Voices of Sophia Records
Span Dates: 1993-2009
Volume: 2.5 cubic feet
This collection shows the founding, development, and functioning of Voices of Sophia (VOS).
The Administrative Files series, 1994-2009, consists of correspondence, financial records, membership lists, and meeting minutes related to the founding and development of VOS. There are files created by the volunteer Central Team which shaped the organization. This includes meeting minutes, vision statements, and notes on organizational priorities. There are also files related to the Progressive Partnerships which document VOS’s work with other progressive organizations in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The Events series, 1993-2008, consists of files related to events that VOS either held or attended. Included in this series are meeting minutes, programs, mailings, and photographs from the annual Gatherings held by VOS. The series also contains planning arrangements, speeches, and correspondence from the annual VOS breakfasts at the PC(USA) General Assemblies from 1996-2008. The speeches include presentations by the following Christian feminist/womanist church leaders: Sylvia Thorson-Smith in 1997; Katie Geneva Cannon in 1998; Johanna W.H. Van Wijk-Bos in 1999; Rebecca Todd Peters in 2000; and Nancy Ramsey in 2003.
The Communications series, 1995-2006, consists of newsletters, publications, and promotional material created by VOS. This includes anti-racism resources, copies of the VOS newsletter Illuminations, sheet music, and correspondence regarding the 2000 Women’s Ministry Program Area Report. Also included are newsletters VOS collected from the Voices of Orthodox Women.
Voices of Sophia (VOS) was a community of Presbyterian women and men that promoted feminist/womanist theology from 1994-2010. Its formation was triggered by the backlash against an ecumenical theological conference called Re-Imagining held in Minneapolis in 1993. Re-Imagining was conceived as a world-wide religious expression at the end of the United Nations Decade of Solidarity with Women. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) donated $10,000 and staff time of the Women’s Ministry Unit to support the conference. The $10,000 was allocated to help bring Christian feminist theologians from outside the United States to Re-Imagining. Many Presbyterians attended the conference, and critics warned against its message that feminists could push the boundaries of orthodoxy and still be Christian. Immense criticism was heaped upon all Presbyterians who attended as well as the PC(USA) Women’s Ministry Unit for supporting the conference. Mary Ann Lundy, head of the unit, was removed from her position.
The following year, sixteen people invited by Sylvia Thorson-Smith and Mary Kuhns explored the idea of a new special impact group within the denomination to focus on the issues raised by the Re-Imagining conference and the backlash it received. The name Voices of Sophia, a purpose statement, a funding strategy, and an agenda for a larger gathering to follow were all written at that first meeting in 1994. VOS became an official organization one year later, at the 207th General Assembly of the PC(USA) in 1995.
With the stated goal of “transforming the Church into a discipleship of equals,” VOS held annual Gatherings from 1994-2003, offered breakfasts/speakers at General Assemblies from 1995 onward, distributed a newsletter, created a website, and grew a membership that peaked at over 500 members. The annual gatherings held by VOS highlighted Christian feminist scholarship and ritual. These were planned by a Central Team and sometimes paid staff. VOS was visible at each General Assembly, advocating for progressive overtures and offering encouragement through its VOS Breakfast and booth. A membership mailing in 2002 states VOS’s purpose to “call the Church into accountability, and fulfill the Gospel and General Assembly policy, regarding women’s theologies, inclusiveness, and diversity.”
In 2010, VOS combined with the Witherspoon Society to form Presbyterian Voices for Justice (PV4J).
An online finding aid is available.
The collection is housed at the Presbyterian Historical Society.
425 Lombard St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Presbyterian Church (USA) | Feminism | Women's spirituality