PPF is honored to name Rev. Peggy Howland the 2018 recipient of the Anne Barstow and Tom Driver Award for Nonviolent Direct Action in Retirement. Named for long-time nonviolence advocates Anne Barstow and Tom Driver, the annual award recognizes the unique contribution that retirees can make to a more just and peaceful world.
Peggy HowlandFrom the time she was a teenager, Margaret “Peggy” Howland has been a way-paver. Many people know that Peggy the way-paver was the twelfth woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1958. Peggy has continued since then to advocate for ordination to be open to more people–especially to women and LGBTQ people–and to stand up against sexism and homophobia in the Church and society. She has also been a peacemaker her whole life and an activist member of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship for fifty years.
Although she wasn’t always sure women should be ordained as pastors, Peggy was a strong-willed way-paving person from her youth. She sought out and joined a church on her own, participated in Girl Scouts, and was known as “semper fi” by the pastor for always sitting on the front row of church, but she was quiet and reserved about her faith outside of church. She felt transformed by knowing God loved her.
Nevertheless, from the time she first heard about full-time Christian service as an adolescent, she knew she wanted to do that. She practiced preaching into the mirror in her bedroom. At the time, she thought serving God and the church for her would mean being a missionary since women could not be ministers.
During her studies for the Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Seminary, Peggy served as a student deaconess in western Canada where she discovered her call to become a minister. Working there and in rural Maine gave her an opportunity to experience the work of ministry.
She was ordained in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 1958, and served on the staff of two large congregations before getting her Master of Sacred Theology degree, cum laude, in 1966 from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
Believing God had a place for her in the pastorate, which was still virtually closed to women, Peggy spent two and a half years trying to get an interview with a pastoral nominating committee, visiting eleven different presbytery executives, most of whom were sure no church would want a woman minister and one who told her that “a woman’s place is in the home”. But the eleventh executive in Albany Presbytery persisted, and she was installed as Pastor of the Woodside Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York in 1969, later serving as Pastor of two more congregations in Hudson River Presbytery over the next 30 years.
During her ministry, she was outspoken about peace and justice issues, from conscientious objectors in the Vietnam War, to closing the School of the Americas, to banning nuclear weapons, to helping women get access to abortion and the right to reproductive choice.
Peggy first learned about and connected with PPF fifty years ago at the General Assembly in 1968 over the issue of the rights of conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War. Since then, PPF has been a faith community for her and Peggy has advocated at many general assemblies (serving as a commissioner four times), continuing to be known as a way-paver in the PC(USA).
Since her retirement in 1998, Peggy has continued to be a passionate activist and advocate for women’s equality, participating for several years in the UN Commission on the Status of Women, serving as the secretary of the New York Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and president of the International Association of Women Ministers.
In her twenty years of retirement she has also lobbied for Palestinian rights, advocated for LGBTQ rights, spoken out against gun violence, supported the PPF team establishing the Colombia Accompaniment Program, and demonstrated against the Iraq war.
She participated in the School of the Americas Vigil at Fort Benning, GA annually until she could no longer walk the distances, when she started renting a wheelchair to be able to continue. She visited Nicaragua five winters in a row to help fund and assist in building a community center and housing, and other work. She has also performed mission work in India, as well as raising $20,000 to purchase six boats for fisherfolk after the 2004 tsunami.
She has previously been awarded the PPF Peaceseeker Award in 2008 and the Woman of Faith Award at General Assembly in 2010. She has served as Moderator of the Synod of the Northeast and the Presbyteries of Albany and Hudson River.
We hope you can join us for this 5th annual Barstow-Driver Award celebration on at a luncheon on October 20 in Stony Point, NY. Rev. Janie Spahr will deliver the keynote address. Tickets will be available online later in the summer, so mark your calendars now! Contact Emily Brewer at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.