Rachel Held Evans

Remembering Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans

Thank you, Rachel.

Last Saturday, Christian author Rachel Held Evans died suddenly at the age of 37. She was a prolific blogger, author of four books, conference organizer and speaker, and was known for her public voice on social media as a progressive Christian, ally, and advocate. Rachel was loved not just because she was courageous and tenacious; she was also willing to admit fault, apologize when she was wrong, and listen and learn from people in marginalized communities. Her death is a devastating loss to the Church, the world, and her loved ones; she leaves behind a husband and two young children. Although she was not a young clergywoman – she was a layperson in the Episcopal Church – many of us in YCWI feel we have lost one of our own. As was evidenced on twitter under the #rememberingRHE tag, Rachel’s life irrevocably changed countless lives around the globe. Today we are sharing some of the many reflections we have received from young clergywomen about how Rachel’s ministry has impacted their faith lives and their ministry journeys.


“What do you do when from a young age, you have a sense that you don’t quite belong where you are? In my church growing up, men were the elders, the bible study leaders and small group facilitators. They were the ushers, the baptizers, the communion servers, and the preachers. I attended a Christian college that did not permit women to hold positions of leadership over men in church settings. My freshman year, lost and confused as to what in the world I should do with my life, a career test revealed that I had pastoral leadership skills. This test result was laughed off by an advisor with the suggestion that I could always pursue ministry to women or children.

I stumbled through my early twenties, always feeling a little heartsick, never able to escape the sense that I didn’t quite belong. Until the day I picked up that first book written by Rachel Held Evans. As I read her words on those pages, as I pored over her blog posts, my heart began to truly heal. It was through Rachel, through her honest questions and passionate truth-telling that we evangelical misfits began to find each other. Rachel helped us heal from past wounds inflicted on us by the church. Rachel helped us discover our voices. Rachel helped us define our sense of call. Rachel helped us find our place at the table.” –Sarah Sparks-Franklin

____________

“When there were no words, Rachel had words. When we couldn’t understand, she framed divine wisdom. When we needed God, Rachel pointed and we saw. Thank you. Your impact is much more than you could have known. May it be so with all of us. I am grateful for RHE, a beloved daughter of God.” –Katy Cuthill Steinberg

____________

“I found her when I was looking for a book for a women’s book group. A Year of Biblical Womanhood hadn’t been released yet, but I followed her blog posts while going through those experiences. When the book was finally published I devoured it – and so did the women of my church. It brought us closer together. I watched and read as she publicly and vulnerably wrestled with supporting the LGBTQ community. She finally made her choice and ‘came out’ as a strong ally. It was the same time I was beginning to really come to terms with my own sexuality, and her openness, grace, and compassion were some of the key things that kept me going.

In the fall of 2014 I got to share with her what that meant to me. She spent over five minutes talking with me and listening to my story, even though she’d already been standing and talking to the long line of people in front of me for over an hour. She asked questions, engaged with me, truly seemed to care. Then she told me something I’ve never forgotten: ‘I’m going to pray for you for the next two days.’ It was so oddly specific I could tell she meant is as truth, not an empty platitude.

I haven’t yet read Inspired. Now I will read it with care, savoring the sweetness of each word, knowing that it will be the last time I get to read a book by Rachel Held Evans for the first time.  She has been my dialogue partner and companion in faith for the last eight years. In many ways she’s been the closest thing to a pastor I’ve had since I became one, even though we didn’t know one another personally. I don’t know what I will do without her voice. My heart is broken. Her brilliance and heart leave a huge hole in the church and the lives of so many. Eshet chayil, Rachel, woman of valor.” –Megan Elliott

