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Revisiting the 1978 ACWC Assembly

Last year, on 3 October 2020, I posted a blog on the 6th Assembly of the Asian Church Women’s Conference (ACWC) held at the Tozanso YMCA International Youth Centre, Gotemba, Japan. This event was held in the twentieth year since the ACWC first began. At the conclusion of the blog post, I wrote: ‘The office of the Asian Church Women's Conference does not have any photos from this assembly, nor does Australian Church Women. If you know the whereabouts of any photos, please contact me at Earlier this year, our dear ACWC sisters in Japan sent me a scanned image of the participants of the 6th Assembly. How fortunate we are that the Japanese sisters are very good record keepers and that for a number of years they produced Assembly memorial books. Japan is also Australia’s prayer partner for this current quadrennium, and I trust that you have been supporting them in prayer. I know these sisters are committed to regular prayer for us, especially when Australia experiences natural disasters.

I believe the following members attended this assembly: Fran Bailey (ACWC Vice-President), Rachel Cocks (National Representative), Ruth Nebro (Delegate), Win Dougherty (Delegate), Lieut-Colonel Isabel Macintyre (Observer), and Deaconess Elizabeth Alfred (Observer).

ACW members, are you able to spot the Australians in this photo? It is very easy to see Isabel Macintyre. I also found Rachel Cocks, and I think I can see Elizabeth Alfred near Isabel Macintyre. If you can identify more of our ACW members, please contact me. I can see some familiar faces from other countries too – Shanti Solomon (FLC founder, India), Eunice Kim (Korea), Dorothy Wagner (USA), and possibly Monika Mannam (Bangladesh). Dorothy was a great supporter of both the ACWC and the FLC (Fellowship of the Least Coin), particularly during their first twenty years. She and Margaret Shannon were the ‘movers and shakers’ behind the founding and establishment of these two Asian Christian movements through the Presbyterian Women of the USA.

Even though the Asian Church Women's Conference (ACWC) was conceived by Asian women of vision who dared to dream dreams in the post-World War II years, they still needed assistance from experienced women to turn their dreams into reality. The Asian women seized this opportunity from the American Presbyterian Women with both hands, and they did not step tentatively into a brave new world but, instead, they leapt boldly onto the world stage to proclaim their allegiance to Jesus Christ, and to work together improving life for Asian women and their families, as well as promoting the FLC. Here is another report of the 1978 Assembly, this time by Rachel Cocks. It was published in Women at Work, the ACW Newsletter: ‘It is with a deep sense of gratitude to God that I attempt to pass on to others some of the experiences gained at the 6th ACWC Assembly held in October, 1978 in Japan. ‘Tozano [sic] International Centre stands in a beautiful setting. It is reached after a 100 minute drive from Tokyo, along the Tomei Expressway, which for most of its route passes through densely populated and industrialised suburbs. Not an inch of space appears to be wasted, and it seems nothing more could be fitted in. Everything appeared to be very clean, orderly and neat. I was surprised to find in these densely packed areas so much greenery and colour. Wherever it was possible to plant them, trees and shrubs and flowers flourished and blossomed. Rice paddies and vegetable gardens, often small, looked as though they had been lifted straight out of the pages of "Home and Garden". They were, indeed just as one would expect to find them in this land of green-fingered gardeners – geometricalIy exact and very beautiful. The rice harvest was being garnered as we drove through. Tozano is in the centre of 16 acres of lush greenery; dense trees, lawns and shrubs, and wild flowers abound in these foothills of Mt. Hakone and Mt. Fuji. ‘Fuji is magnificent. I realise now, why from time immemorial mountains have been subjects of human worship. Fuji is hidden in cloud so often that each appearance it made during the days of the Assembly was greeted with wonder, joy and awe. We were not tar from Fuji to Tozano. That superb mountain will always be very close to me. ‘The Assembly participants were housed in dormitory cabins, each holding several bunks. I shared with 4 others: 2 Indians, I Thai and a Filipino. It was a lovely experience, although the pace of the Assembly was such that we saw all too little of each other. Monike from Pakistan, lost no time in picking up my Australian accent, reproducing it in excellent mimicry whenever possible. ‘8 women, differing from each other so much in age, culture, and expectation of life. At first, the only bond of unity, Jesus Christ who had brought us together. This bond was soon to be strengthened by liking and affection, respect and enjoyment of each other's company. ‘There were more than 100 participants, drawn from many Asian countries, also from Australia and New Zealand. We had international guests from Uruguay, Africa, the Cook Islands, Sweden, Lebanon, West Germany and America, each representing a major world body of the Christian Church. Each had a story to tell, a need to be present, strength to impart and to receive from sisters prepared to listen and to understand. ‘The absence of some Taiwanese, and the non-appearance of the delegation from Burma, the late arrival of most of the South Koreans, were facts which told their own story. So often; and by so many incidents, I was I reminded with shame and regret, of our Australian contempt for the privileges we wear so lightly. We claim as "rights" those freedoms for which others known to some of us are fighting, facing possible imprisonment, torture and even death. So precious to them are the liberties we accept so casually. Freedom to move, speak, believe and the right to strike, we take all these for granted. ‘The opening ceremony on Tuesday 10th, was both impressive and moving. The gathering was held in the Auditorium where all the business of the Assembly was transacted. A huge, well-appointed room, capable of seating more than 400. Above the podium were the banners of the Assembly themes: "CALLED TO CHANGE, COMMITTED TO SERVE" ASIAN CHURCH WOMEN'S CONFERENCE. SIXTH ASSEMBLY. GOTEMBA. JAPAN. OCTOBER 10-14, 1978. ‘A second banner, immediately below, called us to be: "Aglow with the Spirit, Serve the Lord" (Romans 12.1).

