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“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” — Luke 23:42

History of Presbyterian Women and its publications

Graphic: PW History

Presbyterian Women has a mission, a voice and a place in the church. Presbyterian Women’s predecessor organizations began more than 200 years ago when women had no role outside the home. In the early 1800s the first Presbyterian women’s organization defied societal and church conventions. These courageous, dedicated women faced the biases of men and others who felt women should remain at home. In spite of the numerous restrictions, the women’s organization gained respect, especially that of missionaries in the field who requested women’s donations and prayers.

In the mid-1800s with civil strife in the nation, the church split; it would be many years before the wounds were healed and the northern and southern branches were reunited. The work of Presbyterian women varied with the cultural backgrounds of North and South. Despite regional differences, Presbyterian women have always been in the forefront of national movements. Presbyterian women have long advocated for women and children, and crusaded for the right to fair, paid work for African Americans, Native Americans, people of Apalachia and immigrants. They went into the field to actively do something about a host of other societal problems.

In the late 1800s the mission work of Presbyterian women broadened to include areas in Alaska and San Francisco, with a particular focus on Asian women. By answering God’s call, women’s work in the church and in society was validated, and the role of women in both foreign and home missions expanded throughout the 19th century.

In 1872 the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in North America (UPCNA) asked women members to devise some way to systematically raise money to suport women missionaries in the field. In 1875 Sarah Foster Hanna spoke to the General Assembly and received permission to establish the first national organization for women in a Presbyterian denomination, the Women’s General Missionary Society. Southern women were more hesitant about organizing a churchwide missionary society; it took the southern women of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) more than 26 years to get permission to set up a national women’'s organization, Women of the Church. Presbyterian women’s financial suport of missions was phenomenal and included the Thank Offering (first in 1888) and the Birthday Offering (first in 1922), both of which continue today.

The early 1900s were a time of upheaval and discontent; women gained power, women lost power, but through it all, women remained dedicated to the church. Then in 1930 the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA) opened the office of elder to women, thereby expanding the power of women to serve on any board of the General Assembly. The offices of elder and minister were opened to women in the UPCNA when the PCUSA and the UPCNA merged and to women in the PCUS in the sixties.

In the 1930s the definition of the word “missions” was expanded. It began to mean much more than sending out missionaries, preachers and teachers to far away lands. It meant sending workers to work in the inner cities. It meant working to bring people together. It meant working with former enemies after the two great wars. Peace became a continuing emphasis of Presbyterian women as they continued their faith journey through the 20th century and into the 21st century. They also worked to stamp out hunger, exploitation of women and children and war. Presbyterian women were strong women who took tough positions on racism, freedom to choose in problem pregnancies and equal rights for women in society and in the church.

After many years of talk about reunification, it became a reality in 1983 when the two churches rejoined, becoming the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). There were many difficulties in blending two organizations of strong women. Finally in 1988, Presbyterian Women was born, incorporating the best in the United Presbyterian Women (UPW) and the Women of the Church (WOC).

Two centuries after the first Presbyterian Women gathered to pray and give their money to the church, women have voice in the church and in the world. A legacy of devotion to the church and dedication to God are a strong foundation for continuing mission and taking Christ into every area of life in their third century. Presbyterian Women exists today because women are adaptable, determined, proactive, charitable, generous and dedicated to God. The Birthday Offering and the Thank Offering make it possible for new and existing ministry projects around the world to expand their work in new and creative ways.

Historical Highlights

Graphic: PCUSA symbolPresbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA)

Women ordained ruling elders

Women ordained teaching elders (ministers of word and sacrament)

United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA)Graphic: United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA) symbol

Task Force on Women (TFW)

Church Employed Women (CEW)

Third World Women’:s Coordinating Committee (TWWCC)

Council on Women and the Church (COWAC)

Constitutional provision that both men and women be elected elders and deacons in local congregations

Graphic: Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) symbol

Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS)

Women ordained ruling and teaching elders

Committee on Women’s Concerns (COWC)

Church Employed Women (CEW)

Committee for Racial Ethnic Women (CREW)

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)]

Reunion UPCUSA and PCUS

UPW and WOC aprove the design for Presbyterian Women (PW)

Structural Design for Mission adopted by the General Assembly, including the Women’s Ministry Unit as one of its nine units

Presbyterian Women (PW) aproved (with the exception of voice and vote on the General Assembly Mission Council) by the General Assembly

Presbyterian Women (PW) comes into being

Restructure of General Assembly Mission Council organizations; Presbyterian Women is lodged in Women’s Ministries, National Ministries Division

General Assembly grants moderator of PW voice and vote on General Assembly Council

Presbyterian Women incorporates.

The History of Women’s Publications

Until the early 1870s, women kept in touch with one another and promoted their mission causes through tracts, leaflets, prayer lists, lists of missionaries and annual reports. In 1871 they began publishing magazines to unite and to inform them about mission. In subsequent years, they interpreted many aspects of the church’s work.

Horizons Magazine and Bible Study

In 1988, when Presbyterian Women was formed, the publications of it predecessors — Presbyterian Women, the newsletter for Women of the Church in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, and Concern, the publication of United Presbyterian Women, United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America — were both disbanded. A new publication, Horizons, was introduced, with a prayer based on the PW purpose: “Horizons will ever be joyful, but ever willing to engage the suffering of this world ... that it will inform your prayer life and your Bible study, that it will strengthen the community of believers with whom you are linked ... and maintain the long commitment of women for the mission of the church.”

Presbyterian Women is the publisher of Horizons. The publication is produced by the Communications Office of Presbyterian Women, is editorially independent and is published seven times a year — six bimonthly magazines and an annual Bible study.

The annual Bible study is published in March. This popular piece of curriculum has been written by pastors and theologians, covering books of the Bible or taking a theme-based approach. At just $8.00, it's an incredible value for a manuscript written by inspiring leaders and field tested by many groups around the country to ensure relevancy to women of faith today. (Fun fact: the Horizons Bible study first raised its price in 1995 . . . to $2.50.)

Beginning with its first issue in July/August 1988, Horizons was governed by the Horizons Board, an entity of the PW Churchwide Coordinating Team (PW/CCT) responsible for personnel and finance. With PW staff reorganization in 1999, the PW/CCT dissolved the Horizons Board and placed its work within the Communication and Finance committees of the CCT. A Horizons Editorial Committee was established to provide the PW Communications staff with suport and advice on the interpretation of editorial policy, editorial themes and content, subscriptions and circulation and other concerns related to magazine publication. This nine-member committee, comprised of communication professionals, church professionals, CCT members and other PW representatives, meets biannually and provides similar suport for the Bible study, though Bible study authors and themes are selected by the CCT Bible Study Committee apointed annually by the moderatorial team.

Regular features of Horizons magazine:

  • Birthday Offering recipients
  • Installation service for church officers
  • Recipients of PW Thank Offering
  • Fellowship of the Least Coin recipients
  • Celebrate the Gifts of Women liturgy
  • Program ideas and Bible study helps

For information, call the PW Communications Office in Louisville, Kentucky, (888) 728-7228. To subscribe to Horizons, call (866) 802-3635.

NOTE: Additional information may be found in past issues of Horizons. PW publishing tradition: “A 125-Year Vision Continues,” May/June 1996 (page 2) and “The History of Presbyterian Women’s Publications,” November/December 2000 (page 16) and history and development of the Horizons Bible study: “Building a Firm Foundation,” November/December 2000 (page 28).