____________

“Like so many other women in my age group, Rachel Held Evans is a big reason I went to seminary in the first place. I met her a few months after my first class and she was so kind, gracious, and encouraging. As I profusely thanked her for her impact on my life, she smiled and said, ‘I am amazed by you women out there DOING IT. I write, but you all are pastors and that’s amazing. You impact MY life. Just keep going out there and doing the good work.’ And while she underplayed her own important work, her words ring true: We are all in this together, and when we each do what were called to, the world is a better place. Eshet chayil, Rachel. You are a woman of valor. May we carry on your legacy.” –Sara Nave Fisher

____________

“Rachel profoundly changed my life. Her careful work to take apart the quilts of evangelical Christianity and weave them into a new tapestry of faith gave me a Jesus and a language when I badly needed them. Through her, I found my voice as a progressive evangelical and a woman in ministry. I was able to claim God’s call on my life in a new and bold way. I was able to live into the queerly beloved identity I was always meant for. I was and am brave because of her.

Years later, when she was going through a difficult period of being heavily targeted online, we traded messages and she allowed me to encourage her on the journey for a while. Rachel was as real, open hearted, and full of grace as anyone could be. She broke open the church and tore down its walls for countless people. Her loss is devastating for so many of us. Woman of Valor always, RHE. It seems we hardly knew you. We love you and we will miss you. Rest in peace and rise in power.” –Heidi Carrington Heath

Altars and Altered: Looking Toward YCWI Conference

I love Atlanta and I love my YCWI friends, but the top reason I am excited for the 2019 Young Clergy Women International Conference is because I will be able to listen to and sit at the feet of Rev. Dr. Neichelle Guidry and Rev. Dr. Liz Mosbo VerHage. These two speakers bring a huge range of talent and prophetic witness that I think will help me better answer my call to share good news in difficult times.

Rev. Dr. Guidry has been one of my heroes since I heard about the WISDOM (Women in Spiritual Discernment of Ministry) Center at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. As Director of the WISDOM Center, Rev. Dr. Guidry invites, encourages, and challenges her female students to discern possible vocations in faith and social justice fields. I want to learn from her how to empower the women of color in my “congregation” (a small, private, liberal arts college) to explore their faith and purpose in the world, too. Rev. Dr. Guidry is also an inspiring preacher who I am confident will not only refresh my call but also rejuvenate my commitment to my own vocation.

Rev. Dr. Liz Mosbo VerHage energizes me as I seek to be a strong white ally for people of color. When invited to speak at the YCWI conference, her response included an offer to supply the names of women of color to invite instead of her. Her call is to racial reconciliation ministry, faith-based advocacy, empowering female faith leaders, and embodying the multicultural church. More importantly for the conference, her call is to help other women step into their prophetic journey in these fields.

I live in Memphis, Tennessee, a city that transformed the nation in the realms of of civil rights and music, and is on the front line of innovative ministry models. I really do believe that transformation is possible on a personal level, a regional level, a national level, and an international level. And I hope to God that reformation and transformation is possible on the church level. The Holy Spirit is going to do amazing transformative work through the workshops, embodied learning opportunities, fellowship, speakers, and keynote addresses at the 2019 YCWI Summer Conference, and I look forward to being transformed.

I believe God will use the incredible talent of Rev. Dr. Guidry and Rev. Dr. Mosbo VerHage this summer to show how worship transforms us to be agents of transformation in the world. At altars (and by altars, I mean the places we meet God: altars, tables, coffee shops, kneelers, hiking trails, workshops, hospitals, and maybe even the YCWI Summer Conference) we are altered. As I find my own prophetic voice and begin to stand up and call out for justice, I know that I need to sit at the feet of and listen to the modern day prophets in our midst. I’m looking forward to doing just that at the 2019 Young Clergy Women International Summer Conference. I hope to see you there! For more information and to register, visit our conference page.

people bending near the ground, working with soil and plants behind a fence on a clear day

Growing Good Soil in Ministry

Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”-Matthew 13:8 (NIV)

people bending near the ground, working with soil and plants behind a fence on a clear day

The “Farminary”at Princeton Theological Seminary

The farmers in front of me dreamed of having the richest soil in the entire state. Regrettably, history was working against them. They had acquired an old sod farm, and the poor practices of the previous generations had stripped away the nutrient-rich top soil. The soil had been full of life-giving organic matter and they sold it away year by year with each reaping. The farm thrived for a time. However, with the depletion of the soil, every year they worked harder and yielded fewer results. Finally, they were forced to close down the operation and pass the land to the next successors.

