The ASIAN CHURCH WOMEN'S CONFERENCE was conceived by women of vision and women who dared to dream dreams in the post-World War II years.
The First Assembly of the Asian Church Women’s Conference (ACWC) was held on 17‒30 November 1958 and was limited to Presbyterian church women leaders and their supporters. It was funded by the United Presbyterian Women (USA) through their giving program of ‘Opportunity Gifts’, and the Presbyterian church women of Hong Kong hosted the meetings.
Most of the Asian women who planned this first assembly had never met before they were guests together, in 1958, at a nearly four-month program of speaking engagements, and church and conference experience in the USA. Yes, four months is correct!
For the first ten days, the international guests gathered for orientation at the Gilmor-Sloane House at the Stony Point Retreat Centre in the State of New York, before they were divided into small groups and embarked on speaking engagements and church experience around the USA. They met up again at the Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, for the 1958 National Meeting of Presbyterian Women (USA) where approximately 5,000 Presbyterian women, including 50 overseas guests, with 20 from Asia, participated in a week of worship, study and fellowship. Most of the overseas guests gathered again after the National Women’s Meeting for five days at Monmouth College in Illinois. Such a generous program is almost impossible for us to visualise in our current climate of continuous budget cuts and lack of support for women’s programs.
Throughout their amazing experiences in the US, the Asian women’s desire grew for their own conference in Asia, and they began to plan for such an event with the assistance of the Presbyterian Women (USA). The Presbyterian church women of Hong Kong had been planning a training conference and the Asian delegates built upon those plans. Rayann Ma, of Hong Kong, was appointed Chairperson of the Planning Committee for the first Conference of Asian Women. She convened this conference and chaired the meetings held in Hong Kong. Rayann was not only very enthusiastic about the Asian women meeting together, she was also a keen supporter of Shanti Solomon’s vision of the Fellowship of the Least Coin (FLC).
The Fellowship of the Least Coin was introduced at this first conference of Asian church women, and the participants adopted it as their special project and promised to promote it to their own women when they returned home. The administration of the FLC funds was being handled by the East Asia Christian Council (EACC); they had the capacity and staff to carry out this work.
The Asian church women who attended the 1958 Hong Kong conference represented nine countries: Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, East Pakistan (renamed Bangladesh in 1971) & West Pakistan (renamed Pakistan on 1 July 1970), the Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan. [East Pakistan and West Pakistan were counted as one country.]
It was also agreed at that first conference that for the next and any further assemblies, they would invite Christian women from other Protestant denominations across the Asian region. The invitation for the second assembly was even extended to Australia and New Zealand, as they were members of the East Asia Christian Council.
Don’t you wish you could have been there to witness the birth of this first conference of Asian church women that inspired others to continue these assemblies every four years for another 60 years? And hopefully for many more years yet to come.
Can you identify any of the Asian women in the photo at the top of this post? My list of names is incomplete, and I would love to be able to match these pioneering women with their names. If you can help with this request, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you have or know the location of any early reports or original documents regarding this first Asian Church Women’s Conference, I would be delighted to hear from you.
Presbyterian Women (USA) website https://www.presbyterianwomen.org/