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