Slowly, these new farmers began to change the story with a more sustainable model. They brought in some new soil and enriched what remained with compost. They took in the discarded compost scraps and used that as the basis for what would surprisingly be the source of new life. There would be much good fruit that would be grown in abundance in this new soil.

I had heard this story of this particular farm before. However, when I heard it again during my search for my first ordained call, it stopped me in my tracks. Finally, I had a clear picture of the unsettling cloud that had seemed to hover over my search with a gloomy presence. I had encountered too many churches that seemed to want to continue in a metaphorical “soil-depleting mentality.”

If you’re in the white mainline American church tradition like me, you’re probably familiar with the longing for the church to return to its “golden-age” in the 1950s and 60s. My interviews involved questions about how I could start getting those higher yields back. There wasn’t much discussion of the state of the soil. I was saddened by the fact that churches couldn’t see past the old successes to imagine what new life could grow in their midst. I wondered at their ability to persist in working harder with fewer results rather than embrace a new vision. I longed for more imagination about the good fruit that could come of good soil and what a witness that could be for the good news of the gospel. Read more

New YCWI Board Members

Every year we welcome a new class of gifted and faithful women to join in leadership as Board Members. Board Members generally serve a three-year term, and some women stay for a second three-year term after their initial service. We give thanks for the women who have served our organization faithfully and completed their service to the board this year: Molly James, Austin Shelley (also completing her term as Managing Co-Editor), Julie Hoplamazian, Erin Klassen, Meg Jenista Kuykendall, and Sarah Moore. Their gifts and skills have been a blessing to each one of us on the board and to the organization as a whole.

Without further ado, we are excited to introduce our newest board members!

Lindsay Hills

Lindsay Hills currently serves as Rector of St. Mary’s Kerrisdale (Anglican Church) in Vancouver, Canada. After graduating from Bryn Mawr College in Sociology with a concentration in Feminist and Gender Studies, she found herself in a one year internship in campus ministry that lead to her discernment and finally being received into the Episcopal Church and eventually pursuing Holy Orders. Lindsay is passionate about God’s abundant love and is excited about making that love known and experienced by others. She and her wife have been together 11 years and have 2 children that are 20 years apart! She loves handicrafts of all kinds, crocheting, cross stitching, knitting, and scrapbooking. She’s a huge fan of the National Parks and is an avid camper – enjoying all of God’s magnificent creation.

Emelie Hjerth

Emelie Hjerth was born in Linköping, southeast of Sweden, grew up in Söderköping, a tiny town in the same region and attended Linköping University where she received her degree in social work with a focus on leadership. Emelie graduated from Uppsala university with a degree in theology in 2016. After a year in Church of Sweden educational institute she was ordained in the Diocese of Linköping, Church of Sweden (Lutheran). Emelie once again lives in Linköping, and serves a parish in the neighbouring city were she mostly does youth ministry and social work. She has a great love for preaching, outdoor activities and sleeping on her balcony (which is also technically an outdoor activity). Emelie is a reading and chocolate addict, loves to run and is planning to do a half marathon in September 2019.

Kari Olson

Kari Olson serves as the pastor of East Falls Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. She earned her MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary with a concentration in women’s studies. She especially loves preaching and the variety that comes with solo pastoring. A Seattle native, one of her favorite things about her Philadelphia neighborhood is that there is a fantastic coffee shop less than two blocks from the church. She loves life on the east coast, but still goes out of her way to recycle because you can’t take Seattle out of the woman. She enjoys playing guitar, practicing yoga, and extending hospitality.

