Learning from Tabitha


Post Author: Rev. Sarah Lusche, LSW

This article discusses abortion and the recent decision from SCOTUS.

 


What do we do when our bodily autonomy is violated and the Supreme Court takes away our rights?  I read and re-read the stories of those people of faith who came before to better understand what might be required of me, and of the Church, in the months and years to come. I remembered the story of Tabitha, or Dorcas, the only woman who is directly named as a disciple in the New Testament (Acts 9:26 with the feminine mathētria). Abortion is not mentioned in Tabitha’s story, but it is a story that can direct us as we try to figure out what to do in this new reality.

The Book of Acts tells us that Tabitha was devoted to good works and acts of charity, specifically ministering to widows in her community. Tabitha was likely a widow herself, as the text mentions neither husband nor children. We often think of widows in the Bible as a homogeneous, marginalized group of poor women with no one to care for them. However, as with most social groups, there was a diversity of experience and status among them. Some widows had financial resources and property. This was almost certainly the case with Tabitha, who we can assume used her personal resources to fund her ministry. Other widows were extremely poor and relied on community care for their survival.

 

As I read about Tabitha, I began to see her ministry as one that created community across economic status, perhaps even across other forms of difference. These were women bound together by a shared experience, making a life for themselves within a patriarchal society. Tabitha cared for them by creating tunics and other garments, and they certainly cared for her in reciprocal ways, not least of which is the tender care offered at the moment of her death.

 

The widows attend to Tabitha’s body after her passing. They gently wash her and lay her in an upper room, a physical space with a clear parallel to the Last Supper. The upper room is established in scripture as a sacred place where God’s love is palpable and tactile. It is here that the widows grieve Tabitha, wearing and holding the tunics she made for them. It may very well have been the widows who convinced the male disciples to send for Peter, essentially demanding a miracle of resurrection.

 

The story of Tabitha and the widows reminds me of the importance of collective care and the history of this work at the margins. Women and all people with uteruses are used to creating spaces of mutual aid when patriarchal structures and governments fail.

 

I currently serve as a pastor at Hyde Park Union Church in Chicago, in the same neighborhood where the Jane Collective and the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, or CCS, were founded. The Jane Collective, as many know, was an underground group that provided access to safe, low cost abortion services before the Roe v. Wade decision. The CCS is less well known. Prior to 1973, women and those seeking an abortion could go to the basement of Rockafeller Chapel on the University of Chicago Campus. There they would be met by a faith leader who could connect them to necessary medical services. The clergy were additionally called on to provide spiritual counseling, reminding people that they were, and would remain, loved by God.

 

I do not know what will ultimately happen with abortion access in this country. Nor do I know what other rights may be chipped away that are not considered by some to be “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions,” as Justice Alito writes in the draft decision. Perhaps I will be called on to join with the matriarchs of the Jane Collective or to stand on the shoulders of the CCS clergy who came before my time. It’s possible that my church and others like it will become sanctuaries for those seeking abortion care, traveling at great expense from restrictive states.

 

Whatever comes, I will draw strength from the story of Tabitha and the widows. They remind me that there is always a way. Communities of care have always existed at the margins, and no ruling can prevent us from honoring the sacred in each and every person.


Sarah is a bi-vocational pastor and therapist in the Chicagoland area. She currently serves as one of the co-pastors of Hyde Park Union Church (UCC and American Baptist Churches, USA). Sarah is passionate about reproductive justice, decarceration, and multifaith dialogue. 


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