I was a little nervous. Maybe more than a little. A friend and colleague from my days in another church and community, a pastor with whom I had shared monthly gatherings as part of an ecumenical ministry group, had invited me to spend today as one of the speakers for her annual Women’s Week-end. “What do you want me to do?” I asked insistently. “Just tell your story,” she responded.
I was a little nervous. For one thing, I don’t really do that ~ tell my story, out loud, in big public settings. I went to a Biblical storytelling conference last winter; a compelling educational week, filled with ideas new to me, with exciting ideas for ministry, and with a community of gracious, generous women clergy. Several of them signed up to tell their own stories one evening. I wasn’t one of them. I guessed, mostly correctly, that the participants would be telling stories with good endings; stories, that is, in which everyone is still alive at the end. Not one of my stories.
For another thing, my friend and colleague is African American and, while I knew her church to be genuinely and lovingly diverse, I wondered whether anyone would care about what I had to say, or how I would say it. Black preaching is different from white preaching. The black clergywomen I know exude an inner and fearless power that . . . I don’t. (A lot of white clergywomen do, too, of course. But my style is different. Very WASPy in a reserved sort of way.) Also, black churchwomen tend to wear hats ~ elaborate hats. I don’t have any hats. I am good with as much diversity as possible, but I was actually quite nervous about the hat issue.
Ah, well, I sighed. I would go. I would be myself. I would tell my story. No hat.
What I discovered was another group of tremendously gracious and generous women. Black and white. Older and younger. Women who preach and pray as if they are on fire. Three women from my former church came, and was it ever a great gift to spend several hours with them! I met a college student who is majoring in Human Rights and impassioned about the issue of sex trafficking, and is a woman on the move to make a difference in the world. I learned about a couple of significant church outreach events ~ for the past two weeks, for instance, instead of a children’s Vacation Bible School, the church held an event for girls 7-17 designed to bolster self-esteem, build community, and have fun.
And at the end, a lovely woman about my age came up to me and grasped my shoulders and told me something of the stories of suicide loss and devastation in her family. Heart-wrenching stories, in which some people are dead and some are alive. Like my story.
I left out some things which I had intended to say. It was clear to me that, if I am going to do this sort of thing, I need to make some improvements. I was, in fact, the only white clergywoman there, and there were, indeed, a few women wearing hats.
But I am so grateful to have been offered another opportunity to reach out, and to have learned, thanks to a pastor who was once down the road from me, that perhaps I do have a story to tell that might make a difference to someone. And I got to hear some women preach and sing and be generally awesome, and that was very, very good.
Thank you, Pastor D!