There’s a moment in every area clergy gathering or general church meeting I’ve come to expect over the past few years—it’s that second when there’s a pause in conversation and I begin to look around the room of gathered religious leaders and suddenly realize I’m either a) the only person under the age of 55, b) the only woman or c) (on really bad days) the only woman and the only person under the age of 55. It’s no secret that ministry is a male dominated profession, no surprise that the majority of clergy are a bit on the “aged” side—I knew these things when I made my covenant with God and the church to serve God’s people. What I didn’t know, however, was just how hard it would be to feel like “the only one” so much of the time. The only woman. The only recent seminary graduate. The only young woman.
Then “Sabbath in the City,” last year’s TYCWP conference, happened in Chicago and everything changed. True to the motto of our organization, I was no longer the only one. Rather than that typical conference moment when I realize my isolated status, there was a second last summer when the lively conversation paused and I glanced around the room to see fiercely intelligent Reverends with painted toenails, sassy summer skirts, a few hipster skinny jeans, and everything in between. Ordained, called by God, young and female—it happens so rarely in our church that I hadn’t ever witnessed it before—but there it was at last summer’s conference. 55 “only ones” gathered together in one place, at one time, ready to nourish and sustain each other, prepared to be deeply reverent and respectfully irreverent, ready to engage in meaningful, life-giving community.
I left the three day conference in Chicago deeply committed to maintaining this sense of connectedness, so committed, in fact, that I found myself as co-chair of the 2013 TYCWP summer conference planning committee.
On July 22nd through July 25th, “only ones” from across the country and across the world will descend on the city of Nashville, TN for this year’s conference. Our formal theme: “Women in Leadership: Made in Whose Image.” A dynamic, young biblical scholar, Dr. Nyasha Junior, will journey with us through a consideration of new ways of looking at female biblical characters and a discussion of strategies for preaching and teaching “against the grain” interpretations. This is real scholarship with a high level of academic conversation that strives to balance intellectual rigor with the heart and depth of pastoral ministry.
Our informal theme, however, the theme that unfolds during coffee breaks and snack times (and the snacks are usually fabulous, I must say), the theme that unwinds over glasses of wine at our shared meals and during our hospitality hour, is one of life-giving support and soul-satisfying fellowship.
“Can you believe they didn’t have a woman’s bathroom in the sanctuary before I was called to the congregation?”
“Last week at an Elders meeting, my congregation chair called me “honey,” again.”
“I’ve decided that I’ll be bringing my toddler to work on Wednesdays; it’s what I want to do.”
“Last week, while on a first date, THREE of my congregation members were also at the restaurant.”
In an endless parade of summer camps, Vacation Bible Schools, sermon series, pastoral calls and youth service trips, it can feel difficult to set aside a few days. Perhaps it sounds daunting to put down your to-do list for a moment, pack a suitcase, and launch yourself into community with 50 or 60 strangers. But, if you take the risk and become one of the many “only ones” making their way to Vanderbilt Divinity School this summer, I promise that you will not be disappointed. Whether it’s the consideration of Hagar, gathered around a classroom table as we discuss how to embrace her biblical story and preach the good news, or a late-night conversation shared over a beer and a delicious plate of hummus at the Mediterranean restaurant across the street, it will be real, sassy, authentic, intelligent, spirit-filled conversation shared by a room full of “only ones.”
We hope you’ll join us. We’d love to have you.
Register online at http://youngclergywomen.org/conference/registration/.
Your deadline to commit to a three day Sabbath filled with laughter, yummy food, and amazing women is June 1.