The Presbyterian Women’s Organization, called Presbiterial, of the Costa Sur Presbytery invited me to preach during their biennial convention this weekend. Costa Sur is one of five presbyteries that broke away from the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church in the early 1990’s over theological disagreements and mismanagement within the IENPG. These presbyteries were recently re-integrated in the denomination. As one of the more conservative presbyteries, Costa Sur doesn’t accept women’s ordination. Their worship style is also quite conservative, and they sing exclusively from a 1964 hymnal that contains Spanish translations of gospel hymns that were popularized by missionaries in an earlier era.
The Presbiterial is well-run and energetic, with 20 women’s societies with names like “Conquerors for Christ,” and “Zion’s Daughters.” We met at a church in the rural village of El Arisco, down a long gravel road. Over 100 participants spanned all ages, but leaned heavily toward the older generation. Women were in charge throughout, with some input from a jovial pastor who was designated as “counselor.” I expect that numerous of the women would be capable elders and pastors if they were given the opportunity.
Accommodations were basic, with some women sleeping on church benches, and others staying in nearby houses. I was fortunate to get a bed at the home of the presbiterial moderator. Meals were simple—chicken and beef soups cooked in huge kettles over fires, plenty of rice, and tortillas prepared by hand. Through the convention, women sold baked goods and sewing items to each other, and held raffles to raise funds for the presbiterial.
Most activities took place under a big laurel tree next to the church. The mood of the event was upbeat, with constant outbursts of laughter. Sessions focused on organizational issues, with time for reports from each society. There was a time for games, making crafts, and training on leadership duties. On Saturday the moderator of the national women’s group, called Sinódica, talked about women’s issues in the denomination. At the last minute I was asked to lead a workshop on how to develop projects in collaboration with PC(USA) partners. They kidded me about having caught me asleep during a report, and threatened to get even by dozing off during my presentation.
One of the women I met was Celestina Quiñonez. She remembered when she was an illiterate mother, and people would knock on her door offering to teach her. She never opened the door to respond. Then she was unexpectedly elected president of the presbiterial. She was hesitant to accept the position, but other women assured her that Christ would strengthen her to do all things. While fulfilling her duties as president, she learned to read and write. Now she continues to be active in the presbiterial, and it’s her who’s knocking on the doors of others offering to teach them.
At Friday night’s service, each society carried forward its banners and performed a selected song. My sermon was about the woman with the hemorrhage who was healed when she touched the hem of Jesus’ robe. After elaborating on the troubling social ramifications of her uncontrollable bleeding, I preached about how she was healed by her faith, and how Jesus later on bled on the cross for her. At the end of the message, I invited worshippers to consider a difficult area of their lives where they seem to be hemorrhaging. Then they were invited to come forward in faith, to touch the fringe of several stoles in front, and to pray for healing. They responded en masse as we sang the Spanish translation of “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”
Saturday night’s service featured the induction of the Presbyterial leadership. More societies came forward to perform favorite songs. My message was about Tabitha (Dorcas). As the only woman in the Bible who’s explicitly called a “disciple,” I offered her as an example of “the salt of the earth.” After I finished, the women came forward and received a pinch of salt, while the congregation sang “Living for Jesus.” They knelt together for a prayer of consecration, and the convention reached its conclusion. While driving back to Guatemala City on Sunday, I felt deeper appreciation for the vibrancy of women’s ministry in the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church, as well as concern about the challenges and limitations they face.