The Widow’s Plight: As We Celebrate International Widows’ Day 2017, Are Churches Failing the Widow?
By Ida Tyree Hyche, Esq., International Editor, The Missionary Magazine
International Widows’ Day, introduced to address poverty and injustice faced by widows and their children in many countries, was officially recognized by the United Nations in 2010 and is observed annually on June 23. As the world celebrates International Widows’ Day, the Church must be reminded that the Bible places great prominence on the Christian-responsibility to provide support — emotional and otherwise — for those women who have lost their husbands. James 1:27 says that true religion is to take care of widows in their distress.
Death is unavoidable, foreseeable, inevitable. Yet, widowhood is one of the most shattering experiences that can ever happen to a woman. It leaves her alone, sometimes poor and friendless, in a world geared to married couples. Studies show it can take as long as two years for a new widow to fully adjust to her new “status.” Some adjust well and go on to establish a new and fruitful life alone, while some widows have special problems that can only be lessened by the care and concern of those around them.
There is the emotion of feeling like a misfit. Social loneliness is experienced due to not feeling like they are a member of their community and/or no close friends or immediate family or church family upon which to rely. A neglected widow may move from the front of the pew to the back of the pew, and then out the door, not to be seen for a long time or ever again. “Every widow has different needs,” said Mrs. Delores Kennedy-Williams, widow of retired Presiding Elder Leonard N. Williams, Sr., Fourth Episcopal District, and former President of the Connectional Women’s Missionary Society. She continued, “Many can no longer drive at night to church events or annual conferences, or afford hotel rates now that their spouse is no longer with them.” The loss of her husband, compounded by the loss of her identity (where she once was a pastor’s or presiding elder’s wife and participated in activities surrounding that role), has a profound effect on her sense of self-worth. “The hardest step for me to take the first couple of years was going to Annual Conference without my husband who was a pastor,” said Mrs. Phyllis Davis Hagler, widow of the Reverend Tommy Hagler, who is member of the Northwest Alabama Conference in the Ninth Episcopal District.
The Loomba Foundation 2015 Global Widows Report estimated that in 2015, approximately 38,261,345 million widows in the world, or 14.8% of all widows, live in extreme poverty where basic needs go unmet. In the United States, one out of ten households is headed by a widow, according to 2015 statistics. While 70% of men over age 65 are married, only 30% of the women are. Widows and their children, already among the least fortunate in the world’s social and economic systems, are receiving even more challenges than usual because of the Ebolaoutbreak, war and economic collapse and stagnation. Recently in the United States, President Trump unveiled a $4.1 trillion budget for 2018 that cuts deeply into programs for the poor, from health care and food stamps to student loans and disability payments. Certainly, this budget, which cuts deeply into Medicaid and anti-poverty efforts, will affect the widow; particularly, the widow with minor children. Hence, another notch in the widows’ plight.
It behooves the church to consider the widows’ plight. Paul instructs that, for a widow to be supported by the local church, she must be over the age of 60 and she must have been faithful to her husband and have led a godly life. And she must have no family member to care for her (1 Timothy 5:9–10). The bottom line is that all widows should be receiving the care they need, without anyone getting overburdened by the responsibility.
The Reverend Raymond Swafford, a widower whose wife, Mrs. Gail Swafford, was an active missionary in the Ninth Episcopal District, shared:
“My wife Gail, passed away on March 13, 2015. Do I believe the AME Church has failed me following the death of my wife? My answer is a resounding, “No”. At the funeral, the church Gail grew up in, Greater St. Paul AME Church, Florence, AL, was packed with AMEs from across the 9th Episcopal District….To be totally honest, it has been harder than I thought it would be. Most days I’m good. But there are moments, I really can’t explain them, when I hear of a minister’s spouse passing, I feel a pain. However, the support of my episcopal district family has been great. I love them.”
Perhaps, it’s the widows’ “what’s next”, on a case by case basis, that dictates how the church responds to the widows’ plight. There are persons reading this article who know widows in their churches or missionary societies that they have not reached out to in months or years other than Christmas, and, perhaps, Mother’s Day. Churches or missionary societies canconsider a Widows’ Ministry. As I write this article, I convict myself of neglecting widows I know, ashamedly being too busy writing about missions and not doing missions where I live. I pledge to do better, not just for International Widows’ Day; rather, for always. I find myself calling all the widows I know, for whom I have a phone number, to say, “Hi, how are you today? I’m calling to say I’m sorry that I’ve not checked on you sooner. Please forgive me. Tell me what’s happening with you and how I may help.”
Mrs. Delores Kennedy-Williams summed it up with thesewords: “We get busy doing nothing that we fail to do the something that God has called us to do.”
Have you touched the life of a widow recently? Have your missionary societies considered the widows’ plight? It is never too late to start.
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