Sarah Pomerantz

Sarah Pomerantz currently serves as the Designate Pastor of Cedar Grove Community Church. She is a graduate of Drew Theological Seminary and, after a successful career in Corporate America, she was ordained in the United Church of Christ. She also earned a dual Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History from Rutgers University and a Master’s degree in Early American Colonialism from Lehigh University. Sarah is passionate about fostering a fully inclusive faith community. She lives New Jersey with her wife, Bailey, and enjoys spending her free time hiking, reading, and drinking good coffee.

Lorrin Radzik

Rev. Lorrin Radzik is an ordained United Methodist pastor serving Independence United Methodist Church in Independence, Ohio. Born and raised in northeast Ohio, Lorrin achieved her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from Baldwin Wallace University before heading to seminary, where she earned her Masters of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology. Lorrin is married to the Rev. David Radzik, an ordained Priest in the Episcopal Church, who serves in Berea, Ohio. Together, they enjoy spoiling their fluffy dog, Becket, reading, and spending time outdoors.

Geila Rajaee

Geila Rajaee is a board certified chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains and ordained through the Evangelical Covenant Church. She is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (MDiv), the University of Michigan (MPH/MPA), and begins a PhD in Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan in the fall of 2018. Born in the great state of Michigan, Geila has lived on both coasts before returning to the midwest for school. She loves her little flock of birds, spending time with friends and family, and finding new quirky art projects and hobbies to try.

Christmastide

When candles lifted
for Silent Night
wax-dripped and wick-burned
lie haphazard,
dropped in baskets
forgotten;

When cotton ball sheep masks
tinsel halos
spray-paint gilded gifts of the wise
shepherd staff and wooden trough
find storage corners
to mark time til next December;

When liturgies recited
carols sung
luminaries extinguished
bulletins recycled
sanctuaries draped in cloak of poinsettia red
have held the promise, past tense.

Then the tide of Christmas—
good tidings of great joy
heaven and nature sing,
the ebb of frenzy
the flow of good news
begins.

It is among my favorite words:
Christmastide.

This time that carries us to another shore;
these days that celebrate the one in the manger
who will soon admonish us to go across to the other side.

These moments to reflect and wonder,
to ride the waves of laughter
and the waves of grief that swamp our frail vessels
all the way to the One whose voice the wind and sea obey.

Hero

Everyone imagines themselves as the hero of their own story. Especially every child — and I was a child. They all imagine themselves as heroes. That’s not a new thing; it’s like that here in your twenty-first century American lives, but it was like that where I lived, in Nazareth two thousand years ago, as well. Your boys and girls have the heroes that they imagine: Wonder Woman, Iron Man, PJ Masks, Moana, GI Joe, Harry Potter. They’re inundated with them: hundreds of heroes, on television screens and in movie theaters, in newspaper comics and novels. Watch the children sometime, and see how they play: averting global disasters at the playground, setting up elaborate Lego battlefields, going on daring adventures through their back yards, covering themselves with temporary tattoos. They all want to be heroes.

So did I, but our heroes were a little bit different.

You have to understand that those Roman soldiers could do anything. There was no due process, no body cameras, no professional code of ethics — not that those things always make a difference for you, but even those flawed safeguards were not there for us. Rome had conquered my town and those soldiers could do anything they wanted.

So we would go to our religious services, passed off to the authorities as innocuous. They respected things that were ancient, and our faith was as ancient as they come: ancient stories, ancient scrolls, ancient traditions. They thought our religion kept us busy, kept us industrious, kept us docile. But every little child, boy or girl, wants to be a hero, and that’s what I was. So I learned the stories of our heroes. Moses, who led the people out of slavery in Egypt, who stood in the presence of God on Sinai. David, who as a boy stood fearless with his slingshot and felled the giant Goliath. Jeremiah, who heard the voice of God in his boyhood and fearlessly reprimanded the wicked and faithless. And there were other heroes, too: Ruth and Naomi, left widowed and making their way in the world. Jael, deceiving and impaling Siserah, Esther, risking everything to advocate for her people to the king.

