries as the purpose of presbyterials: a meeting of women to raise awareness and funds for the missionaries of the OPC.
Mary Miller, a member of Grace Church, recalls how women of the churches would gather monthly and meet as missionary societies, but also take up a collection which they would then present at the Presbyterial meeting yearly. "This was not small task, and there was a little bit of rivalry and pride when the total giving was presented," Mary said. "Back then, women did not have much means, only for groceries and children's clothes, etc. This was a big sacrifice."
It is one thing to raise funds for a cause you think you know about; it is quite another to be face to face with those using your gifts for the glory of our great God. At the October 2021 meeting of the Presbytery of the Midwest, Mark and Laura Ambrose gave a presentation about their work in Cambodia.
Powerful stories from Mark had many of us in tears, as did the report on Laura's health. Though God had taken her good health, she was able to even more minister to the trafficked women and girls. And what a time to be able to see their caring hearts revealed. An offering was also taken, and then given to the Ambroses' mission.
In addition to the program, we discussed the proceedings of matters pertaining to Presbyterial, like the fact that our Presbytery has split. How would we women deal with that? There are many friends across the now two separate Presbyteries. For this coming year, we decided to still meet as one. We also took up suggestions and nominations for officers. To close the day, the last song we sang was "God be with you till we meet again." And here we are, almost another year passed, eagerly approaching the next meeting. I am hoping to attend again. But I will remember the conversations I had and information I learned. And I hope and pray that this special meeting of the women of the OPC will continue.
This year, the gathering will be hosted at Grace OPC in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, on October 1. The president this year is Arenda Onnink and the vice president is Carmen McKenna. The speaker this year is foreign missionary Mike McCabe.
Melodie MecKenzie, an officer at the Women's 2018 Presbyterial and member of Westminster OPC in Indian Head Park, Illinois, wrote opening statements which truly sum up why and how Presbyterial should continue. She reminisced on a Presbyterial meeting in 2016, when she doubted the ability for her church to be big enough or well enough equipped to host a Presbyterial. She said, "At that very meeting two years ago, I thought back to my grandma making quilts for missionaries, and I realized something vital to the church’s existence. I was next. My grandma is gone, but I take her place in serving the church, the missionaries, and our Lord. What about you? Why are you here today? What is your story, and what is your place in the body of Christ?"
It may be a challenge to leave your tasks at responsibilities at home, but think of the eternal value of coming together with fellow sisters in Christ. "I was always so busy with my family and working that I never was too enthusiastic," Clawson remembered with a smile. "But I loved the time with the women and we made good friends over the years. It gave me a vision of God’s work in the OPC beyond our little corner of the world. And I ALWAYS was thankful I went."
"If a church wants to improve the fellowship and bond of the women, go to women’s presbyterial! It is well worth the trip," she concluded.
The author is a member of Grace OPC in Hanover Park, Illinois.
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