by Barbara Chaapel
Congregations across the Synod of the Trinity and the country are finding new ways to minister virtually to their members and to provide community during these months of social distancing while we stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia found a creative online way to study the women of the Bible in this year that marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
“We wanted to find an opportunity to recognize the voices of biblical women in this anniversary year of the 19th amendment,” explained Carol Cook, an elder and chair of the church’s Adult Education Committee. “And some folks wanted to do an online Bible study. We thought we could combine the two.”
Thus was born the video series “Pioneer Women Reflect on Women in the Bible.” Baron Mullis, pastor of the church, asked Cynthia Jarvis, who recently retired as the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Chestnut Hill and now worships at First Philadelphia, to take this on.
“Baron asked me to create a month of classes,” she said, adding that she started calling women she knew who had entered ministry at a time when ordained women were few and far between in church leadership as pastors, preachers and teachers: pioneer women. “With few exceptions due to teaching schedules or pastoral duties, almost everyone immediately and enthusiastically agreed. Before I knew it I had two months of classes.”
Each woman in the series chose a woman in the Bible whose story she related to, or whose story was influential or meaningful in her own ministry. Then the presenter prepared a 15- to 20-minute video about that biblical woman.
“In a real sense, the women in the Bible were pioneers, for their stories were told in a society and time that did not value their leadership or their voices. So, it was for many of us when we began our ministries as pioneers,” said Barbara Chaapel, one of the presenters and a parish associate at First Church.
The resulting series is a nine-week-long education opportunity with a different video being added to the First Presbyterian Church website each Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. All videos remain on the website, so they can be viewed after their original posting.
The schedule and presenters list includes (videos available here):
- May 6 — Eve (Genesis 3) by Cynthia Jarvis, retired minister of The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia
- May 13 — Woman with the Hemorrhage (Mark 5), Barbara Chaapel, retired director of communications at Princeton Theological Seminary and parish associate, First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia
- May 20 — Daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27), Carol McDonald, retired executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails and parish associate, Northminster Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis
- May 27 — Huldah (II Kings 22), Andrea Rodgers, second-career minister and regular worshiper at First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia
- June 3 — Lydia (Acts 16), Rosemary Mitchell, senior director of engagement and support, Presbyterian Mission Agency, PCUSA in Louisville, KY
- June 10 — Samaritan Woman (John 4), Marilyn McEntyre, spiritual writer, speaker and professor of medical humanities at the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program
- June 17 — Junia (Romans 16), Katie Day, Charles A. Schieren Professor Emerita of Church and Society, Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (now U.L.S.)
- June 24 — Women in Romans 16, Elizabeth Johnson, J. Davison Phillips Professor Emerita of New Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary
- July 1 — Miriam (Exodus 15), Kathleen McVey, Joseph Ross Stevenson Professor Emerita of Church History, Princeton Theological Seminary
The project reached further than those involved imagined. Louise Johnson, associate pastor at the Presbyterian Church in Lawrenceville, NJ, is using the series for a women’s Bible study group that she is teaching, and she has developed study guides to accompany each video. The study guides are being posted weekly on the First Presbyterian Church website. Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton has also decided to use the videos for a Bible study.
“In this series we have a deeply rich ‘faculty’ of pioneering women,” Mullis said, “and we are grateful for how widely these videos are being shared. It feels like a very Presbyterian thing indeed for us to share our resources and benefit from others.”
Jarvis thinks that it would be fun to keep going, but with a more inclusive definition of pioneer women.
“The women who came to mind were women of my vintage, most of whom had come of age in the ’60s and were ordained in the ’70s, and almost all were white,” she said. “Asking women of color and LBGTQ pioneers, and women who were chaplains and presidents of seminaries to reflect on how their ministries were shaped by women in scripture would make a good series even better. Imagine a year of pioneer women!”
Cook said that First Presbyterian in Philadelphia will take responsibility for “stewarding” this resource, including manuscripts, videos and study guides, as a collection that might sometime in the future be available for distribution or publication.
Churches in the Synod are invited to view the videos and use the study guides in their ministry.