Those were the stories that shaped me and formed me as a child. Read more

Zechariah: In Which God Redeems a Mansplainer

A painting by artist Alexandr Andreyevich Ivanov (1806-1858)

Holy One, we come with many things on our hearts and minds. We come with grief and with joy, with heavy hearts and busy schedules. We come with certainty and with doubts. Bless the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, that each of us might hear your word for us today. Amen.

The silence changed everything. Everything. At first I tried to talk, I tried to hum, I tried to rasp, scream, whisper, grunt, whistle, anything I could think of. I lay in bed at night trying everything, my tongue working against my speechless lips, worrying at my teeth, begging in vain for my disobedient vocal chords to comply. Nothing worked – I was completely mute, every attempt to vocalize utterly noiseless. I might as well have been trying to fly.

It was so frustrating to be silent. I’d always been a big talker anyway. I loved to shoot the breeze on a quiet afternoon, to tell stories around the table, to debate about scripture in the synagogue. To be mute now, after this, was unbearable. I had so much to say!

It had been a lifetime of waiting for my wife Elizabeth and me. We’d waited for a child, waiting and waiting and waiting until slowly we accepted that it was too late. We’d waited faithfully for the Messiah, suffering year after year under the Roman imperial occupation, enduring the centurions and governors and their tyrannical puppet kings, praying for the day when God would save us and free us. And we’d waited years for my turn to offer incense in the sanctuary. Each group of priests served for a week twice a year, and each day one of us would be chosen by lots for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to approach the Holy of Holies. I had waited, time after time, for my lot to be drawn. The priests God chose for the task seemed to get younger and younger. Sometimes I wondered if God had forgotten us. But not anymore.

It had seemed like a normal morning as I set off to the Jerusalem temple, joining along the way with the other priests from the order of Abijah. I had pretty much resigned myself by that time, but that day my name was chosen to enter the inner sanctuary and offer the incense. I had entered the chamber prepared to experience the silent, perfect peace of the presence of the Lord. As I lit the incense, there was a rush of wind, and a breath-taking, awe-inducing something stood before me, all wings and eyes and sound. I was terrified; my memory is fuzzy, all flashes and snippets. Elizabeth. A son. Name him John. Something about Elijah. Prepare the way of the Lord. Read more

Young Clergy Women Tell All: The Real Reasons We Became Pastors

“As the good book says… ‘let justice roll down like beeswax’”

There are lots of reasons to go into ministry: a feeling or experience of divine call, for instance. Or a deep desire to preach the gospel, equip the saints for the work of ministry, feed Jesus’ lambs and tend his sheep. An affinity for planning worship. A love of pastoral care.

But you know what? You’ve got our number. You figured us out. Here are the real reasons we became pastors, confessed by young clergy women, of many denominations and regions, speaking on condition of anonymity:

