Overseas visitors attend Women in the World Church conference

Lebanese minister Rev Rola Sleiman, who was forced to miss this year’s General Assembly after initially being refused a UK visa, has finally arrived in Scotland this week for the Women in the World Church conference.

Rev Rola Sleiman
Rev Rola Sleiman visited the BBC in Edinburgh for an interview with Sally Magnusson. Their discussion will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland's Sunday morning with Sally show (17/09/17).

Ms Sleiman, the minister for Tripoli, was the first woman to be ordained in the Middle East. The Home Office reversed its decision not to grant her a visa in May after the Church asked the Home Office to reconsider. She joins a distinguished list of conference speakers who will share their experiences within the Church of Scotland and its overseas partners.

“I am delighted to be here for the Women in the World Church conference,” she said.

"This is my second time in Scotland and I'm very glad to be here. Everyone has been very warm and welcoming and I really appreciate everything the Church has done to make it possible. I know how much effort was made to help me get my visa.

“I love history so I am really enjoying all the older buildings and monuments."

Keynote speaker: Prof Kwok Pui Lan

The conference, which is fully booked with 100 attendees, will be held on Saturday 16 September at New College in Edinburgh.

Professor Kwok Pui Lan, an influential feminist theologian who is the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, USA, will deliver this year’s Duff Missionary Lecture. Professor Kwok will speak about “Women, Mission, and World Christianity”.

Rev Susan Brown, minister at Dornoch Cathedral will chair a panel that will include Ms Nuam Hatzaw from Burma; Dr Nosheen Khan from Pakistan; Prof Isabel Phiri from Malawi; Ms Lucy Schouten from the USA and Rev Sleiman.

Professor Brian Stanley, Director of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, will welcome participants and Rev Iain Cunningham, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s World Mission Council, will lead the opening worship.

Mr Cunningham said that while the church has much to celebrate in the achievements of women—from Mary Magdalene as Christ’s “first apostle,” and Marie Dentière, the first woman theologian of the Genevan Reformation to modern-day thinkers, pioneers and leaders—the story of women in the world church has also included challenges.

“It is a sad fact that gender discrimination and injustice, together with gender-based violence of all forms, are all still endemic and ingrained within human society as a whole and, sadly, also still within the global Christian community.

“This is not a small issue for the Church. It is not a trivial issue. It is not a side issue. It is a scandal to the gospel that we profess and which declares that “in Christ there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free person, male and female.”

Personal stories

The speakers will also have a chance to share personal stories on Thursday at a round table event at St Catherine’s Argyle in Edinburgh. Scottish attendees will include Rev Dr Margaret Forrester; Rev Sally Foster Fulton, Head of Christian Aid in Scotland; Rev Kathy Galloway; Elaine Duncan of the Bible Society; Rev Fiona Mathieson and Mrs Helen Kerr of The Guild.

The overseas visitors will also meet the Moderator in Cupar, Fife where they will help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Cupar Justice and Peace group.

Rt Rev Annabell Lalla-Ramkelawan, of the Presbyterian Church in Trinidad and Tobago who will also attend the conference, says she faced barriers in her journey to ministry.

“I still vividly recall that Tuesday when the elder from the Felicity congregation came into my vestry and in a loud and angry tone said to me, ‘I will never take communion from you! You should not be in the pulpit! It is not the place for a woman!’

“I was in a state of shock. In response to his harsh criticism I responded, ‘All I ask of you is to see me as your Minister and give me that due respect.’”

Seven years later as she was moving to a new post she recalls: “The same elder who had denounced me, embraced me and cried because I was leaving the Pastoral Region.”

The World Mission Council has published a new, free booklet, Women in the World Church, which includes more information, interviews and photos. You can order as many copies as you need from wmoutreach@churchofscotland.org.uk

Women in the world Church booklets
Women in the World Church booklets