Press release from 5 March 2018

On Sunday 4 March, the International Sylvia Michel Prize for the Promotion of the Leadership Functions of Women in the Church was awarded for the fifth time in Bremgarten AG in a festive service. The winner is Dr. Theol. Mery Kolimon, president of the Evangelical Church in Timor in Indonesia.

The 1972-born pastor studied theology in the Netherlands and completed her studies with a dissertation on the „Theology of Empowerment“. Since then, she has been committed to the victims of human rights violations and is fighting against discrimination against women in Indonesia. In 2015, her book “Forbidden Memories” was published on the fates of women who survived the anti-communist cleansing wave of 1965 in East Indonesia.

Since 2015, Kolimon has been president of the second largest Protestant church in Indonesia with nearly two million members GMIT Kupang (Evangelical Church in Timor). There she established the network JPIT for women and conducted numerous theological research projects with young theologians. Although in the GMIT Kupang most of the pastors are female, she is the first woman in a leadership position.

In his eulogy, church council president Christoph Weber-Berg emphasized the “impressive courage” with which Kolimon fights against injustice and discrimination and for reconciliation. Through role models like hers, women around the world are encouraged to take on leadership functions in churches. The prize should not only be a material assessment, but a “public message of the Swiss Churches to their Sister Churches.”

The Prize-Winner oft he Sylvia-Michel-Prize 2018, Mery Kolimon (second from left),framed by the Church Council President of the Canton Aargau Christoph Weber-Berg, Theres Meierhofer-Lauffer (second from right) and Verena Enzler, President of the Synod of the Reformed Church in the Canton Solothurn (right). Photo: Marianne Weymann

In her acceptance speech, the prize winner Mery Kolimon said that the prize was not for her as a person. Nevertheless, she appreciates it because it “strengthens the identity of her church” and “her own identity as a defender of human rights.” It not only honours her, but also «many, many friends who, often risking their lives in the fight for justice». The prize is dedicated to the memory of her mother, who, despite humble beginnings, committed herself to making it possible that her daughter was able to benefit from a higher education. Today, many women in Timor have no chance of getting an education, and many become victims of human trafficking. She also dedicates the prize to all women, men and children who have to live in precarious conditions or who suffer discrimination because of their sexual identity or orientation. “This prize is intended to inspire you to have dreams and to fight for your rights,” said Kolimon.

Theres Meierhofer-Lauffer, former Church council president of the Association of Reformed parishes in the Canton of Obwalden, declared the importance of the International Sylvia Michel Prize as a representative of the «PanKS». It has been awarded since 2009 to persons and projects that are committed to promoting the management functions of women in the church. It is awarded by the current and former Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Reformed National Churches of Switzerland (PanKS) together with the world community of Protestant Churches. The prize money of 5000 US dollars is donated by the reformed Church of Aargau. The name of the prize goes back to Pastor Sylvia Michel, who became the first president of the reformed Church of Aargau in 1980, and was the first woman in Europe to assume the presidency of an ecclesiastical executive.

ria / Marianne Weymann