  • I became a pastor to head off controversies about whether or not corn tortillas are appropriate for communion.
  • I became a pastor so someone reliable could drive the church van.
  • I became a pastor so I could have tea with old ladies who like to endlessly ask me about my reproductive plans.
  • I became a pastor in order to run out and buy stamps and paper when we don’t have any in the office. I also became a pastor to fix toilets and shovel snow. And, I definitely became a pastor to recruit children (or if there aren’t any around, to create them out of nothingness) in order to fulfill 70-something-year-olds’ ideas of what Sunday School should be like.
  • I became a pastor so I could help my parishioners return things to Walmart without their receipt.
  • I became a pastor to ruin people’s church by singing “new” songs, including ones written in 1902.
  • I became a pastor so I could proofread everyone else’s work because apparently no one else cares about details or grammar.
  • I became a pastor so that I could coordinate vacatio- I mean, mission trips for the youth that absolutely MUST include a trip to an amusement park.
  • I became a pastor to annoy and distract people with my voice, bangs, clothes, lipstick, and children.
  • Three words: Boiler. Repair. Discussions.
  • One word: Casseroles.
  • I became a pastor so I could debate which one God loves more: beeswax or stearine candles. The debate is over which sort of solid candle to get: 51% stearine vs. 100% beeswax. Apparently God hates anything that isn’t pure beeswax. As the good book says, ”I hate, I despise your solemn assemblies when you burn stearine on the altar… let justice roll down like beeswax.”
  • I became a pastor so people would tell me how nice my hair looks.
  • I became a pastor because I needed the constant confusing affirmation that my bangs look much better THIS week.
  • I became a pastor because I cannot be trusted to make decisions about my hair, makeup, clothing or family all by myself. I obviously need six hundred opinions on all these topics. All the time.
  • I became a pastor so I could google things for people who “don’t do” the internet.
  • I became a pastor so old clergymen could steal my good hangers from the vesting room every time there is an ecclesiastical event.
  • I became a pastor so I could write a newsletter article every month that almost nobody will actually read, even though everyone reads the newsletter.
  • Speaking of which, I became a pastor so I could spend lots of time preaching sermons to people who won’t apply what I’m trying to impart. Futility is my jam.
  • I became a pastor because I secretly harbored a desire to do half of our office administrator’s job each week.
  • I became a pastor because I wanted to always have the final say in heated arguments about Christmas wreaths and tablecloth colors. Also, so I could teach people deep spiritual truths every day. And by deep spiritual truths, I mean how to use the copier.
  • I became a pastor so I could disappoint people by the fact that I am not Jesus.
  • I became a pastor to try creative things in worship, inspire people to Christ, and to preach theologically-sound sermons that I’ve exegeted thoroughly. Just kidding! I became a pastor so someone would live in the manse next door and provide access to a plunger when the church needed one.
  • I became a pastor to cancel events when nobody signs up.
  • I became a pastor because I was worried I’d become too confident in my own competence.
  • I became a pastor in order to micromanage the placement and removal of renters’ furniture.
  • I became a pastor to make sure nobody uses our tables and chairs, coffee pots and roasters. Because what kind of Christians would we be if we shared or resources with our community?

Okay, let’s get real. Here’s the real reason I became a pastor: so I could have awkward conversations on airplanes for the rest of my life.

Shared Leadership: Lessons from YCWI

Kelly Boubel Shriver (left) and Molly Field James (right) during their terms as co-chairs

After serving three years as a co-chair of YCWI, I am beginning my third month as “just a regular board member.” I am loving that I get to spend my final year on the board with the fabulous women of the editorial group. It is a joy to have the opportunity to lift up the voices of our members and to educate the world about the experience of being a YCW. And I even get to write occasionally!

While I am happy and excited in my current role, I am also aware of what is missing. I am no longer the co-chair. Serving in that capacity, I had the privilege of working with Kelly Shriver and shepherding the organization through some tremendous growth and transformation. It was time for me to step down, and I don’t miss all the challenges and responsibilities of that work. It is nice to have a little break from it. What I do miss, though, is the collaborative nature of that role.

As often happens, when you no longer have something, you become all the more aware of how wonderful it was. I have been reflecting on the gifts of collaborative leadership lately, and my most valuable insight has been that I can carry those gifts with me in the rest of my ministry. I might even be so bold to say that the model of collaborative leadership practiced by YCWI has some lessons for the whole church. Here are my top five reasons that collaborative leadership is a gift. I hope they are helpful in your context. Read more

A Litany Against White Supremacy

The author

As Charlottesville, VA becomes the focal point of white supremacy and those who stand against it, this litany was prepared by myself and Pastor Elizabeth Rawlings for use in worship.

Litany against white supremacy

Gracious and loving God,
In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good
We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.
Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.
We are all siblings. We are all related.
We are all your children.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.

Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.
Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,
Brother turned against brother
The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper. Read more