‘Each delegation, led by its National Representative, carrying the banner, entered the Auditorium in alphabetical order. The banners were presented before the audience, and were then hung above the dais, where they remained throughout the Assembly. After each banner was positioned, the National Representative rejoined the delegation when, all together they spoke the word which to them represented the ideal of the banner. Australia's was 'ONENESS'. This was especially meaningful for Ruth Nebro, our Aboriginal delegate. She later told me that for her the Assembly was "a foretaste of heaven – oneness in Christ." ‘Most meaningful for us was the slight and slim figure of the South Korean delegate. She stood alone. (There should have been others beside her), a banner aloft. The other members of the delegation had not received their travel visas. No reason was given for the delay. Her word was "FREEDOM". ‘There were several speakers at the opening ceremony. The address most appreciated was that of Agnes Loyall, the President. A precis of her message has already appeared in Women at Work. Mrs. Agnes Loyall concluded by restating the raison d'etre of Asian Church women. ‘"Believing and affirming that 'the purpose of God for the Churches in East Asia and South Asia is life together in a common obedience to Him for the doing of His will in the world, and that we are called to demonstrate His love in all areas of life through the programmes of development, social justice and witness. let [sic] the Sixth Assembly of Asian Church Women's Conference enter the new quadrennium with faith and courage, because we are about His business for the liberation of His children." Rachel Cocks' [I believe the person who typed the report in the newsletter was responsible for Tozanso appearing as Tozano.]


Source: 1978–80 ACW minutes, working papers and newsletters of the National Archives of Australian Church Women.


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This Herstory Blog of Australian Church Women Inc. tells the stories of the women and activities of this national Christian organisation that was founded in February 1965.

Stories that inspired and encouraged me to begin this blog and share their inspiration with you. Stories that need to be told so that the women of ACW can be honoured and celebrated for their achievements and experiences in local, national and international communities of faith. And, most importantly, stories that demonstrate being disciples of Jesus Christ firmly underpins all that Australian Church Women represents.

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