Post Author: Phyl Stutzman
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“What does it mean to embody ministry? To be the physical body of Christ in the world? How is it with your soul?” These are just a few of the question posed by keynote speaker, the Rev. Karoline Lewis, at the last Young Clergy Women International (YCWI) Conference WE: Embodied Ministry in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, in July of 2019.
I joined the YCWI Conference Team in 2014, during my second year as a YCWI board member. I had three goals coming onto Conference Team: 1) ensure incarnational connection for young clergy women (YCWs) spread across the USA, Canada, UK, Sweden, Israel, Australia, and other countries who are often isolated and yearn for deeper connections in ministry beyond their local communities and YCWI’s online community; 2) get YWCI to Texas, specifically onto the campus of my alma mater, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; and 3) take our annual conference international to truly reflect who we are as an organization and as young women facing a similarly unique set of challenges in and beyond the church as we serve across a multiplicity of denominations.
The Conference Team achieved all three goals during my tenure, which concluded last summer. In 2015, we hosted Text in Context at Austin Seminary, in 2016 we saw a 57% increase in attendance in Boston, and in 2017 we marked YCWI’s 10th anniversary as an organization in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. If setting goals, achieving goals, and learning the logistical ins and outs of running (and for 3 years co-chairing) an international conference were enough, I would count my time on YCWI’s Conference Team a success and now move on to the next thing. But God is funny that way, so these experiences came with far more depth and purpose than merely offering professional development and checking off a to-do list.
We were a small team. For a few years, we were a tiny team learning and growing in more ways than organizational conference leadership. We were learning what it means to be Christ – to embody Christ – for each other and grow in our own faith. Those four and a half years were among the most joyous, exhausting, affirming, aggravating, educational, soul-refreshing, found-my-people-ing years of my ministry.
We have been physically bruised (ask me about the dishwasher in Vancouver) and emotionally bloodied (ask me about a colleague who lost her luggage or another who lost her call, both unexpectedly). We’ve sweated (ask me about July in Austin) and improvised (ask me about the laundry cart in Boston) and poured ourselves into planning speakers, meals, workshops, childcare, self-care, travel, missional learning, worship, and more for ecumenical sisters in ministry all while actively serving in our own local ministries.
We’ve cried, laughed, yelled, gotten lost, been found, challenged each other, resourced each other’s local churches, and I swear, through it all, I have seen what it means first-hand for a small group of thoughtful, committed Christians to embody Christ. The clergywomen I have been blessed to work with have embodied Christ for me, and because of this experience, these years, and this team, it is well with my soul.
In church, as in all parts of life, things change. The seasons and rhythms of ministry keep rolling, and the 2018 St. Louis conference was my last with my team and my last with the organization. This month, like a fine wine or cheese, I will age out of YWCI, joining the ranks of the alumnae and facing a new set of challenges within and beyond Christ’s church. My new goal is that I may embody Christ for my ministry setting in the same way my team has embodied Christ for me since 2014, and together we can ensure incarnational connection (that is, physical, in-person, connectional, caring connections) for each other as we embody Christ in our community.
At the closing worship service in St. Louis, my friend and colleague the Rev. Erin Klassen cried while I cracked almost-inappropriate jokes (to keep myself from crying) as we were commissioned to go into our new season of ministry with God’s blessing. The end of this chapter of my ministry with YCWI is bittersweet, but because of it and Christ’s clear presence in it, I can say, truly, it is well with my soul.
The Reverend Phyllis (Phyl) L. Stutzman is the pastor of Emporia Presbyterian Church. Pastor Phyl is a graduate of Truman State University and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She has served churches in Missouri, Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, serves on presbytery level committees, and has served on the board of Young Clergy Women International, leading the Conference Work Group for three of her years as a Board member.
Image by: Phyl Stutzman
Used with permission