The Theological Education Scholarship Fund for Women in the South (TESF) was established in 2001 as a means to increase the number of women in ordained ministry and to enable women from a wide network of Reformed churches in the south build their capacity for effective partnership in God’s mission.
Claudette Williams, a recipient of a scholarship, describes her situation and the impact the scholarship had on her life below:
I am a confessional member of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) and am originally from Cape Town, South Africa, where I was born, raised and lived for 26 years of my life.
I wanted to become a minister ever since I attended youth group. I was the youth leader at our church, and I always believed that God had a special plan and purpose for my life. I had a passion for his Word and wanted to learn more.
I started studying theology at the University of the Western Cape for a year and the next five years I studied at University of Stellenbosch, where I also received my bachelor in theology, masters in divinity and my licentiate in theology in 2004. I received my calling to URC Florianville in Kimberley in 2005 and have been a full time minister in the congregation for the past nine years.
I become aware of the TESF programme while doing my masters in divinity. Without any doubt, the scholarship has indeed been a blessing in that time of my life. I remember the tuition fees increased each year, and as much as my parents tried, they wouldn’t have been able to pay it. So the scholarship took a load off their and my own shoulders. I was able to concentrate fully on my studies without having to worry about finances.
Being a female in a male dominated occupation wasn’t easy. But I feel that females have a very different approach to church matters, allow me to say a softer side. Also, you would find in South Africa that many females are still seen as inferior to males. Many females are being abused. Females in leadership roles are needed to help these females to restore dignity to their worth and self esteem. The problem sometimes is that when females get into these leadership roles, we tend to forget about those females who actually need us. And my aim and focus is to be there for them and uplift their spirits.
I think the challenge for females studying theology is being called to a congregation after they have completed their studies. More than often you would find that a congregation would rather choose a male instead of a female. Being a female leader in church also has its own challenges. Sometimes it feels you have to work twice as hard just to gain the respect of congregation members and to prove yourself.
As I mentioned earlier, I become a reverend with my degree, serving my congregation but also our community. Our church is situated in a fairly poor area, some would say in the poorest area of Kimberley. We have many outreach programmes in our church for our community; for example handing out of food parcels, distributing blankets within the community, even old clothes which we hand out to various welfare organizations. We have also adopted a primary school that has lost its money for their feeding scheme, so we are collecting tin foods and maize for the children, so that food can be made for them. Many of these children arrive at school hungry, have to be hungry the whole day and go home to a house where there is no food.
I would like to encourage every female who wants to go into ministry by saying don’t let anything or anyone discourage you to do it. If God has placed that calling upon your life, he will be there in the tough and hard times too. I always comfort myself in the fact that Jesus revealed himself first to females after his resurrection. They were the first ones to see him, and he used them to proclaim it to the disciples. So, too, I believe that he uses females up until today to proclaim the Good News.