It was hot and sticky—humidity has always been my enemy. Fatigue and crankiness were hovering just under my surface, ready to break forth. My cute sandals were giving me a blister on the sole of my foot. I was drenched in my own sweat. I wasn't entirely sure of the way back to the hotel, where I planned to simply blast the room AC and lie catatonic for a few minutes. I was at the recent conference of The Young Clergy Women Project, but this was not my best day among new friends.
Fortunately for me, Lara and Heather paused up ahead, waiting for me to catch up. Thanks to them, I would not be wandering around the Emory University area looking for a place to lay my head.
That's when I saw the streaks of light, darting and fading in the dusky shadows under a cluster of pine trees. Fireflies. I stopped dead in my tracks. “Are those…fireflies?”
As strange as it may seem to some, I grew up in a part of the country where there are no fireflies. They were something you read about in books, these imagined mystical, magical beings that made childhood complete when caught in jars to light the way home.
And while my feet were still killing me and I was still longing desperately for a good blast of air conditioning, I had to pause in wonder. My companions were ready to move on—they both had plenty of firefly sightings under their belts—but I could have stayed for a spell. I had to marvel at how something so ordinary to so many people was the experience of a lifetime for me.
In some ways, that's the experience that the conference strives to provide as well. Clergy gatherings are nothing new, and neither are continuing education events. Long-tried wisdom has likely been shared with us all: Don't isolate yourself. Find a trusted group of friends on which you can rely. Stay connected to the community of your colleagues. Share your experiences with others. But just as fireflies are nebulous, mythical beings until you see them for yourself, those pieces of advice are only platitudes until the possibility for connection is actually there, living and breathing in front of you.
The magic of being in the same place with so many other young clergy women, so many others who have had the same words said or implied about them in some way: you are not what what we expect in a pastor…that magic is like the look that was probably in my eye that evening. Suddenly, they were real. Fireflies were real. Young clergy women were real and existed in far greater quantities than I had ever witnessed in one place before. The stories were true, living right in front of me.
Even though I have been honored to serve on the board of The Young Clergy Women Project for several years now, this was my first time attending one of our conferences. The grant we were fortunate to receive and our partnership with Candler dramatically lowered the cost of participating, which made it affordable for my two tiny congregations to support me in going. But the picture in my head of so many young clergy women in one place is priceless, mostly just because it was such a convincing proof that we are making an impact and that our mission is so much more than just theoretical or Internet-based. We are real, we are alive, we are growing, and we are here because you are not the only one.
Put that in your jar and let it shine, sisters.