Can These Bones Live: Reflections on the YCWI Conference

Post Author: YCWI Conference Attendees

Everyone in worship the Sunday after the YCWI Conference was asking Rev. Maggie Rust about her time away, noting that it looked like she had such a good time and seemed so energized. One person said, “It’s great a group like that exists!” Her thought? They don’t know the half of it

The conference was an important part of Young Clergywomen International from its founding, providing a space where young clergywomen could meet each other in real life after sharing so much of our ministry and, really, our lives online. But the pandemic upended everything. In 2022, we held an online conference and encouraged smaller, regional gatherings to have watch parties, streaming the conference together. Though it was a creative pivot- with powerful presenters and beautiful worship, the online community still yearned to gather in person. 

So, five years after the last in-person conference, almost sixty young clergywomen gathered at Asbury United Methodist Church and First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington D.C. from May 21-24, 2024, seeking connection from people who understand what it is to be a young clergywoman. 

Many of these conference attendees were also seeking life for dry bones. The theme was “Can These Bones Live? Embodying Hope and Justice.” The conference planning team knew so many of us were asking this question: Can my ministry, wrung out from the constant pivoting of COVID, stressed to the max because of political rancor, disheartened by threats to the most vulnerable people and parts of God’s creation…can it live? Can I, can we, live abundantly in ministry, preaching hope and working for justice in these times when ministry feels particularly difficult?

With God’s help, from the keynote speaker, those teaching lead in teaching moments, and connections made with one another, we glimpsed resurrection possibilities.  

Our first evening, Young Clergywomen alum Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort (whose previous Fidelia stories you can read here, here, here, here, and also here) told us stories of the theology she first learned in church kitchens full of immigrant women. She talked about the work of showing up as our authentic selves, and blessed our bodies for the work of ministry. Our keynote speaker was the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, co-moderator of the 225th General Assembly of the PC(USA). She guided us in conversations around our struggles and what brings us hope. She encouraged us to find places of joy and people to serve as our “ligaments,” knitting us back together. Young clergywoman Rev. Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes was one of our teachers as well, and she shared her own story and talked about the work of lament and hope as people of faith. “It’s not enough to deconstruct,” she told us. “You have to reconstruct, too.” Kaitlyn Schiess was another teacher, whose work on American politics and the Bible was particularly salient this U.S. election year and while meeting in Washington, D.C. She is not a young clergywoman, but she is a young woman who is a faith leader, and her own ministry journey was a reminder of the power- and discomfort!- in listening to the Spirit. She spoke of the importance of our work of taking down the Bible from being a prop and actually reading it. Rev. Santana-Grace spent time with us outside of her keynotes, eating with us and learning from our other teachers alongside us. Our teachers all had books and were gracious enough to continue the conversations over book signings (read about Rev. Kim-Kort’s book here).

The worship services and workshops of the conference were led by the members of Young Clergywomen International ourselves. Attendees said they were inspired by seeing so many women doing amazing things. There was a general sense of pride  in our siblings’ leadership and expertise. 

As great as the scheduled programming was, it was the connections that were created and strengthened that we celebrated most. Those connections were the sinews stitching our dry bones together! Many attendees felt a deep sense of solidarity. We were all in this together. We loved having adventures around D.C. together and building memories with colleagues who “get it.” We strove to affirm and empower one another, not just in workshops but over meals and side conversations and affinity group meet-ups.

A group of more than 60 women stand together for a group photo in a sanctuary.

One young clergywoman shared, “As we slowly trickled into Asbury UMC to begin conference Tuesday, hugs abounded. It had been five years since I had seen many of these dear siblings, but- given these particular five years- it seemed like a lifetime. As with every conference I have attended, I loved learning and worshiping together. But, my favorite part remains simply connecting in real life with dear friends who have journeyed with me through some tremendous highs and lows of ministry.”

We will continue that journey outside of the in-person conference, back in Facebook groups, as well as some regional gatherings. Some new ways to connect to be piloted in the new year. And we will continue the journey together, witnessing to the way God indeed can breathe new life into us as we live into our callings. 

Nearly 70 YCWI members and recent alumnae attended the three-day conference in Washington, DC. These reflections were gathered by the Fidelia editorial team members in attendance. 

Image by: Andrew Fulton
Used with permission
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