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Women of Honor—Oct. 15

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Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who told all this to the apostles. . . . Luke 24:8-10

From being first to proclaim the good news of Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning to establishing the earliest “house churches,” women have been leaders of the church from inception. This is no less true today than it was in the first century. On Saturday (October 16), the Diocese of New Jersey will highlight and experience the leadership of women in various ways.

On Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m., The Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of New Jersey will host their triennial Women of Honor Ceremony on-line. Through this, women across the diocese “who exemplify the ministry of ECW and who serve as exceptionally dedicated volunteers in their congregation and community”[1] are recognized and celebrated. In addition to honoring exemplary women across our congregations, this year’s event will include a recognition of four special honorees named by ECW President Donna Freidel. They are:

  • Canon Barbara Okomoto Bach, a fourth-generation Episcopalian who has been an active member of Paul’s, Westfield, serving as a congregational and diocesan leader in various capacities and who was recently named by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as one of The Episcopal Church’s Delegates to the United Nations 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as “COP26.” Her strong background and experience as an environmental scientist assure that she will be a meaningful contributor to this conference.
  • Ashley Maddison, Esq., who was raised in the Diocese of New Jersey and has been an active member of several churches throughout her life. Spouse of the Reverend Ben Maddison, Ashley currently attends Holy Trinity Wenonah, where she assists with social media and outreach. She has also served on Diocesan Standing Committee for several years. An attorney embedded in the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers & Rutgers Law School through the Camden Medical-Legal Partnership, Ashley provides direct legal services, deepens collaboration among providers, and advocates for systems change for people who have complex medical, legal, and social needs in South Jersey. She and Ben also serve as foster parents and have shared their home with four children.
  • Deacon Sally Maurer, another cradle Episcopalian. Deacon Sally has participated in everything related to Church since a very young age. Learning to play the organ at age 15, she was soon on the organ bench at St. Luke’s, Woodstown. Enlisting in the United States Air Force at age eighteen, she took that skill on the road, playing in military chapels all over the world. The mother of three children, Deacon Sally had a transformative experience at a Cursillo weekend in New Jersey. Through this, she deepened her call to service as a nurse practitioner and, in 2012 after years of formation and study, as a deacon. For the past twenty years, she has served her community by providing primary care to mostly homebound elderly patients. Deacon Sally currently serves at St. John’s Salem and St. George’s, Pennsville.
  • Canon Karen Moore, Senior Warden at Grace Church Plainfield. A graduate of Howard University, Karen is Board President of Plainfield Community Outreach; Board President at Queen City Academy Charter School; Board President at Leadership Newark; Board Vice President at Homefirst Housing and Family Services. She has served on Diocesan Council, The Standing Committee of the Diocese of New Jersey and is currently Co-Chair of the Urban Revitalization Task Force of the Diocese. Having retired from Prudential Financial, Inc. as Vice President of Global Communications, in her spare time, Karen now teaches African American Literature at Rutgers University in Newark. She is also a clergy spouse, married to Deacon Ted Moore.

Stefanie Rotsaert has chaired the Women of Honor event for almost a quarter of a century and always assures that it is a very special event. Stefanie is Senior Warden, long-term member, and “jack-of-all-trades” at St. Stephen’s, Whiting. She is passionate about the ministry of healing and has been active in the Order of St. Luke for many years.

I also wish to recognize and thank Donna Freidel, who has served for many years now as President of The Episcopal Church Women and done so with enormous dedication and skill. An active member of St. Thomas, Glassboro as well as a Board member of its Jubilee Ministry, Kitchen of Hope, Donna has served in a wide range of ministries in the Diocese of New Jersey, bringing her particular gifts a lawyer to the Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons. She is currently on the Standing Committee and, as such, is one of my trusted advisors. I am most grateful for her wisdom and leadership.

Praise God for the faithful leadership of these women and all the women who will be honored on Saturday. They exemplify Christian discipleship and are instrumental in carrying out Christ’s ministry of love and reconciliation in this part of God’s dominion that is the Diocese of New Jersey.  And there’s more!

Though not a part of the our diocesan community, another woman who has been an influential leader in the wider regional community, will also be sharing her leadership gifts and insights on Saturday as the Episcopal Community Services of New Jersey (ECS-NJ) presents its 3rd Summit on Building and Equipping the Beloved Community focusing on Óur Faith, Our Advocacy: Homeless Rights and Housing Justice, which will feature DeBorah Gilbert White, founder of HerStory Ensemble LLC, an awareness, education, and advocacy community-based group focused on women and homelessness. With her own personal experience of homelessness, Dr. Gilbert White is uniquely positioned to educate and encourage us all to be less prone to bias and stereotyping and more inclined toward compassionate as we think about those who are homeless. As she writes in her book Beyond Charity: A Sojourner’s Reflections on Homelessness, Advocacy and Hope:

If homelessness could happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I decided to share my journey and to collaborate with those who have been working for transformative change toward ending homelessness. I believe we can end it as we have come to know it in the United States through greater preventive measures, like a livable wage, increasing availability of low-income and affordable housing, and having a  right to counsel for tenants going through the eviction process. I see myself as a survivor, and not easily broken by all that life has already thrown my way. I share my journey from homelessness to advocacy to bring awareness, to educate, to facilitate deeper understanding and to promote change.[2]

There is much for which we should be thankful in the Diocese of New Jersey. The leadership of these women—what they do, what they stand for, who God in Christ has called them each to be—is cause for deep gratitude to them and to God.

Blessings and peace,

In Christ,

Bishop Stokes's Signature

The Rt. Rev. William H. (Chip) Stokes
12th Bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey

[1] See website of The Diocese of New Jersey – Episcopal Church Women found at Episcopal Church Women of Honor Ceremony – Diocese of New Jersey (dioceseofnj.org)

[2] White Gilbert, Deborah Beyond Charity: A Sojourner’s Reflections on Homelessness, Advocacy and Hope (Kharis Publishing, 2021) Kindle location 128–131